Welcome to our blog series, Dairying: Through a Woman’s Eyes. This series will highlight women who are actively owning or operating dairy farms around our great state of Washington. These women play pivitol roles in day to day farming operations; shattering the old stigma of dairy farming.
Volume No. 6
While driving down the long lane to Ashton Beanblossom family’s dairy farm, prepare to be awed by the gorgeous twin peak mountain view and the lush, green fields surrounding their property. Look a little closer and you’ll see Ashton’s 2-year old daughter, Emmalyn sipping a cold glass of milk on the porch.
Ashton, mom to two (soon to be three!) is 4th generation on her family’s dairy, RTJ Farm which is part of a long line of ancestors dedicated to this Whatcom County dairy. In 1948, Raymond Tjoelker Sr., Ashton’s great-grandfather, bought the farm and started with 29 cows. Today, their 450 cows are a result of all their own breeding, successful calf raising, and a lot of hard work.
Generation after generation has been involved, including Ashton and her three sisters who all grew up working on the farm.
“My dad treated us like sons,” Ashton joked. “I think that’s why we’re all so tough.”
Although not all of her sisters work on the farm full-time, they all make time to come back and help out when needed, mostly because they want one of their mom’s home-cooked meals.
Ashton has played a role on the farm since 1st grade when she started feeding the calves. Her deep love for the farm didn’t stop her from trading in her work boots for a passport. After high school, she spent some time abroad backpacking in Europe and served on youth mission trips in Australia and Thailand. These experiences allowed her to see other parts of the world while helping others, but no matter where she was her heart remained with the farm.
When Ashton returned to the States, she worked for another local dairy before returning to the family farm. With her dad’s mentoring and the motto ‘you’ll figure it out’, Ashton did just that. The more time she spent with the cows, the more she learned which led to her managing herd health including, breeding, feeding, and regularly working with their vet. This role on the farm allows Ashton to spend a lot of one-on-one time with her ‘girls’ (cows).
“All of the cows have their own personality and I enjoy taking care of them,” Ashton explained. “When you spend every day with them, you can tell if one isn’t feeling well just by looking at them.”
A big priority for Ashton as herd health manager is preventative care.
“Dairying is all about being proactive, “explained Ashton. “It goes a long way, especially for the calves. If you can give them the best possible start, they will be healthier and more productive in the long run.”
This type of care in calf raising has proved to be efficient on their farm because since Ashton’s great-grandfather bought the original 29 cows, the family hasn’t had to buy another cow since-they raise all their own.
Another example of how Ashton practices preventative care is the heightened level of care the cow gets after having their new calf.
“The cows get an orange smoothie after giving birth,” Ashton said with a laugh. “Well kind of a smoothie-that’s what we call it. It’s basically a nutritional boost with extra vitamins to help the cow recover.”
While Ashton loves spending quality time with her ‘girls’ (cows), she admits that it is hard for her to stay out of the tractors.
“I love plowing and doing the field work,” Ashton exclaimed. “Our farm does all our own field work planting prep, harvesting, round baling, and manure application so it’s important to stay on top of those farm duties.”
While dairying provides Ashton’s family lots of joy and their livelihood, they also face challenges. One of those is finding and keeping reliable employees.
“We put a lot of effort into training our employees and making them happy,” said Ashton. “We milk three times a day with varying shifts and rely on our employees to help us stay on track and organized. Even though a lot of the family works on the farm, our employees help make sure every part of the farm is running like a well-oiled machine.”
What will their farm look like in 20 years?
“That’s a good question,” Ashton said with a sigh. “Dairy farming now is a different ball game from when my great-grandfather started this almost 70 years ago. Regulations are tight, which we need to keep us in check, but some of them are very strict. Our farm is involved in best nutrient management practices and are involved in several programs with the Conservation District (including the CREP project). We recycle, reuse, follow water and manure regulations, all to help preserve the land and to ensure we are producing quality milk in the most sustainable way possible.”
The Tjoelker family is unclear if their farm will always be a dairy. They hope that it will but they do not know what the future holds. Robotic milking machines to help with labor challenges or downsizing are a few of the options they have look into for the future.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but I enjoyed being raised on a farm and I want to raise my kids the same way,” Ashton said. “I learned so many lessons about life and hard work. This farm made me who I am today.”
Ashton believes everyone should know what happens beyond the shelf at the grocery store, which is why she manages her farm’s Facebook page. She explains day-to-day farming practices and you’ll always find cute pictures of her kids and cows- her page is worth following!