PORTLAND, N.D. – “Gramma!”
This may not be the type of call you expect to hear but it’s the name that Dean Strand has given to his lead cow, and she isn’t his first Gramma.
“There's been a few other Grammas in the past but she's probably one of the older ones out there right now,” said Strand.
Gramma isn’t the only animal who’s called by a unique name on Strand’s farm near Portland, North Dakota. He has a black lab companion affectionately named Dumbass.
“I had another black lab for a number of years and he was ‘Dumbass’ too,” said Strand. “It just sticks.”
▪ Strand comes from a family of farmers. His family purchased the land in the 1940s and he later bought it from his mother.
▪ The farm originally specialized in dairy cattle and then transitioned to beef cattle and is now home to Corriente cattle.
▪ Corriente cattle are a Spanish breed of cattle best known for their long horns. They are commonly used in cattle roping because of the longhorn trait.
▪ Strand was a long-time competitor in cattle roping. After retiring from the sport he began to raise roping cattle as a way to stay involved in roping.
▪ Strand mentors local kids on how to rope and takes them to competitions.
BROOTEN, Minn. – At a creamery near Brooten, Minnesota, cows don't come to a farmer yelling a phrase but to the sound of a mechanical beast.
Jerry Jennissen, part owner of Jer-Lindy Farms and Redhead Creamery, said once the cows hear a tractor start up, most know it’s time to eat.
Jennissen said the cows fall into the routine of getting milked, then patiently waiting for the sound of the tractor.
The cows in the barn and the ones outside react the same. They line up along a railing as the tractor unloading the feed rolls by, and one by one stick their heads out of the barn.
Not all the cows eat right away, however. Jerry said some cows fatigue quickly after being milked. But it’s nothing to be concerned about because there’s enough feed left over for when the cows decide they're ready to dig in.
▪ Jerry and Linda Jennissen, along with one of their four daughters, Alise, own and operate Jer-Lindy Farms and Redhead Creamery at Brooten, Minnesota.
▪ Nearly 200 dairy cows are milked twice daily. The milk flows through underground pipes to the creamery.
▪ Jennissen said the key to success is the treatment of the cows. All their cows are treated like a pregnant human should be treated. The golden rule of dairy cows is framed and posted in the milking station to remind employees and family of their role in the farm’s success.
▪ Paige Roberts, farm assistant and Wisconsin-River Falls animal science graduate, said the cows respond much better to gentle encouragement.
▪ The farm is open to public tours on weekends and the creamery is open to private events. The creamery specializes in cheddar, Muenster, and cheese curds.
▪ Jerry said they cater to all types of events. The creamery has held birthday parties, wedding receptions, and good old get-togethers.
WARWICK, N.D. – Beep. Beep. The combination of blaring horn and the pungent aroma of silage draws cattle toward the trough at the Langley farm near Warwick, North Dakota. A tradition passed from generation to generation seemed to have lost its way until sixth-generation cattle farmer, Austin Langley, thought about it a little more.
"That's a thing of the past – calling cattle. Nowadays they just come runnin’,” said Langley.
Sitting in his John Deere tractor, Langley begins his daily ritual of scooping up silage and dumping it in a 700-foot trough. One by one the cattle poke their heads up as the food spills into the trough. It’s at this point that Langley realizes cow calling may not be dead after all.
"Holy cow, I do call cattle,” said Langley. “I can't believe it, but honking this horn in some way or another is how I call my cattle. Who woulda ever thought!"
Dating to the early 1800s, the Langleys began cattle farming in Kansas. Moving north into Minnesota, they picked up a new profession in logging. But in 1904, the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation opened to white settlers. At that point, great-grandpa Langley moved from Minnesota to Warwick and began cattle farming once again. Today you can find this family of cattle farmers at the end of the aptly named Langley Drive.
"Every day is about the same when it comes to feeding cattle, but no two days are the same," said Langley. "I think that's one of the things I love most about it. In this field of work, you need to think of it more as a hobby and less of a job, otherwise you'll go crazy. I think that's part of the reason all the old guys can never get out. They can't find anything else to fill their time."
Counting on hard work to bring rich meaning to life certainly seems to be the case for this family. Within a radius of 10 miles, Langley's dad, uncle, and grandpa can all be found feeding their cattle at sunrise and again around sunset.
"Junior year of college, my dad shattered his leg and that was when I first started feeding on my own; baptism by fire so to speak," said Langley. "It's always been nice because I was never forced into it. I see so many kids who don't have an option of what they're going to do. I had the option to participate in sports and school clubs, and I still chose this crazy profession."
Just last year, Langley, 25, married his high school sweetheart, Kate, whose family also raises cattle about 20 miles away. The couple is looking to start a family one day, hoping their kids will take on the role of cattle farming once they're old enough.
"We haven't even had time for a honeymoon,” Langley said. “It makes things difficult without having helping hands. This isn't something you're just able to leave for a while and come back to. It's an everyday commitment and you don't just want to rely on someone who doesn't necessarily know what they're doing."
