Time Ticks On

I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot about the passage of time lately. Especially around this time of the year I find myself looking back at everything that has happened in my life. Specifically yesterday I was thinking about how by the end of next month it’ll have been six years since the worst day of my entire life. Other random times I’ll find myself thinking about how old some of my first cows are getting, and about how much we’ve been through together.

Today specifically I find myself thinking about all that, plus one thing more. One year ago today I went home from college for the weekend and heard the news that my ag teacher, the one who throughout all of high school I referred to as my favorite teacher, was arrested for possession of child pornography. A year ago I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know how to handle it. Today I find myself a lot different.

A year ago I was still trying to defend him, to wrap my head around it. Here was this gentle, kind man that I had known for what seemed like my whole life. He wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t a monster. So many other people were so quick to jump up and say he was disgusting and why can’t I just see that. And I know I couldn’t have been the only one feeling that way.

Today I feel different. Today it has sadly become a fact of life. I couldn’t stop crying for days after that last year. But today my feelings are different. I no longer cry about it. Honestly today I feel a mix of things. I feel anger, angry at him a little bit, but more so at the world and whatever could’ve happened in his life that I wasn’t a part of after I graduated to make him decide that he needed to do this. But mostly I feel pity. Pity that something did in fact happen, and that whatever happened it made him feel that he needed to turn to this. I don’t know if I forgive him or not, because he didn’t actually do anything to me, so it feels weird to think that I actually have to forgive him for anything. Except what he did, it affected everyone he knew. When a person who is so well liked and respected does something like that, it affects the whole community, whether they realize it or not.

Another thing that I have been thinking about lately is my cows. Specifically my older ones, and during this time of year I’m always thinking about one in particular, and one night in particular. October 30, 2013. I was fourteen years old. I was a child, still learning how to be a decent person and how to speak up and defend myself. I had just recently gotten my cows, around a year before to be exact, and they were teaching me things that I could never have noticed at the time. Well that night was the night that I always say I grew up, and I became an adult before I needed to or was expected to.

No one expected it to happen. Hazelnut was my first Jersey. She was nine months old, she was meant to live for many years later. Until suddenly she wasn’t.

The one thing I’ve learned from farming is to always be ready for anything. Expect the unexpected. Except sometimes there’s no way to expect or prepare for something like this.

The last time I saw Hazelnut she was a bloated mess laying on the floor. That sounds disgusting, but that’s the only way I can describe it. And even now I can still picture her so clearly in my mind on that last day that it’s even caused me to have a panic attack in the middle of a college classroom one time last year. Even now I find myself thinking about it and shaking a little bit.

I never know how to explain myself to my friends here at college. They all know how much I love my cows, and what they mean to me. But every year I find myself saying how much I hate Halloween, and having to just say it’s for personal reasons because I don’t know how to explain it, and because honestly sometimes I think I might start sobbing still when I try to explain it.

I’ve been thinking about this, because as it is September Halloween is on it’s way. A lot of my friends are all excited for “spooky season” but I can’t get on that boat anymore. It might’ve happened on the 30th, but she died the next morning, Halloween morning. And so I hate Halloween, and probably will for the rest of my life.

This year it’ll have been six years since that terrible night. If it hadn’t happened, and it really shouldn’t have happened, she would’ve been six years old this upcoming February. I can’t even imagine that. In my head she will always be the little nine month old Jersey, taken way too soon.

I can’t help but think of this and everything else I’ve been through when I hear people saying that dairy farming is wrong or bad in any way. It’s accidents like this that make people more likely to think that, but what a lot of people don’t get is how dangerous this job actually is. They don’t get that there are some things that just can’t be prepared for. Farmers are not around their cows every single moment, and sometimes things happen in those moments. And then people say well it’s just for profit, and farmers don’t give a crap if a cow dies, except that they’re sad that they lost money. This has never been about money. And if you don’t believe me, well you must not have been reading this blog post very carefully.

