Leadership Learned From Cows

Each morning as I milk my cows I find myself wishing that more of them would walk into the barn by themselves and not have to be prodded along.  This would save me a lot of time and effort in accomplishing the task of milking all my cows.  I have noticed a few different types of cows over the years, and I think they are not all that much different than people.

  • Natural Leaders.  There are a few cows that are willing and comfortable leading the group into the barn.  Often these few cows will walk into the barn without anyone going out to get them.  When this happens often the barn fills up (six cows) without anyone having to push the cows in.  This happens because the other five cows have a leader to follow.
  • Cows that need prodding.  These cows will look at the door to the empty barn and will go in first with a little encouragement, but they will rarely go in by themselves.  Sometimes these cows stop before reaching the front stall and need some prodding to move all the way to the front.  Once we get one of these cows into the barn the other five seem to go willingly and easily.
  • Followers.  Some cows refuse to go first, they are fine following another cow, but you cannot make them go first.  When they are caught in the front of the group, they will run away to the back if they are can, or they will simply stand and refuse to go in.  If by mistake these cows end up in the front stall they are uncomfortable, they dance, kick and poop (a nervous reaction).  Often this causes problems for the entire group. We learn who these cows are and make sure they are never brought in first.  They are usually perfectly fine when they are behind other cows.  They stand still and are no trouble to milk, but they are not truly comfortable leading.

” A leader takes people where they want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but where they ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter

Knowing my cow’s helps me understand how to position them in the barn in order to simplify the milking for me.   As I said earlier I think this is not so much different from people.  When working with or directing people it is important to understand where each person is most comfortable.

Some people are natural leaders.  We all know people who fall into this group, they see what needs to be done and they go to work.  They may not always be the most capable or talented, but they can get others to follow them, in fact others seem to rally around them, and the task is often quickly and easily accomplished.  Unfortunately these people are often few in numbers.

Many more people will lead if prodded, but they are not likely to take the initiative on their own.  Although they are often very capable, they need encouragement and persuasion to get started, and at times they need continued encouragement throughout the whole experience.  Understanding when and how to provide that encouragement can make all the difference when working with these types of people, unfortunately, every one of them is different.

Some people will not and cannot lead.  This doesn’t mean that they are not good people or that they are not valuable to an organization.  They may very well be some of the most productive members of the organization when they have someone to follow.  Fortunately not everyone wants to be a leader or there would be no one to lead, no one to do the work.

I am convinced that most people, if not all, can learn to be leaders if they will try.  Some will naturally be better than others.  Many great leaders had to learn to be leaders, quite often out of necessity.  Sometimes people are placed in situations where they have to step forward and take charge.  When the Lord places us in these situations he knows something about us that we may not have yet learned about ourselves.

“How often in life we complete a task that was beyond the capability of the person we were when we started it.” – Robert Brault

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A Tour of the Gossner Cheese Plant

Dolores Wheeler is the owner of Gossner Foods, Inc. where they specialize in making Swiss cheese.

On Thursday I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Wheeler and go on a tour of the plant with the Dairy Ambassadors and our moms.

She told us about how good cheese and dairy products are for you.

My favorite part was in the room where the cheese is packaged.  It can be sliced or blocked and then the packaging is put on each block of cheese.  There were machines that picked the blocks up and set them in a box.  Then there was a track that the box rode on to an elevator to another level of tracks.  Then there was a robotic arm that picked two boxes up at a time and set them on pallets.  The robot could read the bar code on each box, and know which pallet to set the box on.  Then when the pallet was full, it would slide over to spin around and get shrink wrap put on it.

When the tour was over Mrs. Wheeler gave us each an ice cream cone, a sack of squeaky cheese, and a carton of UHT Milk.

I like how Mrs. Wheeler talked about how the plant was started by her parents many years ago and about the technology they have used to improve their cheese making process.  She talked about the old trees that had to be cut down in order for the new addition of the cheese plant to be built.  She has pictures of the past, and she loves that, but she is quick to embrace technology as they move forward.  That is how farming is too.  We honor our heritage, but we always look for ways to improve the way we do things on our farm.




