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.

Shame on you

You would think by now I would learn not to comment on posts on Facebook where people are just going to respond and say what I do for a living is terrible, but it seems I haven’t learned. Well today someone said shame on you to me for doing nothing but loving and treating my cows right. And for some reason it’s sticking with me. Because I am not and never will be ashamed of what I do. Nothing will ever convince me the last seven years of my life were wrong and shameful. But if love is shameful then fine, shame on me. If meeting my first cow and having an instant connection so much that she has been my best friend for the last seven years is shameful, then fine, shame on me. If sitting next to a dying nine month old cow that should still have been alive today except for the accident that no one could control, at fourteen years old, and realizing that I was never going to see her again after that night, and therefore having to grow up and become an adult at fourteen years old is shameful, then yeah shame on me. If being told I’m much more mature than any other kid my age, and having the only reason for it being because I learned to be responsible and take care of something other than myself because I had my cows is shameful, then fine shame on me. If having my first panic attack of my life because I thought one of my cows was going to run into the road is shameful, then yup shame on me. If seeing a calf be born dead and see the mother get worse and worse and then get better a bit only to get worse again and then we lose her, and because of this watching and needing updates and watching and checking on my cows every single time they’re pregnant because I can’t let it happen again is shameful, then shame on me. If having one of my cows do a backflip and fall over her head and not be able to breathe until I know whether or not she’s going to be ok, and then going to hide and cry in the bathroom in both relief and horror after what just happened is shameful, then shame on me. If having a heifer slip and fall on my ankle and almost break it, if not breaking it a little and going back into the barn after knowing I could walk on it and feeding the heifers because they needed it and it was time to feed them and never actually getting it checked out, resulting in me walking with a heavier foot fall and having my ankle hurt every time it’s humid, but not really caring because I’m used to it now is shameful, then shame on me. If losing a calf after only nine days, or after one day and having to go somewhere and pretend like everything is normal when it’s really not but it’s a feeling that can’t be put into words is shameful then shame on me. If losing a cow after five and a half years and months later still walking into the barn and feeling like there’s a hole in the world where she should be is shameful, then shame on me. If time and time again I found myself worrying about one or another of my cows for a different reason or another no matter what the results end up being is shameful, then shame on me. If you’ve never felt the love of a cow, if you’ve never had the experience of sitting down next to a cow and having them turn and their head and fall asleep on you, with both of you feeling absolutely safe and at peace and can sit there for hours, then you don’t know what you’re missing. If anything mentioned above seems shameful to you, then you will not understand ever and I’m sorry for you. You may say shame on me, but I will never be ashamed to love a cow.

I wrote a book!!

“My mother always said things look better when the sun comes up.”The government has changed. They have made it law that anyone in middle class or lower is no longer allowed to be known by a name, only a number. When a dairy farmer, Natalie, suddenly becomes telepathic with a cow, and her brother goes to help the resistance, her life will never be the same.

My book is called When the Sun Comes Up, it is available in both paperback and on the Kindle be sure to check it out on Amazon!

A Letter to My Ex Ag Teacher and FFA Advisor

Well I haven’t blogged in a while but so much has been happening lately that I really needed to take the time to write out how I feel and it had to do with agriculture so I got back on to my blog today. Because I needed to write out a letter. I was reminded this morning that being a writer it helps to write out my feelings, so that’s what I’m trying to do here, and maybe it’ll help me, at least a little bit I hope.

This is a letter to you. The one who I thought I could always count on. I don’t know if there’s even a chance you’ll ever see this, and I don’t really know if it matters whether or not you do. Because this is mostly for me.

I’d been hearing the whole year last year about how bad my old high school was getting. I’d seen it happening a little bit while I was still there, but through everything I’d seen and heard I always thought it would be okay because you would still be there. I always thought “it’ll be okay because no matter what the ag program and FFA will always be there.” And then my life was thrown sideways three days ago.

When it happened a few years ago I don’t think I was all that surprised. I don’t know if it’s just been long enough to have it been fully processed or if it was just something that was a bit more expected with the last time, but this time I don’t know how to process. The man I knew that had been my teacher, that I’ve known for over 75% of my life, someone who I’d looked at as almost like an uncle to me because all of my uncles live so far away, that man would never have done what you’ve been arrested for. Ugh I can’t even say it. I haven’t said it out loud, and I can’t even write it out either.