Things happen, and sometimes those things serve to define who you are as a person. Life is hard, and sometimes it’s extremely hard. Sometimes you’re left to question how you move on, and what could possibly come next. But those things that happen, I fully believe it is God sending a message, or making you stronger. The hardest moments in life are the things that you come out of on the other side as a stronger, wiser, and more beautiful person than you were before.

I don’t know who I would be today if I didn’t farm and I didn’t write. Those are the two things that I feel that I was always meant to do, no matter how many people tried to tell me not to. I say this all the time, but I mean it. If it wasn’t for my cows I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And if I didn’t write, I don’t know if I actually would’ve made it through some of the things that I’ve been through. If it wasn’t for those two things, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I might not even be in college, or if I was, it wouldn’t be studying creative writing.

But after everything, the number one thing I’ve learned is that time ticks on. And sometimes things just hurt, and they hurt so much that at the time you can’t help but think that there’s absolutely no way you could ever get through this. And yet time ticks on. And sometimes the best and only thing you can do is to tick on right along with it.

Ask Farmers not Google

Throughout my life there are a few things that I’ve found that I don’t think I will ever understand. One of those things is that people who claim dairy farming is cruel never stop to listen to what actual dairy farmers have to say. Yesterday I found a phrase that I think might be my new favorite phrase, and that is Ask Farmers not Google. I can’t help but always wish to defend one of the industries that I have dedicated my life to on social media any time something comes up. And somehow every single time people never seem to want to listen to the people who have actually been on a farm for most of their lives. Instead they prefer to listen to the other side and decide to just assume that mislead people that have never actually stepped into a barn and that one bad egg who did something wrong represents the whole industry. And they always act like everything is just so simple.

Nothing at all about farming is simple. And nothing can just be explained away as cruel, because that is just not how it works. Even the one that always comes up, the fact that male calves are often sent to the slaughterhouse is not that simple. Some farmers keep their male calves, and some are sent into the breeding industry. Every farm is different, but each farmer feels passionate about what they do, and they do it with love and respect for their animals, no matter what other people think.

Even though they all love cows, that doesn’t mean that everyone has a relationship with their cows. I don’t know if I’m unique or not, but my cows mean more to me than the world. My first show cow I’ve ever had, Katy, is literally my best friend, no matter how weird that sounds to people. When I was younger I had a hard time making friends with people. My cows taught me responsibility, love, care, and friendship. They taught me how to talk, they made me the person I am today. Most of that I owe to Katy.

When I go off to college I miss Katy the most out of all my cows. Katy is over seven years old now, and we’ve been a pair for almost a third of my life. I often compare my life to movies including humans with relationships with animals, by complete accident, and most of the time I compare Katy and me to Toothless and Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. I can’t say if any other farmer has a relationship with cows like this, but I know that I do. I don’t know what I will do with my life when she passes, as she will have to eventually. But more than anything Katy has helped to shape my life. Every single experience I’ve had with her has been one that I will never forget. Katy stands at the end of the barn, and always turns to look at me when I come in, and sometimes she comes up to me when she’s out in the field. Often she will even seem to get mad at me or be really sad when I leave and go off to college.

I believe every farmer has a different relationship with their cows, but every single one takes care of them and loves them. So next time, if you don’t know anything about dairy farming, and you’re about to go and post a comment on a farmer’s social media post, especially if you’re not completely sure what you’re talking about, or if you’ve only heard about dairy farming from other people who are not farmers, I urge you to think. And before you Google something, ask a farmer.

For the love of a cow

Sometimes I feel that people who don’t grow up on dairy farms don’t really understand me. I often find myself trying to explain my life to them, and I’m not always sure how. Even though I am a writer, I cannot always find the words. The only way I can ever really think to explain it is that my cows are my life, they mean everything to me, and everything I do I do because I love them. That in itself is always why when I hear people say what I do is cruel or inhuman I feel the need to speak up and say no. I always tell them when this happens that the easiest way to learn the truth is to find an actual local farmer and ask if you can visit the farm. I’m not sure if all farmers feel the same way as I do, in fact I’m sure there are some out there that don’t, but I do know most farmers are motivated by love for the animals they care for.

