Since transitioning to organic, Jeff has noticed that their herd health has really improved. "When we first switched over, we were using homeopathic remedies to treat illness in the cows. Now that they're on pasture, eating clean food, we rarely have to use anything because they're healthy. If a cow does get sick, she responds very quickly to the homeopathic treatment and springs back fast. Cows are not meant to eat grain, they're meant to eat grass and hay. In organic production you strive for longevity. You can't afford to burn out cows all the time like in conventional production."
Probably the most important reason for the Koesters' transition was the family. "We wanted our kids to have the best start," Sheila says. "This lifestyle really draws the family together. If you want to be satisfied with what you're doing you need to make sure you're in it for the whole package. We started homeschooling and transitioning to organic in '03 and people thought we were nuts. But we've learned is that it's okay to think outside the box."
"It's really just common sense," Jeff adds. "We have got to get back to using our common sense."
Jeff and Sheila love to have the boys involved on the farm, and they love to oblige. "I can remember when I was a kid and couldn't wait to get big enough or old enough to do this or that. Our boys are the same way. They couldn't wait till they were tall enough to be able to hook the milker to the pipeline and now they are. When I was making hay this past week, the two boys between them milked the cows for me." Throughout the year, their oldest son is in charge of giving the cows their mineral supplements, and both the boys take care of bedding the calves in Winter. "Makes me wonder how I used to do it without their help," Jeff says.
Besides the benefits to the immediate family, the Koesters benefit from their extended Organic Valley family. "Organic farmers are more than willing to share their knowledge," Sheila says. "They're not afraid to share what they know. We help each other." And that's a pretty good definition of family.