Feed a cow, milk a cow, sell the milk. It all seems so easy.
Today the average person is 2 or 3 generations removed from the farm. The average person drives by a farm watch a commercial on television or hear a comment from someone “that knows” and it all seems so easy.
Ask a dairyman how easy it is. Usually, he won’t say much. He might agree with you half-heartedly because he thinks most people are only interested in cute little fluffy calves, big-eyed cows, and a Farm all tractor.
He won’t tell you that milking a cow 365 days a year includes Christmas, your birthday, and Super Bowl Sunday. He won’t tell you that milking a cow 365 days also means milking 365 nights and if he hires people to milk the cows it means scheduling, managing, and all the things that come with having employees.
Feeding cows is an everyday job. Cows have to be fed whether it’s 110 degrees outside or minus 10. Someone has to feed them even if the feed wagon is broken down, the tractor won’t start, or the wind blows the feed away as quickly as it can be put down.
Maybe he’ll tell about milk prices, break-even points, or feed costs but he won’t dwell on it. Why bother? He can do very little about the prices he’s given other than try to make the most quality milk he can and feed the most efficient feed ratio. Dairies are called “price–takers”. They don’t decide what price they will pay or what they will get paid. They are at the mercy of national and international markets and politics. Dairymen are long-term optimistic people. They have to be. They think bad times will always give way to good times and the good times will last longer than they ever have before.
Dairymen won’t tell you about the times things don’t go right. He won’t relive the morning the first thing he saw was the fresh cow from the night before lying dead in the corral, or the tank of milk he had to dump because someone milked a cow with antibiotics into it, or the cold morning none of the equipment started. He won’t tell you how many times his heart has been in his throat, how many bottles of Tums he goes through in a week, or how many sleepless nights he’s had.
Then, there are those people, the advocates. The people that want to fix agriculture but they don’t seem to understand agriculture or its importance of it. They have taken it upon themselves to make the world a better place by regulating, restricting, and inspecting farms so dairymen won’t do things they never have and never would. To a typical dairyman, it’s just more expenses and someone looking over his shoulder. With all that, why would anyone stay in the dairy business?
The dairyman won’t talk about that either. That’s because it’s hard to explain in words. There is just something about dairying when things go right. There is something about seeing cows file into a barn, be milked, and walk out when it is done right. There is something about newborn calves that never gets old. There is something about seeing every cow lined up at the manger eating as the sun comes up in the morning. There is just something about working with an animal, partnering with nature, as best as you can. Sometimes it all works out. That is when it is all worthwhile and almost easy.