Feb. 18 2022 09:10 AM

Everything farming-related seems to fall within a cycle of tasks, and there’s a blurred line between getting caught up, being ahead, or falling behind.

The past few weeks have been filled with long lists of small tasks in my world — whether crossing off wedding planning tasks or checking off to-dos around the farm. No matter the tasks or person completing them, it seems as though the minute you start to feel caught up (or dare I say, ahead), a series of events occur that lead to you being even more behind. I think that’s a reality for most, especially those battling crazy weather shifts and the unknowns of caring for living creatures.

Farming is the culmination of a slew of cycles. You could think of this in the broader sense of the life cycle of our animals, the plant cycle of our crops, the annual cycle of seasons, and so forth. Each broader item is made up of its own multitude of smaller cycles or series — from monthly billing cycles to annual tax cycles, or spring planting cycles to fall harvesting cycles. I also think of our weekly cycles of bedding our livestock facilities, which usually leads to our monthly cycle of cleaning those pens out so we can start all over again.
Tagging, vaccinating, banding and dehorning calves are important tasks in which we try to stay ahead of schedule.

Within the task of milking our cows, we have a series (or cycle — see the trend here?) of tasks for each individual cow (predip, wipe, strip the teat, attach the milking unit, remove the milking unit, and postdip); then, there’s the larger cycle of each milking shift that includes catching cows, scraping the freestall sheds, and moving groups of cows through the milking parlor (or a slightly different daily cycle in our robotic milking facility).

My point is that we tend to finish tasks just to start them all over again in a somewhat endless cycle. The thing is, that’s okay! There’s a beauty in routine and knowing what’s next. However, our sense of being ahead or behind tends to ebb and flow as weather, emergencies, illnesses, and seasons shift.
When we have a few spare minutes, we organize areas around the farm, like our robotic milking facility office, so we can try to stay ahead.

Last week, we dropped off our tax paperwork and information to be prepared for filing. Meanwhile, we’re already well into the next tax cycle. This week, we’ve worked hard to get caught up on vet work, calfhood vaccinations, dehorning, and moving cattle around — knowing full well it’s only a short matter of time before we’re behind on this again. Plus, I’ve been working on organizing the office area in our robotic milking barn and entering calving dates, cattle sale dates, and dry-up information into our computer system.

All these items feel amazing to check off, helping us feel caught up, or even ahead at times. However, we know there will always come a time where we’re behind on certain tasks. That’s the double-edged sword of cycles like the ones I’ve listed. No matter where we fall on the loop of each cycle, we’re blessed and thankful to be doing the work we do.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.