My Fantastic Beasts

As a farmer and an animal lover I have always loved or felt a very strong connection to movies and books involving animals. How to Train Your Dragon is an example, but since it’s release in I believe 2017, the Harry Potter prequel movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has been my absolute favorite movie of all time.

For those who don’t know, the movie focuses on a wizard, Newt Scamander, and his adventures in NYC with his magical case full of creatures. From the moment I first saw the movie I have felt extremely connected to Newt as a character. And this has to do with both his personality and his animals. As a person I consider myself a bit of a loner sometimes, and also extremely socially awkward all the time, and many times I find it much easier to be with my animals than with humans. That’s not to say I don’t have any friends or I never talk, I’ve gotten much better at that over the years. But I’m still and probably always will be an extremely awkward person. And the same can be said about Newt Scamander.

But more important are the animals in the movie, and also the connection that Newt has to them. Throughout the movie the love and care Newt has for his creatures is obvious, especially in the moments where they make it obvious that owning and breeding the creatures is illegal in the movie. There is nothing that Newt wouldn’t do for his creatures, which can be seen for viewers after about ten minutes into the movie and throughout the rest of it.

So how does this connect to me? Well to begin, since my grandpa’s day, my family has owned a dairy farm. I bet most people could’ve guessed that by the title of my blog being called A Dairy Farmer’s Truth. For a long time it was my grandpa and my dad working on the farm with the help of our neighbors and my aunt and sometimes me and my sister. But for a very long time, I had no interest in working on the farm myself. In fact when I was younger I wanted a horse, and I even took riding lessons for a while. But then, I can’t completely explain what connected in my brain, but in 2012 when we were doing our yearly visit to the county fair, I saw a breed of dairy cow called Linebacks. Everything changed after that.

It wasn’t long after that when I had my own lineback, Katy, and I began to show cows at the fair. These days I have what my family calls my own herd among our actual herd, which is mostly Holstein, or the black and white cows. This was about eight years ago now.

About a year after Katy, more things began to happen. I lost my first cow, a Jersey named Hazelnut, and at the same time, my mom temporarily lost her job. During this time she had also began to develop and interest in alpacas. She learned more about them during this time without a job, and by 2014 we had seven alpacas and an alpaca farm in what used to be our backyard. Only a few months in, everything was still a learning process, and we lost one of our boys to something called a menengial worm, which is commonly spread through snails and slugs spread through deer poop. And since our house sits across the road from the woods, deer an a very common sight around here.

That being said, good things always tend to follow the bad, especially in farming, from what I’ve experienced. Just last year we almost lost our remaining two boys to the same worm, but with luck, and the will of God, we were able to save them. If we hadn’t lost Prince back in 2015, we probably would have no more boys today.

Another thing we learned concerning this was that ducks eat the snails and slugs that cause the menengial worm. So last year during March we got ourselves four ducks. This in itself was and still is another learning experience. We found ourselves learning how to incubate eggs, and the difference between types of eggs. And then a few months ago, we learned that we also had hawks around here, and that hawks like to get ducks. I bet you can guess what happened next. So, this next March we plan on getting more, but only after we do some work and building out in the alpaca field to protect them from hawks.

Other animals we have include cats and dogs both inside and outside the house. And also for a little while, back before I got into dairy cows my sister and I each had a rabbit that we took care of. A few years ago my sister’s died of old age, and we got another one at a different county fair than the one that I show cows in. We were assured by the owners that the one we bought was a boy, to go with the other boy that I had back at home. This it turns out, was not true. So at one point the rabbits bit a hole through the divider in the middle, and a little while later we had baby rabbits. We eventually ended up with ten. This was a few years ago now, and many have died of old age, so we are now down to three, which is still more than we started with. And after the events of the last few weeks and months, which include my dad getting diagnosed with congestive heart failure and having a defibrillator put in a few weeks ago, and my grandpa dislocating his hip for the third time on Christmas, I have become the only one with time to take care of the rabbits anymore. So just a few days ago I decided that I guess they were now my rabbits.

As you can tell I have about as many creatures as Newt Scamander. And like he does in the movie, I take care of and love them with all of my heart. Another similarity I find that also connects me to this story so much is the amount of people in the movie that don’t understand his creatures and are trying to get rid of them. This reminds me of the millions of times I have done my best to educate people on farming through social media and this blog. Indeed Newt writes a book on how the creatures should be protected and not killed. I myself have written a small book on my life on the farm with all of my creatures, which I self published, but I hope to maybe refine and publish through a bigger, actual publisher in the future. There are also a few things that Newt says in the movie along the lines of trying to educate other wizards about his creatures and protect them from humans, who are as he says, “the most dangerous creature on the planet”. I couldn’t agree with that statement more.