Because all farmers do is actually care for their cows, not harm them. Cows became domesticated millions of years ago; like a cat or a dog that lives in the house they would not be able to survive on their own. Farmers are out there sometimes over twelve hours a day or more to make sure the cows are safe, healthy and happy. Every day is devoted to the cows. Not that there aren’t some bad days. I can’t even count the number of times I have left the barn just mentally or physically exhausted and wanting to be home or crying because something didn’t go right or because a cow accidentally hurt me in some way. I’ve even heard my dad on his worst days saying he doesn’t know why he keeps doing this. I never tell him I know the exact reason why; it’s for the love of the cows.

Now I have never had a boyfriend. I have never seen the need. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like to be in love. I’ve just had yet to experience it with a human that is not a friend or part of my family . But I know what it is to love a cow more than anything else, including myself. I’ve been showing cows and working on the farm for almost a third of my life. I know what it’s like to feel the ups and downs of life, especially since there’s more of that on a dairy farm than probably anywhere else in the world. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve had where the barn was my only sanctuary, and I felt like the cows were the only ones that understood me. And I can’t tell you how much it hurt to see any of them suffer even if they weren’t my own special show cow, because there are no words to describe that. The worst days of my life have often included the words “there’s nothing more that can be done.” And there are no words to describe how much those words can rip your heart out.

Throughout my life I have often found my best friends in my cows. I understand that people who don’t know me, and who’ve never lived or will never live the life I do will never understand that. And I feel sorry for them, because they will never know this love that I do. Maybe someday I will be like my dad, with days where I question why I keep on doing what I do. But then again maybe not, because I know the answer to that question is love. Everything I do is done for love, the love of a cow.

If you do this you should read this book

Last week I finally finished my first novel length book after working on it for months. It is also my first nonfiction book, and it details every single experience I’ve had with all of my animals. And so if that doesn’t already interest you, I have a list of a few things that might make you want to read my book.

1. If you know me personally and know about my animals, obviously you should read my book.

2. If you’re a loyal follower of my blog and want something that goes into much more detail you should read this book.

3. If you want to read a book about animals that includes pictures at the end of each chapter then you should read this book.

4. If you only know about dairy farming from things you’ve read or seen on the Internet and want to read actual, true stories then you should read this book.

5. And lastly if you simply want to know more about cows, alpacas, ducks, cats and dogs then once again you should read this book.

Memory: True Stories of an American Farmer is available on Amazon now.

This is my truth

By now it seems that the whole world knows about the animal abuse discovered at Fair Oaks Farm. I myself have been waiting to write my thoughts out on here because I was waiting to get all the facts.

And the facts as much as I know them are these: yes, the abuse did happen. And the people who did it were fired. The manager sent out another video apologizing for not seeing it sooner and detailing the steps the farm will be taking now. But the other facts are that ARM watched this abuse happen for months and all they did was film it. They talked about on the farm they were supposed to see something and say something, but they didn’t report it for MONTHS.

So since both of these videos have appeared animal activists have renewed their fight against the dairy industry that they would have everyone believe is cruel although many of them have never set foot in a dairy farm in their lives. There are bad people everywhere and in every business. Dairy farming is no exception to that. Even on my small dairy farm where like five people work we’ve had people who were employed by us abuse our cows. But they no longer work for us because like most dairy farms abusing our animals is not what we do.

Well this, this is my truth and the truth of at least 97% of dairy farmers as far as I know. My cows are the most important things in my whole life. I owe everything I am to them. I think about every single one of them every day, whether dead or alive. And yes some have died because there was absolutely nothing left for us to do for them. No day goes by where it doesn’t hurt.

