Friday, July 30, 2010

Dairy by the lake, ND.

It really paid off to be on the road early in the morning after our daring night in the corn fields. We had a quick breakfast and before 6 am everybody was buckled up and ready to roll.
When our woofing team made that right turn from the county road and started looking for a blue and white house with red old fashioned elevator and a contemporary metal barn we saw a young man fixing electrical fence on the side of the gravel road we were driving on.

"Hello, we are looking for Luke?!", I rolled the window and asked hoping that we were going in the right direction and didn't have to make a u turn.
"Yes, you have arrived!", we were greeted with a warm smile and a slight French accent. It was Guildas, who came from France and has been woofing for the last month on Dairy By Lake Farm.
Later we learnt that he has completed his studies in Engineering, came to the US to experience living and traveling in another country and will stay for another two months or so before going back home to Brittany. When he leaves at the end of the week, it will be a great loss for Luke and Julie, as Guildas has become like a member of the family and a great pair of extra hands to help with milking and farming.

When we were pulling into the driveway of a 1,200 acres dairy farm the warm breeze tickled our noses with the cow smell, a fine mixture of fresh milk and manure that only a dairy farmer or someone who really loves animals can call nature's perfume.

Luke was milking at 11am, and it was Julie that we met first. She introduced us to Ivan, their oldest son, who is 5 and a half. And then Sebastian ( 3 yo), whom she was pulling behind in a bicycle kid's cart. Baby Gwen (7 month old girl) was taking a nap and we met her later.

Then we all just barged into a milking parlor to see the cows being milked and get introduced to Luke. Did he have time for us? Not so much. It was a fourth round of milking the cows and he was hoping to finish soon because there was still bailing hay to do, business phone calls to make, and grain to be ground, and then a neighbor was coming to pick up a bull calve that they had been babysitting for some time, and the milkman was picking up milk that day and the list goes on and on.

Luke and Julie started their dairy farm 3 years ago. They moved from Montana and purchased 1,200 acres of land with a house, and a few structures on the farm. The dairy was not in operation, and everybody around them thought they were crazy to start one, but they didn't listen to anybody and did it anyway. With no milking experience, or even growing up on a farm, they had plunged head first and had purchased their first 40 cows the first year. The milking equipment was bought used for around $2,000. What came handy was their negotiating skills they had picked up after spending 2 years in Slovakia, where Julie was teaching in the International School run by a big steel mill in Kosice, and Luke was working from home doing computer programming.

I guess these two years in Slovakia, living in a small apartment on the fifth floor made him crave open spaces and fresh air more than anything else.

"So, why was North Dakota your choice?", I asked, curious to hear his answer.
"Well, we wanted to start a business and the price per acre here in North Dakota is very affordable. We couldn't do this size dairy operation in Montana, where we had lived before. We enjoy what we do and have a five year master plan for the future", Luke replied with a smile, probably predicting my next question.
"So, what's the master plan?", I jumped right in. Oh, I can be so predictable some times!
"We have 78 milking cows now. In two years we would like to build a new milking parlor and expand our herd to 120 cows. In five years our vision is to have a well established business, have a few employees and and slowly start looking for someone to take over for us. When we have it all figured out, we'd like to open a chain of dairies maybe in Brazil, or Uruguay. The prospects of booming dairy farms in South America are huge".

The master plan it is! But for now Luke and Julie have rolled up their sleeves, took a magical potion of both courage and patience, and have been doing all the work by themselves, with some help here and there. So we have rolled up our sleeves and were ready to find out whether we'd like having a dairy farm of our own one day, or not.


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