Updated: Jun 5, 2022
“Have a good time. Keep me posted on how things are going. and send me some pictures”
Theses were the parting words of my husband as the kids and I left for Illinois in June to attend the National Holstein Convention. Actually, these were the parting words as we left for the State FFA Convention, Spring Dairy Expo, the Ohio State Fair, numerous District Shows and several other events this summer.
After taking over the family dairy operation this spring, Donald, the girls and I decided that we would have to start doing more of the work ourselves and limit our reliance on paid help. Part of our decision was the result of milk prices dropping and the need to reduce expenses, the other influence was our inability to find reliable help that was willing to work hard and take good care of our herd.
For the last few years, we were spoiled by having two employees that milked for us. One in the mornings and one in the evenings. My father-in-law would go out and help Donald with the hay and straw. And, the girls and I took care of the heifers along with my two brothers-in-law. We were able to attend shows in-state and out-of-state, travel to sales and actively participate in the social aspects of the dairy industry. And for those of you who know my husband, you understand that he is a very social person with a passion for showing. He is proud of the show herd that he has developed over many decades and still enjoys putting on his white pants and heading for the show ring.
But that all changed when Donald’s dad and brothers retired, and one of our long-time employees decided that milking cows was a “dead-end job.” We were left to decide whether or not we needed to replace the help we had just lost. Four months and three employees later, Don and I are still heading to the parlor in the mornings. And yes, it’s cramping the lifestyle we were accustomed to.
At first, I admit that this college graduate was a bit snobbish regarding her presence in the parlor. How hard can it be to milk cows? Soon, I was proven wrong, as I realized how important the job of milking was to the farming operation. It is vital. And, I wondered why we were going to settle for any smuck to do this job for us? I even struggle, trying to figure out how to remember which cow was which, just by looking at their backside.
I have found that I really enjoy milking the cows, instead of going to an office job. I love my co-workers. I can wear my pajamas to work. I don’t have to reprimand the cows for playing on their phones instead of doing their jobs. They listen to me (I really believe that they do). There’s no drama. Everyone usually shows up for work. And, they love me unconditionally, as long as there is feed in the parlor. But there are no sick days, vacations or holidays. There are missed sporting events, showing up at meetings late, canceled vacations and a multitude of other hiccups that prevent the “normal” routine that I was accustomed to in my previous life. Unfortunately, there are no promotions from Milking Assistant to Vice President of Milking or CEO of the Dairy, but it’s far from a dead-end job. It is a position that you have to be trained to do. There’s no calling Office Temps to find someone to fill in a few shifts here and there. It’s a commitment that often goes under- appreciated and taken for granted. The financial success of the farm is directly tied to milking the cows twice a day.
Of course, Donald is the one that elects to stay home. He claims that it’s because the girls need me. But in reality, I know it’s because I can’t run a skid-loader, drive a tractor, breed a cow or operate the feed cart. I know. What kind of dairy wife am I? But I believe that we all play a special role in the farming operation, based on our talents and expertise. So far, I have not fully mastered those skill sets, and I’m not so sure that I want to.
It’s funny how our mutual love for cows is what brought Donald and I together. And now, it is that same passion that is keeping us apart. Although I enjoyed traveling to Illinois with the Ohio Juniors and attending all the shows and events over the summer, it’s not the same, knowing that my better half is back at home, dealing with flooded fields, waiting to finish the first cutting of hay and troubleshooting the day-to-day struggles of running the dairy, while the rest of us “go do the fun stuff.” Granted, we are not the first, or the only farm, that is facing these struggles. Just visiting with others at the National Convention reminded me that we are no different than many other small dairies across the country, trying to maintain the family dairy, in good times and in bad. Battling bad weather, bad employees, bad economics and bad luck.
So, for those of you who elect (or are drafted) to stay on the farm, while those of us attend shows or travel to meetings...Thank You! That blue ribbon given to our heifer is a result of the daily care she receives on the farm. And, the opportunity to attend industry meetings and events are made possible by someone taking on the extra workload in our absence. I know that I don’t tell my husband “thank-you” nearly enough. And it wasn’t until my lifestyle was altered, and I was washing out the parlor while proofreading articles on my phone, trying to milk cows and still have time to shower before going to church, losing my shoes in the mud holes trying to get cows in at 5 am, and pushing that stubborn heifer that just freshened into the holding pen without letting ten others out, that I fully understood and valued the hard work that is needed to keep the farm going. Seven days a week. Fifty-two weeks a year.
Sometimes, we really do leave the best ones back at the barn.