As time-consuming as it may be, one thing is certain when you travel to this farm down by the river near the little town of Warwick: Every day at about 8 a.m., come rain, snow, sleet, or shine, you'll find Langley firing up his tractor to feed these huge animals, and then he’ll do it all again around 6 p.m.
All the machinery, hay, silage, and family on the farm may be important, but Langley will tell you his farm wouldn’t be possible without one thing.
“I was once asked what the most important thing to keep my farm going is, and it took me several weeks, but it really stuck with me,” said Langley. “God; God is the most important part of my farm. I rely on him for the soil, the weather, the food, and everything else out here. Without him, none of this is possible.”
For now, he can only rely on himself, his wife, his family, and God. But one day soon he might just be able to rely on a son or daughter to carry on the family tradition by choosing this crazy “hobby” once again.
BEJOU, Minn. – Tim Gunderson calls his cattle in a similar fashion to most farmers in the region; he shouts, “Come boss” and the older cattle lead the rest of the herd to him.
He calls his cattle whether from an impressive distance or if they are just a couple of yards away.
On some occasions his dog, Pete, will help round up the cattle, a job Gunderson has trained Pete to do. Gunderson said it really helps with the legwork and reduces stress on the cattle. There are always a couple of stubborn stragglers but Pete helps round up all the cattle, said Gunderson.
▪ Gunderson, 26, is a fourth-generation farmer. Originally, his family came from Norway but his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father grew up a couple of miles away from what they now call Gunderson Farms.
▪ Three generations of Gundersons live together on Gunderson Farms in their respective houses, but Tim and his father, Mike, run the farm these days.
▪ Gunderson and his wife, Ceara, recently had a baby boy, Jackson. He hopes Jackson will eventually take over the farm.
▪ Gunderson is one of the younger farmers in the region but his skills and talent are on par with senior farmers. His dog training skills are incredible, which really helps when it comes to skirting the cows.
TAPPEN, N.D. – The third-generation Stroh ranching family says calling cattle is a tradition of the past.
To an outsider, the Strohs appear to engage in cattle-calling … disguised as something else. Riding four-wheelers, they herd cows and calves, much like a cattle dog would, to move cattle from one place to another.
When Twyla Stroh, Lindsay’s mother-in-law, gets on the four-wheeler she does more than just drive. Twyla’s language most definitely amounts to cattle-calling. Zooming around, she yells at the cows -- calling some by name -- and tells them what to do and where to go.
“Come on Red! Go follow your baby!”
It’s quite comical to see the cows move from one barn to another with their 1- to 2-day-old babies, as they twist and turn, forgetting where their baby is and almost stepping on others.
“Red! Move, you lazy cow, you’re going to step on someone else’s baby!” hollers Twyla.
▪ Lindsay is a photojournalism graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead. She married into the Stroh family, and lives on the Stroh Organic Farm with her husband, Brandon, and their twin daughters.
▪ Brandon’s parents, Dean and Twyla Stroh, started the organic farm in 1986. The couple’s college-age daughter, BreAnna, and younger son, Landon, help on the farm.
▪ Stroh Organic Farm has about 500 head of cattle. They also produce grain crops.
▪ The Strohs raise calves from birth, and keep them as breeding stock or sell them to another farm.
LAKE PARK, Minn. – As his breath touches the air and separates into an icy chuckle, Michael Strom jokes about his day-to-day activities at Remuda Vae Stock Horse and Cattle Co.
“There’s never a dull moment,” Strom says, as two steers begin to battle while the others graze on the 1,000-acre farm.
When it comes to calling his cattle, Strom goes for the visual rather than the verbal.
At Strom’s farm it’s become the norm for his cattle to associate seeing a bucket with getting food. When they think “food,” they come running.
“They’re smart animals,” Strom says. “They catch on quickly and will walk with me even if it’s empty, because they know wherever I’m walking back to, there will be more (food).”
Strom views his daily routine as repetitive but rarely boring.
“The days consist of the same duties, but come with different obstacles.”
The phrase “different obstacles” is an understatement.
Strom not only provides care for 150 cows and 175 steer calves, but also maintains a full-time job in addition to being a full-time farmer and full-time dad.
From midnight to 8 a.m., Strom works night shifts at the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo. Although he misses the first feeding of his cattle at 6 a.m., farm work seamlessly carries on with the help of his wife’s family and five kids.
“It can be exhausting balancing it all,” Strom said, “but after keeping up with this schedule for so long, it’s become my norm.”
MAHNOMEN, Minn. – It's not often you hear a registered nurse yelling, “Come, boss!” in the middle of a Minnesota field, but that's just what you'll find Deborah Hoseth doing at the Hoseth farm.
Deb met, fell in love with and married Blair Hoseth. She then moved to his farm near Mahnomen, Minnesota. Deb tried to maintain her career as a nurse by working nights in a nearby hospital but found that trying to sleep during the day was nearly impossible with all the activity and noises on the farm.
Deb recalls Blair giving her some sound advice on balancing her two lifestyles.
“You know how to take care of people,” Blair said to Deb, “so it should be no problem taking care of animals.”
