Marilyn Hershey
We hire a veterinarian to do some in vitro fertilization (IVF) work on a few of our animals from higher genetic cow families. He gathers the oocytes from the heifer or the cow and places them in a petri dish. When the bull semen is added to the dish, the hope is that it will produce embryos. The incubation process to create embryos is fascinating.

Incubation also happens on our dairy farm in other ways. There is a lot of cultivation that happens as we plan, process, and consider new ideas.

Our dairy farm is like a petri dish as we always seem to be brewing new concepts. Moving our farm forward takes thoughtful consideration — and that takes time.

When our children were little, I spent a significant amount of time with the cows during the evening milking, and I enjoyed the peace and quiet. It gave me uninterrupted time to think. Hearing only cow noises and the gentle pulsation of the milkers was therapeutic for a young mother of four energetic children.

There is something special about working outside or working beside animals that clears the mind from the clutter and allows me the space to process and plan. Incubating thoughts during chaos is not easy and has never been a productive place for me to allow brainstorming.

For some people, that might mean sitting in a busy coffee shop. Even though there is a ton of energy in a busy place, the type of atmosphere that keeps me centered and focused is some place on the farm.

One constant for Duane and I is that we are always strategizing toward the next phase. Sometimes the changes and reorganizing are small, seamless, and take very little preparation. Sometimes the changes are extensive, and they take a lot of brain power.

There are several plans that have never left the barn and rather than bring it forward, the idea is thrown in the gutter or flushed down the alleyway. But the brainstorming thoughts that make it to the planning table need another step of action. At some point, the notion needs to have legs and be put into motion.

Research is a big step in the action phase. We talk to other farmers, we talk to the experts, and we read information to help us figure out if this, or something like this, will work for our dairy.

Even then, it is not a guarantee that we will make this change. It just means we need to start asking questions and consider how this new vision affects our bottom line.

Will this help us financially or just be a drain?

If it improves milk production, can we estimate by how much?

If we don’t make this change soon, are there issues that will arise, or can it wait for a better time?

Is it necessary? If so, in what way — financially or for cow comfort?

We can’t do everything that hits the petri dish, even if we thought of it while doing barn work. The idea must make sense financially, and it needs to have a positive impact on the business and the cows.

Once it is vetted through the questions, tossed back and forth between Duane and I, and we are satisfied with the research, the idea enters a new phase. We call Bob.

Bob and his wife, Ruth, are family to us and he is like a brother to Duane. Bob is not an engineer by trade, but his mind works in interesting and engineering-like ways, and when Duane calls him with an idea, Bob always comes back with some solid scenarios to consider.

Whatever idea we throw at him, he finds a simplistic and practical path to get the job done. We have brought in his expertise for easy and simple jobs, and we have also tapped him for the big things.

Some of our strategy needs several years on the mental drawing board, and there is a lot of back and forth between Bob and Duane. Installing our digester was one of those projects that Duane and I spent many hours contemplating, mulling over, looking at Bob’s drawings, and figuring out how this could work.

The first time we looked at a digester, it did not pencil out. We left the dream to sit for a few years before picking it back up and putting it on the drawing board.

Even after four years of operation, the digester is still in a continuous transforming phase. Thankfully, Duane does not take our modifications lightly, and he has a good resource of experts to draw from. I am also thankful that we have open space and a good working environment to help us get to our end goal.

Just like the IVF incubation we do with our animals, our ideas go through a process of growing and forming into actual plans. All of us have a process in which our planning goes from mind to fruition. But there is no doubt that for us, those new dreams are bred on the farm, whether we are milking cows, feeding calves, working in the fields, or driving truck. The incubation period starts here, and I think a dairy farm is the best petri dish.