But protecting animals from humans really comes in farming. I have tried many times to educate people on my animals and my farms on social media and this blog all the time. There are many bad ideas and stereotypes about farming out there everywhere that people got into their heads by being uneducated. Those ideas include; shearing alpacas hurts them, when in reality it is just like getting a haircut and keeps them from overheating in the summer, moving dairy calves away from their mothers is cruel and that they cry for each other, when in reality 99% of the time the mother cows don’t even know what happened and won’t even give their newborn calves a second look, and moving the calf away is for the protection of all parties involved. Also more recently I have heard that artificial insemination is supposedly rape, which is not correct at all in that cows and animals have no concept of consent, and also go about reproduction in much different ways than humans. In fact every three weeks cows will come in heat, meaning their bodies are screaming at them to reproduce, and they will jump on anything they can, including humans or other cows. AI is the best way to calm this process and to protect the herd. In fact one of my cows in my herd had a back problem a few years back because of being jumped on like that and had to stay inside during the summer for a bit. There is also one more idea that agriculture is the biggest factor in climate change and is what everyone needs to be cutting down on and getting rid of. And I can see that maybe in large scale agriculture there is some things that maybe could be done more efficiently, but there are so many other things in cities and just in general that could be done that would dramatically reduce climate change more than getting rid of farming ever could.

What a lot of people don’t realize is how much farming is important for every day lives of humans, and also how much farmers take care of an love their animals. And that goes for every single one that I discussed above. Of course there are bad people in every bunch, and that’s most likely where the bad ideas come from in the first place. Which is why my 2020 resolution is to continue and work more on educating people about farming and all of my animals. I can’t call it my New Year’s Resolution because I didn’t really think of it until yesterday, and also putting it in that category will more likely make me forget. But education in everything is important, especially in farming. Which is why if you’ve read this and stayed with me up to this point I encourage you to comment on here or read and comment any of my other posts with questions you may have. I will gladly have civilized conversations with anyone and would love to spread my knowledge into the world to work on giving farming a better name. Farming is important, and animals are taken care of and loved 99.99% of the time. Without it, all of these animals would be lost, and like it or not most likely so would the human race. Farming isn’t going anywhere, but most likely neither are the people who spread rumors and refuse to understand it. Which is why I will never stop trying to educate people.

A Review of the Year, A Review of the Decade

During this time every year, people look back and reflect on everything that happened over the past year. This year it’s even more special because it is also the end of the decade. And a lot of times at this point in the year I find myself looking back at only the bad things that happened. Sure there were a lot of things that happened this year, because a year is a very long time. They weren’t all good, and they weren’t all bad. And when reflecting back on the year in someone’s life, it is important to remember both.

This year began with our two boy alpacas getting sick with the same menengial worm that killed our other boy back in 2015. It’s weird to think that this was almost a year ago now, and that we were lucky enough that with experience and the help of God that we were able to save them, and that they are still here today.

Also this year was the first polar vortex in a long time, and possibly my life time. It resulted in my college closing for two days last January for the first time since I think the Civil War. Also during my college year I finished my junior year of college, made new friends, got even more involved in the newspaper, which at the beginning of the decade I never would’ve thought that I would be doing. And now as I head into next year I am somehow already a senior in college and also am looking at possibly becoming a co-editor in chief in my final semester.

Another thing that happened this year was that our family got ducks after we learned that they help to eat the snails and slugs that cause the menengial worm that almost killed our boy alpacas. Unfortunately we didn’t know that we also had hawks and that hawks can get ducks. So while we got the ducks in March, we lost all four of them by the beginning of December. We will be getting more next year when they return to Tractor Supply, and also after we figure out a better way to protect them from the hawks.

And now to the dairy farming part. Out of my special show cow heard I have only had one successful calf born this year, Kit, who is the granddaughter of my Katy. Since then a few have had bull calves, and others have had miscarriages. In October I thought we got lucky and we finally had another heifer calf, Jamey, but being born a week and a half early there was most likely something wrong inside that we couldn’t see. After about eight days she got bloated like calves sometimes do, but this time, for the first time that I’ve experienced, we couldn’t save her. It was heartbreaking.

Then came Charlie. She was born in July during my second to last year showing cows at the fair. She was a Milking Shorthorn, one of the three that we had in our barn. Just recently she became old enough to breed. Only when the vet came to check, he told us that she could never be bred and that she was likely to become dangerous. I had already seen weird and slightly spastic behavior from her, but I didn’t want to believe it. Only there was nothing to be done, and we had to get rid of her. This was only a few weeks before finals. Every time I lose a cow it’s different, and it hurts in a whole new, unique way that never completely goes away. I especially learned that after this year.

This year I learned what it was like to hold more responsibilities on the farm when my dad was diagnosed with cellulitis and congestive heart failure. Just two weeks ago he had to spend the night in the hospital after getting a defibrillator put in. I spent two nights home alone, watching and taking care of all of our animals. It was probably the two most stressful nights in my life. And then just last week my grandpa dislocated his hip for the third time in his life. We got lucky that it was the week after my dad’s surgery and not the week of. But this adds more work and stress to us on the farm, which we accept because we have to and because there’s no way we are going to let grandpa come back out to the barn for a while.