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“Cash for Clunkers” tractor style

Recently my neighbor got a brand new tractor.  Leather seats, GPS, the whole works.  Very nice.  The price tag on this tractor was approximately $135,000.  Now I have no problem with farmers being able to buy new equipment from time to time, he increased fuel efficiency and the speed with which he can get his farm work done, plus he now has a dependable tractor rather than the old one which seemed to break down a lot.

My concern is not with the new tractor or my neighbor who made a good business decision, my concern is with who paid for this tractor, the American tax payer.  This was “Cash for Clunkers” tractor style.  He was paid $96,000by the federal government to junk the old tractor (which he only paid $16,000 for) and replace it with a brand new fuel efficient tractor.  I helped him knock a 6 in. hole in the engine block of the old tractor just to prove that it would never run again.Is this really a good expenditure of our tax dollars?  As tax payers, will you buy me a new tractor?

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Excitement over the birth of a baby calf

One thing that never gets old, that never loses its awe and excitement is birth.  The start of new life!  Our children have seen calves born many times, but you would have thought it was their first time by the high-pitched screams and the running back and forth to let everyone know that a new calf had been born.  Garrick had just come in the house for dinner.  The rest of us had gone ahead and ate dinner without him, because it was getting late.  But before he took his first bite, the girls came running in the house to tell dad that the calf had arrived!  Garrick set his fork down and went back out to the barn to check on the new calf.  Casen and I went with him.  I have to admit, I still love to see a brand new baby calf.

I love to see how the cow instinctively gets up and licks its new baby dry.

Casen was actually more interested in the expectant mothers.  He stood on the edge of the manger and had quite the conversation with the cows.  Many of them came to sniff and lick him too. 

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Feeding Calves

My favorite part of feeding calves is driving the 4-wheeler and putting bottles on the bottle holders and then gathering them up after the calves are done drinking all their milk. 

Right now we are feeding 13 calves bottles twice a day.  Then we feed 8 calves that drink their milk out of buckets and we feed 6 calves just water and grain.  The ones that just get water and grain now are weaned from milk and will soon move into a group pen.

We make sure all of the calves always have fresh water and grain.



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Lessons Learned from Baby Goats

It started out as a fairly routine Monday morning.  I had scheduled an appointment with the Veterinarian (Karl) to vaccinate some calves and preg check cows.  While he was here, I planned to have the baby goats (two of them) dehorned, a routine procedure done by burning around the base of the horn while it is still small thus stopping the growth of the horn.  When it came time to dehorn the goats all my kids were running around and wanting to know what we were doing.  We decided to sedate the goats (not essential) so the children would not see or hear them fight while we were burning their horns.  Both Karl and I thought that this would be a good idea; he sedates animals all the time, no big deal.  When we finished we took the goats and laid them in the shade of the house to rest until the drugs wore off and they were back to normal.  We were a little concerned about Oreo, one of the goats, because he was not breathing right.  We tried to revive him, but he never woke up.  My daughters were devastated.  Kyle just wanted to make sure he didn’t have to pay for the one that died.  Karl felt terrible that the goat had died as the result of an elective procedure, next time we will send the kids inside and forget the sedation.  We held a little funeral for Oreo and placed him in a shallow grave at the dairy.  Kyle and Harvey (Karl’s son) spent most of the rest of the afternoon building and painting a grave marker.

Later that afternoon another one of Kyle’s goats had her babies.  We had been watching a waiting for a few weeks and finally she was giving birth.  The first baby was a healthy male, however the second one was deformed and although it was breathing it had to be euthanized (tragedy again).

As I thought about the day I reflected on the lessons that my children learn every day as a result of living on a farm.  The lesson of the day was about the cycle of life.  Life is fragile, all animals eventually die.  My children have the opportunity and excitement of seeing life begin, and the disappointment and sorrow of seeing it end.  While we have these animals in our care, we work and often sacrifice to meet their needs, realizing that the purpose of most of the animals in our care is to provide food (milk or meat) to sustain human life.  It was confirmed to me that my children care for our animals as evidenced by the tears they shed for a baby goat.  It is always hard to see a young animal die, but another one has been born.  Snickers is now a couple weeks old and plays with our family following us around yard and nibbling on whoever he can get hold of.

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Virtual Tour of our Dairy Farm

In celebration of Dairy Month, I am posting this video that I made a few months.

I hope you enjoy visiting our dairy.  You are always welcome to come visit in person!

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