Travel back with me to my last day of senior year. I already knew when I walked in that I was going to be emotional that day, but it didn’t start until I walked out of that ag room for the last time. That ag room that had always been the one room I thought of as a sanctuary when I was having bad days.

I remember you always saying that year that you felt old or nostalgic that we were graduating that year, and how proud you were because we were the first class you’d ever had at that school. Maybe that’s when things went downhill for you, after we left, I don’t know.

I remember when you first took over the ag program. Before that I had tried to be in FFA and take ag classes before but they didn’t take for me then. I remember being so excited when you took it all over, and I remember thinking that maybe I could try it again. And that was a great decision at the time.

I learned so much from you, more than I can possibly put into words. I learned to public speak, to travel farther from home than I’d ever done before. There are so many adventures and lessons learned from FFA and you that it makes this ten times harder than if I hadn’t, if I had just been a kid in the school.

At first I was shocked, and in denial. I thought, there was no way that this is true, there’s got to be another explanation. Then the sobbing came. And then the anger. I took down my Greenhand degree that night from where it’s been hanging since I got it. I had been meaning to take it down for a while since my cat began jumping up on the place where it was and it got all ripped up, but I hadn’t. But that night I looked and I couldn’t even sit in the room when I could see your name right there in plain sight. So I took it down, and hid it in a drawer.

Then the next day my mom, my sister, and I went to see the movie Unbroken: Path to Redemption. I’d known the story of Louis Zamperini for years, but I think God knew that this was going to happen, and that I would need to see that movie yesterday. As I sat there and watched Zamperini forgive all of his captors that had tortured him for years, even the worst one, I knew that’s what I needed to do to.

And so yesterday I forgave you. Or at least I thought I had. I forgave what you made me feel, and it helped me to feel a bit less sick, and a little bit less like I might throw up. But then today I went to church where everyone was still talking about it, and I thought about your family, and what this has got to be doing to them. I thought about all of the kids in FFA right now, the boys I used to call my FFA brothers and sisters that were still there and had to worry about what came next. I thought about the Sherman FFA and how much we’d all done together and how bad they also feel.

So the tears came again. I went for a walk around the block during Sunday School to try and clear my head. But when I came back I don’t think it worked at all. Because the whole thing just hurts. Any time I thought of someone looking at child pornography or pedophilia it was always something from the news or television shows, or the big cities. Always one of those things that could never happen to me, could never actually affect my life. Until it was.

There’s a newer musical that came out about a year ago called Dear Evan Hansen, I know you are into musicals, heck we’ve been in some together, so maybe you know what I’m talking about, but maybe not. There’s a song in there called Requiem that the sister sings in the musical after her brother dies of an overdose on drugs. There’s a line in there that says “so don’t tell me that I didn’t have it right. Don’t tell me that it wasn’t black and white. After all you’ve put me through, don’t say it wasn’t true, that you were not the monster, that I knew…”

That part of the song is getting to me on so many levels at the moment, mainly because if you switch some words around it is almost exactly how I feel about this situation, and as I sit and write this I think I finally realized it. If you switch the words to “After all that we’ve been through, don’t say it wasn’t true, and that you were not a monster… that I knew.” I used to always think of pedophiles as monsters. But the man that I knew was not a monster, as far as I knew. I believe that it didn’t start until after I left, until I’d only seen you a few times over the year. And those few times I thought something was different, but at the time I didn’t notice, maybe because the last time I saw you I was in the middle of the fair and half asleep 24/7.

There are a few times I even find myself thinking how dare he?! How dare he do that to all of us?! But then I feel bad about that, like I shouldn’t feel that way, like I don’t have the right. But no matter what I do I can’t help feeling a little bit mad. And I can’t help but think that I hope you feel at least a little guilty, I hope you know what you did is wrong. And I hope that you get help, because you need it.