Other small things that happened include; I continued to practice my writing skills and am well on my way to writing my first novel, and also a cow stepped on my toe and my toenail fell off, which is not something I realized could happen until this year.

Altogether it is much easier to focus on the bad instead of the good when so many bad things happen in a year. But looking at the decade I see so many other good things that have happened. I grew up, and became the person I want to be. I got into dairy farming and got my own cows. I learned how to be responsible and love something so much more than I could ever love myself. I learned what it was like to lose, and also to win, both at the fair and in life in general. But even more than all that I learned how important it was to live this life. I learned what it was like to become an advocate for agriculture. I learned what it was like to have someone disagree with your lifestyle, even when you know that what you do is right. Dairy farming is important, in so many different ways. More than anything it, my cows, and all the rest of my animals made me who I am today. And no matter what comes in the next year, or the next decade, I know that I will still be found out in the barn among my cows and my animals, where I was always meant to be.

Decisions

One of the things that I hear so often that always gets me going on social media is that us dairy farmers don’t care about our cows, and its all only for the money. That is the number one thing that as soon as I see someone say that in a comment, I know for a fact that I am dealing with someone who actually has no idea what it’s like living this life.

I’ve probably said this a million times before, but if we really were only in it for the profit then why exactly do I find myself constantly curled up in a corner sobbing when things go wrong. As a dairy farmer, some days it feels like my cows are the only ones that understand me, and I’ve even referred to them as my best friends from time to time. And I know even to other dairy farmers that sounds ridiculous, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.

I do know that there are things that happen on a dairy farm that most likely look weird to people who don’t live and understand the life, that are all done to help benefit the cow, not the farmer. Most likely that’s why all the stigma around dairy farming started in the first place, one confused person looking and not understanding what was actually happening.

Another important thing that I constantly stress is that not all animals are the same, and animals are not humans. Animals are so much better than humans, but they also have different anatomies, and different ways of having a healthy and happy life. One example would be that most of the time people will take their kids to get a flu shot during flu season. Cows don’t need flu shots, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another animal getting one either. But even more important than that, is I’ve seen people compare cows or calves to things like puppies. It doesn’t work to compare two completely different species and say that they are exactly the same. Dogs and cows need completely different things to be healthy and cared for. Would you give your dog cat food?

Where am I going with all of this you may ask? Well as I grow older and I find myself more involved with the goings on on the farm, lately I find things get harder. Just last month I lost a calf after only eight days of life, and there wasn’t anything I could do. And now, I find myself faced with a decision about one of my heifers.

The other day the vet came to the farm to do pregnancy checks, to see who all was officially pregnant or not. Every one of my cows who were supposed to be were, except for one, Charlie.

For constant followers of my blog, this name might seem familiar. I’ve talked about her a few times, especially during the blog posts from my last year at the fair when she was my Reserve Grand Champion Milking Shorthorn, just like her mother. Well recently her mother became unable to have more calves due to prolapse. Prolapse is a weird thing, and sometimes it can kill a cow, but other times it might even fade with time. But if we had bred her again, with her next calf she would have bled out internally. So we were relying on her daughters, Rey and Charlie, to keep bringing Milking Shorthorn calves to our farm.

Well the vet came, and before he even checked her, he said that she was dangerous and that we should get rid of her before she hurts someone. They had to have a halter on her to even be able to do the check. And then after the check the vet said she most likely will not breed ever, which is not good in humans and is definitely not good in dairy cows.

And so now I find myself stuck with a decision. When I was younger, things like this, though this hasn’t happened to me yet, but when bad things happen it was never down to me. It always happened to quickly or it had to happen or the cow would die. And now I’m older, and I make my own decisions. But I don’t want to have to make this one.

I’m in college, and the only thing I want to really be worrying about right now is my finals coming in two weeks. But I find myself having to sit here and write this out on the first day of Thanksgiving break before even trying to work on school stuff, because it’s all I can think about. And I don’t want to have to be thinking about it.

If dairy farmers were only in it for the profit, this decision would be a no brainer. She’s never going to give milk, so out the door she goes. Except that’s not how any of this works. Because we do care, we care a whole awful lot. And I know the vet said she was dangerous, and that she has the possibility of hurting someone. And I know we’re already struggling, just because dairy farms don’t bring in that much money in the first place, and we have more medical bills and stuff now because of what happened to my dad a few months ago. I know what the decision will most likely be, and will honestly probably have to be. But I don’t want to have to face it, and I don’t want to have to do it. Because I am a dairy farmer, and like it or not, or understand it or me or not, I and every other farmer like me, we care about our cows.

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.

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.

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.