People would like others to think that farmers do everything for profit. I’ve done my research and I’ve seen it in my own life. I’ve said this in other posts, but the milk price has dropped 18% since 2014. When we sell calves to other farms when we don’t have much room left, we barely get $10. One we sold recently we got like $4 for. Dairy farming might be the least profitable industry in America these days. But that doesn’t stop us.

We don’t do it for the money. We do it for the cows. The cows that we love with all of our hearts and that we would never think of trying to hurt. The truth is that milking cows that activists think is so bad takes like ten minutes out of their day and is like a breast pump for human women. They give so much milk every day that it is too much for one calf to drink and often times by the end of the day it drips out of their udders and makes them uncomfortable.

When cows have calves, they are some of the worst and best mothers I have ever seen. I’ve seen cows give birth and never look at them again, even if the calf is right in front of her. I’ve also seen others take over and clean up the calf even if it’s not theirs. And the fact is that cows weigh over a thousand pounds by the time they have their first calf. Often cows will lay sideways or in weird positions. If a calf was left close by they would easily be squashed or hurt by the end of the day. So when we move the calf for their safety it’s often just to the end of the barn, not that far away from the mom.

Everything dairy farmers do is for their cows. Before you go and attack someone’s livelihood make sure you know exactly what you’re talking about. Don’t believe everything you read or see on the Internet if they’ve never set foot on a farm either. Talk to your local farmers. Every single farmer I know would be more than willing to give you a tour of their barns that they’re in more often then their house. They will show you everything they do and answer any questions that you have. Then and only then once you know the real, full, honest truth from both sides then you can choose which side to take. But until then do not try to tell me what I do is wrong or that I hurt the cows that mean more to me than my own life. Because I will never stop loving them and I will never stop doing what I do because I know it’s the right thing for the cows and that they wouldn’t survive without us. And that is my truth.

The one in which I go into a feminist rant

Throughout my relatively short life on the farm there are two main stereotypes I have heard and had to deal with. One: dairy farming is a cruel industry, and two: it’s a man’s job. I might come back to the first one because I talk about that a lot, but today I’m choosing to focus mainly on the second one.

As a woman in the dairy industry I sometimes find the second stereotype to be even more annoying than the first one. I’m not sure what it is that made me think a lot about this lately but it seems to continually come up and weigh on my mind in these past few days. But maybe it’s just the fact that I have yet to post on this topic that made me think that now is the correct time to do it.

There are many things over the last few years about why women shouldn’t be farmers. The biggest one is that it’s a “man’s job” because women can’t handle the “hard stuff”. It’s either that or when women want to be farmers their immediately labeled a tomboy or assumed to be a lesbian. I’m not saying that being a lesbian is a bad thing because I don’t think that at all and many of my friends are or a member of the LGBTQ community.

But that is off subject a bit. As a woman who is definitely a tomboy but not a lesbian I find every single stereotype about women farmers to be annoyingly stupid. As someone who has also been a feminist for a very long time I find basically every single stereotype annoying. Another aspect that continually comes up is that a straight woman farmer needs to have a boyfriend or get married so they’ll have a man to help them do that stupid “hard stuff” that I mentioned before. I have never had a boyfriend in my life, through nothing but my own choice. And I may never have one or get married because I don’t know if that is what the future holds for me or not and because unlike another stereotype that comes up not just in farming but in everything a woman’s life should not revolve around a man or being in a relationship.

Whenever I tell someone at college that I plan on taking over the farm after I graduate I always get a slightly surprised reaction no matter who I tell. It is probably because I am going to college for creative writing and not at an agricultural school but I’m sure my being a woman is unconsciously a part of it too. Because it’s a man’s job that still to this day some people think only a man can do.

