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.

What it Means to Me/My Story Part 4

That following year Bingo had her first calf, that happened to be another one like Martha meaning she’s a half Jersey and half Holstein, but this time she was a dark brown so this time we decided she was a Jersey and kept her and I named her Gravity. I don’t really know why I named her this I just thought it was a cool name, which it is. Lilly also had her first calf which I named Lydia. I always thought this one was kind of funny because I’m not sure if it’s a thing most farms do really or if it’s just ours that usually does it, but normally mother cows and their calves are supposed to have names starting with the same letter and this was the first time I’d ever followed that rule. I haven’t done it since either which is why I think that was a funny coincidence. It also became time then for Jasmine’s first calf which came out looking almost exactly like Katy which was amazing for me, and I named her Sammy. Somewhere along the way Katy also had a boy calf that looked like her, but we sold him and I don’t fully remember when that was so I threw it in right now because I was thinking about it.

But anyway this was during my senior year of high school so with everything else ending that year I was immensely glad that I had been born at the right time that I was able to still have one more year in 4-H after this year. But anyway that year was also an exciting one because it was the first year I ever got a Grand Champion with my Sammy. It was still super awesome even though the only reason she got it was the fact that she was the only Lineback there, but of course that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have gotten it anyway, just like with Holly the year before. Also this year one of my neighboring friends’s cow had a calf in the middle of the barn which was super fun to sit and watch.

But also besides the fair, a few months before it Eclipse had her third calf which was super pretty with a number seven on her face. For a few days she was perfectly nice and looked completely normal, but nine days later she suddenly wasn’t drinking her milk and passed away. We still don’t know what happened there, we can only assume that there was some inside problem that we didn’t know about, like something didn’t develop right and it just wasn’t obvious.

But anyway the last full day of the fair that year Annabeth had her second calf, Charlie. The baby that was born at the fair was also a Milking Shorthorn, so we knew they would be in the same class at the fair the next year (which they were) so that was cool. So already by the end of the fair we had two calves planned for the next year, Charlie and Sammy because she was small and young enough. But also this year was just last year and it was my first year of college. Of course I went back and forth plenty of times during the year and I did my best to work with them when I could, but I didn’t get to practice as much as I would’ve liked. That turned out to be okay though, because it also turned out to be the year of the most well behaved calves I’d ever had since Katy. Besides Sammy and Charlie, Martha had her first calf, and to our surprise it turns out being half Jersey she was able to have a full Jersey. Well she was 75% Jersey anyway but she looked like a normal Jersey and we named her Hazel (after Hazelnut). Primmy also had another calf, the first one we ever kept, and we named her Rory.

During this year we managed to have a few more Lineback heifer calves born, but they all came out looking slightly funky to us. We did later find out that there were two types of Linebacks, Witrick and Gloucester, and the few weird ones we’d been having were Gloucester. We’d never seen them before so that’s why we weren’t used to them. Katy had her next calf, which I named Hope. Hope turned out to be her last calf because after her we tried to breed her again many times, and we decided just recently to stop trying because it wasn’t working. So Katy is now known as a pet cow, which I don’t think is a real thing in other places but it’s Katy so for us it is. Holly had her first calf too, but instead of a Lineback it came out looking like Gravity, but we kept her and named her Lindsey. The other calf that we had in this last year was out of Eclipse, (which would end up being her last one), and we named her Faith. She also looked like Rory, but since her line on her back wasn’t even we decided to leave her home instead of taking her to the fair. Of course now I wish I had.

Well that’s it. That’s my story, the rest I’ve already blogged about, and you already know it. I never really said fully what dairy farming means to me, but I hope after my four part story you understand without me spelling it out. Thanks so much for reading through it all, and of course I’ll end up blogging about what comes next so you’ll find out as it goes, just like I will.