Deb decided to give up nursing to work full time with Blair in their cattle and farming operation, moving from the sterile environment of medicine to tromping through the snow, mud, muck and manure of farm life.
During the beginning of her farming days, Deb learned to move livestock from one pasture to another. It was here that Deb discovered the necessity of calling cows and learned the art from her father-in-law, who had been calling cattle his whole life.
Deb and Blair have now been on their farm for over 30 years and have raised three children who also worked the land. Because of their upbringing, each child obtained a college degree debt-free because they owned their own herd, which they raised and took to market to pay for their education.
One of their daughters married a farmer in Canada, the other daughter is a minister in the Twin Cities area, and their son is studying agriculture at North Dakota State University, Fargo.
Deb and Blair said they've had a good life and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – As 8:30 a.m. rolls around on Marc Walter’s farm, it’s already time for cows to be milked for the second time today.
The gates to milking stalls fling open, creating a path for cows to plod toward their stalls. Walter whistles and all the cows begin to make their way toward the stalls. Whenever a few stop and look around, all it takes is a quick whistle to get them to hustle back with the rest of the herd. Walter’s way of getting his cows to go where they need to go is simple and efficient.
Walter is the third-generation owner of his farm. The farm began as a small family operation.
“I remember doing the milking by hand back when I was growing up,” Walter, 28, said.
That all changed as the farm began to expand, and before long, Walter’s farm grew to a 350-cow operation. With the expansion of the farm came a growing workforce as well as new technology. He employs 10 full-time workers to help with the dairy herd.
With all the extra hands, he even added a break room for his employees. In that break room is a monitor that has live camera feeds of all the cows on the farm. This allows Walter and his employees to keep a watchful eye on the herd. If anything happens to one of them, staff is able to care for the animal as soon as possible.
High-tech collars are another method of keeping track of Walter’s cattle. When a cow is not eating as much as it should, the collar alerts Walter. The alert helps him identify if the cow is ill or if the cow is in heat.
A surveillance system behind the break room keeps track of proper milking techniques. Down the hall are two large tankers that hold milk waiting to be picked up by Dean Foods, the local dairy distributor.
With the increase in production and manpower, Walter found that the cows needed to put in more work as well. Originally, the cows were milked just twice a day. Starting at 4:30 a.m., they are now milked three times a day.
The reason for the extra milking is not just because it produces more milk. It’s because the cows need it. When the cows were milked just twice a day, they would leak milk because their udders were overly full. They couldn’t even lie down because their udders would get so sore. Now with three milking times, the cows and Walter both benefit, even though it means more work and an earlier wake-up time. Walter expects that in this line of work.
“We’re a dairy farm, and that’s just what we do,” Walter says proudly.
WOLVERTON, Minn. – “Here Gerd, come cow,” says Bob Petry, owner and operator of Grass Stains farm, as his dairy cow Gerd slowly makes her way over to the barn to be milked each morning. Some days Petry doesn’t need to call Gerd because she’s already patiently waiting for him in the milking barn.
Calling cattle has been passed down through generations, Petry said.
“My grandfather came here from Germany where he brought his traditions and taught his children, which was eventually passed down to me,” said Petry.
Calling cattle has become something most farmers don’t even think about. It comes naturally, without conscious thought, almost as easy as breathing, Petry said.
On a little farm called Grass Stains, tucked between fields covered in dirt and patches of snow near Wolverton, Minnesota, live Bob and Marie Petry.
For Bob, farming is about having a relationship with his animals so they understand that when he calls them, it means he’s going to take care of them.
For the Petry family, the farm serves a very important purpose in their lives. Marie suffers from celiac disease, and the farm is used to help provide food for the family that Marie can enjoy.
“We just feel so much better knowing exactly what is going into our food and how it is being prepared,” said Bob.
“Bob takes a lot of pride in being able to provide the majority of our meals,” Marie said.
They use separate grass plots to feed the cows in the summertime, which helps provide healthy home-grown meat for them.
They recently suffered a loss, as Gerd lost her newborn calf this past winter. Thus, Bob now has to milk Gerd twice a day.
“It’s a sad day when you lose a calf,” Bob said. “Not only is it hard for the mama cow, but that calf was going to grow up and provide us with food.”
DUMONT, Minn. – David Tritz walks in his barn and loads feed on a conveyor belt. He starts it up. Some cows rush over; others hesitate.
“I don’t really call the cows,” Tritz said. “I just turn the machine on and they just want food.”
Tritz may not think he’s calling cows, but the noise of the machine does it for him. Turn it on and they come running.
▪ David Tritz is a third-generation farmer hoping to pass it down to his only child, Anna Tritz, who is attending NDSU.
▪ David does not name his cattle but Anna had named all the cows that are mainly black, “Blacky” and all the cows that are mostly white, “Whitey.”
▪ David said he likes to keep an emotional distance from his cattle because he doesn’t want to get attached or affect the meat.
▪ He raises Holstein and beef cows. The number in his herd at a given time depends on whether the cattle market is high or low.
▪ He has 41 cows on a 160-acre farm. He also tried raising goats and pigs for a short time but he said they are “just a pain.”
Dr. Deneen Gilmour