Goodbye, hello


I have an earworm song swirling in and out of my mind as I decipher the story I want to tell. 

The Beatles sang, “You say yes. I say no. You say high. I say low. I don’t know why you say goodbye when I say hello, hello, hello.”

We’ve been saying goodbye quite a bit around here, but we are also saying hello this spring to new ideas. It all started with a simple letter.

Instead of a letter announcing the annual Benton County Dairy Herd Improvement Association banquet, we received a notice on the transition of responsibilities from the county to the state association. It was the end of an era, as Benton County DHIA ceased to exist.

DHIA has been such a big part of our family farm’s story since our first test day in 1974.

The top cow that year was Nancy, a purebred cow from our herd. This intrigued Mel Hackett, a registered breeder neighbor across the fields to the east. He popped over for a look at this cow. Ralph was excited to show him Nancy. He explained how he had purchased her granddam at the St. Cloud Orphanage Dairy Sale. She was a registered animal, but Ralph never kept the paperwork up on her descendants.

It didn’t take Mel long to realize we qualified for the Holstein Association USA open herd book program to capture “lost” purebred cattle. This was the first step in the creation of RALMA Holsteins.

Every month, it was a race to the mailbox to get the latest DHIA report. With a keen eye, Mark would study the production reports to discover which family lines he wanted to develop and which animals didn’t make the mark. Ralph always said the purebreds had to milk better than the grades to stay in the herd. The monthly reports provided Mark with the information he needed to justify keeping his cows and converting the herd to registered cattle.

Eventually, Mark would serve on the county board in the early years of our marriage. There were long night meetings and a revolving door of testers to train. It was challenging, but come banquet time, it was all about having fun with dairy families. The banquet was our annual date night. It was a time to get dressed up and head to town to laugh and reconnect with other families across the county after a long winter season. The board would eventually schedule the banquet as close to Valentine’s Day to give the farmers a free pass in case they forgot.

Over the years, it became a family affair with the kids. Many of them had been going since they were in strollers. As the kids got older, we convinced them they could accept the award for low somatic cell count or high production cow since it was their favorite cow. Today, the grandkids gaze over the line of trophies as to which one they will claim as champion of family contests.

When Ralph retired from dairying in 1987 (the year we were married), there were 107 herds on test milking 5,778 cows for an average production of 16,512 pounds of milk per cow. In 2022, Benton County had 38 herds with almost 17,000 cows on test. The top production cow was No. 7670, who produced 40,868 pounds of milk in 305 days.

My, how things changed in those 35 years. We say goodbye to filled banquet halls brimming with laughter and clanking silverware. We say goodbye to a time where everyone knew their neighbor’s family lineage as well as their family’s cow names. Today, we say hello to new production and information at our fingertips. At least we get to keep our same tester.

As we say goodbye to the county DHIA traditions, we are saying hello to adventures. In keeping with the family motto of “using what you have and making due with what you’ve got,” Austin is pushing us to say hello to a world of production technology.

Austin has been refitting the planter to incorporate a more accurate placement of seed and fertilizers. He is also creating his own portable bracket system out of scrap metal to allow us to place a GPS system on tractors. He is chanting a new motto of “spend money to save money.” He has crunched the numbers to support his vision of what he wants to see develop for the land … just as his dad did when he scoured the DHIA reports all those years ago to improve the herd.

I’ve noticed within my family how struggles between goodbye and hello can bring a few sour notes to a song. Old men forget not just birthdays and anniversaries but memories of their struggles to make their mark on the farm. It wasn’t that long ago when we wanted to say hello to a new vision.

Aren’t our sons and daughters truly following the family trail as they step on the path with their own vision and dreams … just like we did from our fathers before us? We’re at a point of you say goodbye, and I say hello. This is going to be a sweet song to have caught swirling around in my head.

As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark Schmitt started an adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.


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