What it Means to Me/My Story Part 3

Yesterday I ended with my first year as a Junior Superintendent so today I’m going to begin with a few stories of what happened that year. First off one of our main Junior Superintendent duties is/was collecting cans at nighttime when the fair was shutting down. One of these nights we had a man go running past us yelling “curse this fatness!” It was super random and funny so I still remember it. Other things that happened that year is that there was a long power outage that lasted pretty much all night and there was a fight on the midway causing us to lock down the barn for a while. So yeah, that was an interesting year.

Moving on to after the fair, it came time for Acorn to have her baby. Of course not having any major problems before this I was very excited. But what I didn’t know at the time was that the one we bred her to was related to her, because the other farmers weren’t very organized when it came to that. The baby was born dead, and a few weeks later Acorn was gone too. It was three years after Hazelnut, and since Acorn came to help me with dealing with that and it being my second time something like this happened it almost hurt worse this time.

Back a few months before that we got another Lineback cow at the same auction we got Annabeth from and we named this one Holly. Also during this year Annabeth had her first calf that we named Rey and Eclipse had her second baby that we named Neptune. Along with those three my sister decided that year to claim a Holstein and have me show her at the fair which she named Noel. A few months after she was born she got bloated which farmers can always fix by having the calf swallow dawn dish soap and with Noel being the first one I’d ever seen that happen to, from that day on her name became Bubbles. If that name sounds familiar it’s because a few posts ago I had the large Mishaps and Mayhem post that was mostly about her, especially since she almost broke my ankle. That fair year the most exciting thing was that Holly got Reserve Grand Champion Lineback in both shows, mainly because there was only two Linebacks that year but either way it was cool. I really don’t know how many posts this is going to turn into but it keeps getting really long and I guess I am going through seven years of my life so I guess that’s what happens.

What it Means to Me/My Story Part 2

Yesterday I ended with Hazelnut’s passing and how that set up so many other things that have happened since. So to continue with my story a few days later a neighboring farm offered us another Jersey which we went and saw and then got that weekend, and I named her Acorn. And even though it was still very soon after it happened Acorn did help to make it a bit better. A little while after that, with a few months of practicing with Annabeth and Acorn I decided to claim another of the family farm’s Holsteins, mainly because a Holstein that was born at the time that I was helping to feed as I got more involved on the farm reminded me of a dog. So I registered her in my name, and I named her Bingo. During this time I also had begun to help feed the heifers and sometimes scrape off the floor if it got dirty when the cows came in before milking time. With all of this happening it gave me a bit less time to work with my show cows, but I made it work.

Eventually we had to tell the family that gave us Hazelnut that she’d died, and they felt so bad that they let us have another one of their Jerseys for free. This one I names Lilly, and suddenly I had four show cows to bring to the fair that year, which is more than I’d ever had before. It was also my first fair that I ever got any big prizes in. Annabeth won Reserve Grand Champion Milking Shorthorn that year, and it was the first time that had ever happened for me, which was really exciting. So exciting in fact that I honestly don’t remember much else that happened that year.

Also during this time my other cows were getting older and it was time for them to start having calves. Unfortunately it turns out that Katy was born with or possibly developed over time a hormone problem, meaning we had to breed her nine times before she had her first calf. So then Jasmine was born, a fully white lineback which I thought was interesting. This was in November, and a few months later in March Eclipse had her first calf, Martha. Martha was a half Jersey and half Holstein, and usually our farm doesn’t keep those but we did for the first time. Primmy also had one like that, but we sold her calf to a farm close by, but I don’t really remember why we got rid of that one but kept Martha. So with these two in mind, along with Lilly still being of a small size, these three went with me to the fair that year. Nothing as exciting as the year before happened that year prize wise, but it was my first year as a Junior Superintendent, which I think I’ve mentioned before but in case I haven’t it just means that I helped the adults take care of the barn during the week, and I got to sleep in the barn. There were many stories that happened during that time, but I already feel that this post is going on really long, so I will begin part three with that tomorrow.