The idea of something being a man or woman’s job is ridiculous to me. I firmly believe a person should be able to do the job and career they want without being judged or having things assumed about them because of that type of label. Why shouldn’t I as a woman be a farmer, and why does that have to be so uncommon? Because of the hard stuff that I keep mentioning?

Let me tell you about this hard stuff that I supposedly can’t handle. I can lift grain bags that weigh up to fifty pounds. It can be a struggle but I can do it. And if I can’t do something like that I figure out a way that I can. But that’s not the hard stuff I hear about the most. What I hear most is about the emotional hard stuff.

When I was thirteen years old my first cow died. She was nine months old and while I did not actually see her body after I saw her the day before and it’s something I will never forget. When I was sixteen on the way home from a bowling match I got a call telling me my cow that was having a calf that night had the calf that was born dead. A few months before on our alpaca farm we had an alpaca die for the first time. That was the first dead body I ever saw. And about one month after the cow had the calf that was born dead, the cow had to be taken away because if we had waited one more day she would no longer have been able to stand. She died on the trailer. And when I was eighteen nine days after my newest calf was born she died and we still don’t know why. And just last year my third cow that I ever had and that I loved for five and a half years died. Not to mention the other pets I have that I’ve lost. All this and I only stopped being a teenager last year. So you tell me, what exactly is the hard stuff that I can’t handle?

Hope for the future in a time of struggle

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Kit the calf in the evening.

 

For  dairy farmers across the United States things have been hard for a long time. Most recently a rumor asserted that methane produced by cows is one of the biggest methane outputs in the environment. The debate over whether almond milk is healthier than regular milk, whether almond milk should be considered milk, stretches back many years.  Animal rights activists, most often PETA, suggest the whole dairy farming industry is cruel and wrong because of videos taken out of context or suggest the way large factory farms handle their cows stands in for all.

The number one problem for many small family  farms today  is the dropping milk price. According to Hoard’s Dairyman, the retail price of milk has fallen 18 percent since 2014, and the price in 2018 was under $3 every month of the year. This is “particularly noteworthy given the fact that there have been only four other months since May 2004 with prices below the $3 threshold, with three of those months coming during the depths of the economic recession in the summer of 2009.” 

Many farms can’t afford to continue, as heartbreaking and terrible as the decision to sell the cows is for farmers. In around the next year or so, the price of milk is predicted to go back up, and to hopefully return to what it used to be. But many farmers can’t afford to wait that long. Specifically in New York State the current cost of living in a median home is somewhere around $281,000. Even when the price of milk returns to what it used to be, it will still be a long time for dairy farming to be able to be called a “sustainable” industry, meaning that it is able to sustain a family without any other jobs in the mix, again.

Even with all of these struggles, there are still many family farms that continue to do the work that they love and that has often been passed down through generations. One such farm is ‘Holthouse Dairy’, in Clymer, NY. The farm is run by Steve Holthouse, with the help of most of the family. The small farm  that consists of around fifty milking cows, and twenty five younger ones, has their own share of the struggles with the current economy, but still make the most of what has been a lifestyle for many family members for years.

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An outside view of Holthouse Dairy.

“I probably began helping in the barn when I was around fourteen, but I really began working on the farm when I graduated high school in 1981,” said Steve Holthouse. “Now I am the official owner of the barn, after my dad retired. He still comes out every day and does what he can, and my sister, Nancy, and my daughters help too.”

 

Steve described a lot of what happens on the farm, which includes feeding and general care, milking twice a day, and getting the cows the right medicine when they get sick.

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Steve Holthouse as he milks a cow during the normal nightly milking time.

 

Due to the financial stresses from the falling milk prices, dairy farmers need to bring in money from other areas.  Dairy farming is no longer the only type of farming that the Holthouse family does. The dairy farm sits on the top of the hill next to Steve’s parents’ house, and as you travel back down the road to the next house which is where Steve lives with his wife and daughters,  in the backyard there a different farm can be found; the alpaca farm.