I may never see you again, and you may never read this, but I wrote this for me. And if you do see this, the one thing I want you to take away is that I forgive you. Maybe not completely yet, but I forgave you yesterday, and I will continue to every day for as long as it takes until I finally don’t feel sick anymore, and till I think I can finally tell someone about it without crying. And I don’t know what the future will bring, but I can only hope that somehow the Clymer FFA continues, that someone takes it over. I can only hope that you get the help you need, and that when you get your sentence, and when you get out of jail that you know that it’s terrible and you won’t even think about doing it again. I hope that your family can forgive you, and that the community can too. And I need you to know no matter how bad I feel I won’t let it ruin the memories. FFA was one of the only things I could hold onto during those years, and I refuse to look back on all those memories now and let this ruin it. Friday night I went to put on my pajamas and almost couldn’t because it was my FFA shirt from State Convention. That was when I decided something changed since then, and I’m not going to let this change the good times, and the good memories. Because those were some of the best days of my life, and I refuse to look back on them without anything but happiness, despite what you’ve done. But I’m praying for all of us to get through this, for you to get the help you need, for everyone to make it through this, and for everyone to find a way to forgive you. Because I’ve already tried, and slowly I think I’ve began to forgive you. And I hope you know how to forgive yourself, and that this one bad decision doesn’t ruin what has previously been the wonderful life you’ve led as far as I know. And I hope that you can make it back to the man you were before, the one that I knew.

Sincerely, me.

On Perseverance

Perseverance has got to be one of the most important qualities a dairy farmer, or any farmer for that matter, needs to have. A lot of the time things don’t go as planned, and when the unexpected happens it can be good sometimes, but also a lot of the time it’s not as you can probably tell from my other more depressing posts. But even though it can hurt for a long time, and maybe it’ll hurt forever, if farmers don’t keep going there would be no one left for the rest of the cows and then soon there would be no more farms. So when life gets you down, the most important thing to do, especially if you’re a farmer, is to keep going.

This might sound cheesy or cliche but things really do get better. Even when things get terrible, for example like when my Hazelnut died Acorn and eventually Lilly and Lydia came. Even though Acorn did pass too Lilly would not have become ours, and Lydia wouldn’t have been born. So when other things happen I force myself to think of that. And even though other things can happen, and do happen, (especially these days when I look back at some of the stuff that happened to me this summer), I do my best to tell myself that it had to have been for a reason, and that God is teaching me some sort of lesson that I just haven’t learned or figured out yet.

What it Means to Me/My Story

Mainly because I can’t think of anything else to write about today I decided to just go with a bit about what dairy farming means to me, but it might possibly turn into a rant because I don’t really know what I’m about to write…

So I probably have mentioned this before but I really got into dairy farming when I was in the eighth grade. It started the summer before when we stopped by the County Fair that would become my home for the next seven years of my life and I saw a few lineback cows that I believe I have also mentioned a few posts before. So a few months after that in February Katy was born and you could very easily say that my life was changed forever. Suddenly I was in the barn all the time with her, walking everywhere and going anywhere around the yard that we possibly could. Of course this was so long ago that there are many stories I could go into that I might not fully remember so I can’t really go into them.

But anyway after that first year and the first time I had a fair week and I loved it so much I decided to try to find more cows. Of course having a family farm full of Holsteins, they were what came next. This idea came to me shortly at the end of the fair, so of course August came next and a few weeks later Primrose was born. We shortened it down to Primmy after a while especially when she was bad, which when it came to walking and showing she was, and eventually we had to decide she just wasn’t a show cow and ended up not bringing her along to the fair the next time. But it was okay because there was still Katy and a few months later in October another Holstein was born that I decided I wanted to show, Eclipse (yes that Eclipse). So she joined my show cow group and she actually could figure out how to do it and became my third cow but my second show cow. Then one of my mom’s friends that she works with who was also a dairy farmer with a farm full of Jerseys which they sold to us. So then I had Hazelnut, my third show cow.

With those four cows/three show cows we went to the second fair of my life, which was as good as the first time. Once again there was many adventures that I can’t fully go into again because it was so long ago (maybe I have too much information in my head I don’t really know haha). Then August came again and we found out about a cow auction at a different county fair close by, and though it was unplanned we came home with my first Milking Shorthorn, Annabeth.

After all of this it was about the end of 2013, October specifically, and then through no fault of anyone in the barn, we lost Hazelnut. No one really knows what happened, only that we came in and she was lying on the floor. It was the day before Halloween and the next day she was gone. It was the first time anyone or anything close to me had died. I’ve been lucky in the aspect that I never lost a human close to me, and until recently I hadn’t lost a house dog or cat that I could remember. So this turned out to be an actually very important thing for me, even though it was terrible and I’ll never forget it until the day that I die. But I know now that it happened for a reason, because if it hadn’t so many things that have happened since probably wouldn’t have, and I know that God knew that. It might’ve taken me six or seven years to realize this, but I think that’s okay and that it might’ve had to happen that way. But anyway I feel like I’ve been going on about this a long time so I’m going to stop now, and just say that part two comes tomorrow.