Back in 2013, when Laurie Holthouse temporarily lost her job as a case manager in Corry, Pennsylvania, she got the idea of owning alpacas.The want and love of alpacas stayed with Laurie and considering everything else happening up the road at the dairy farm, a year later the alpaca farm began in what had been the backyard.

“What first interested me about alpacas was the yarn and products that was made from their fleece,” Laurie Holthouse said. “I then found out that a teacher at the high school back then had some, and she invited us over to her farm. After I got some hands on experience I loved them even more.”

Although Laurie said now that she has to work along with being the owner of six alpacas adds more stress to her life, and prevents her from doing things like going on vacations as much as the family used to, they also serve to bring “a lot of love and joy to (her) life”.

She described everything that she has had to do for them over the years; giving them food pellets twice a day, making sure they have enough water, observing them to make sure nothing out of the ordinary is happening, monthly shots, and an annual shearing day, in which the alpacas get a “haircut” and professional shearers are called in and the family collects the fleece from them. It also makes the alpacas cooler and less likely to be overheated in the summer.

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Laurie Holthouse feeds her boy alpacas on a Friday evening before moving to the next barn to feed her girls.

 

Although both farms are radically different, both Steve and Laurie Holthouse had many common things that they talked about that pertained to both farms. Both mentioned having favorites among the animals, and both had very similar stories when it came to hardships.

Laurie described how in the beginning the family had had seven alpacas, but lost one to a really bad sickness that alpacas can get called the meningeal worm. She went on to explain how the first situation with the worm led to the family being able to prevent it from striking again as bad and have had a few times where they’ve been able to save the remaining alpacas. 

“Just recently, like back in January, both of our living boys caught the m worm,” Laurie said. “We gave them all the medicine that gets rid of the worm, but one of the things the worm does is paralyze them so they can’t stand up again. After a few weeks we had the one getting up by himself, but the boy who is the brother of the one that we lost had been down for months, and we though for sure we would lose him. But just recently we finally got him up for the first time, and he stood by himself for like five seconds. And then the time we got him up after that was forty-five minutes. And the time after that was an hour. And then he was up all day, and then as of like last week he got himself up by himself again. It really is a miracle.”

Laurie added that another fact that she found in the process of saving the boys is that ducks are one animal that is known to eat the snails that cause the worm, and so after almost losing both boys, she added four ducks to the farm.

Steve described a few times over the years where accidents happened, including a few times where his dad fell and dislocated his hip, and one time where he himself almost chopped off one his fingers. He explained that though farming is often a dangerous business, the worst thing to go through in his opinion is when one of the cows dies.

“I think the medical problems are the worst struggle out of everything,” Steve Holthouse said. “It’s really hard to see one of the cows suffer, especially in the instances where you know there’s nothing left you can do for them. The fact that there’s barely any money to be had out of dairy farming anymore is hard too, but I think losing one when you can’t do anything more for them, or you don’t know why is the worst thing I’ve experienced as a farmer.”

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Some of the cows of Holthouse Dairy enjoying their evening food time.

There is no denying that any type of farming is hard, whether dairy, alpacas, or something else. And with the current economy and times, dairy farming is harder than ever before. But the Holthouse family is holding on and doing what they can to continue their family business for as long as they possibly can. There will be many more struggles, both in the world economically and on the family farm itself, whether it is the continuing almond milk debate, which has been a growing debate over the last several years, or continuing to fight backlash from others. Holthouse Dairy continues to try to spread their message that they have never done anything but love and care for their cows, as most farmers do. Although things look hard for farmers everywhere at the moment, and will likely look hard again in the future even if milk prices rise, farming will continue, and on both of the farms for the Holthouses, miracles will also continue to happen as new generations take over for years to come. 

“And it really is just the good times and the miracles are what makes this all worth it,” Steve Holthouse said.

 

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Kit says goodbye to her farmer at the end of the day.