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.

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.

The one in which I go into a feminist rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life with asthma

I normally just write about farming things but I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, because it’s just as much a part of my life as anything that I do. I have had asthma since I was eight months old, with one period of time in there where it had faded enough that I didn’t need to do anything about it. I don’t remember being told that it was gone, but I do remember a few days in there when I realized how much harder it was getting to breathe, and I remember telling my mom that we should go see the doctor. I remember the appointment and getting Advair once again and for the first time in my life getting an inhaler. I wish I could say I never had to use that thing, but if I could say that then I obviously wouldn’t have needed it.

I don’t remember how I felt on that day, but I sure know how I feel when I have to use my inhaler. I know how it feels when I can’t breathe, I know how terrible it feels. There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve felt utterly helpless, and at least 50% of the time it’s after I’ve had to use my inhaler.

I don’t really know why, but I think that feeling is really why I don’t like to talk about it. I never realized I didn’t like to talk about it until one day in high school I mentioned it in the middle of a conversation and my two best friends I had at the time freaked out. Do you know how weird it is to realize you’ve never told your best friends you have this problem? Because I didn’t either until that day.

Not being able to breathe as well as others was the number one reason I never got into sports, at least not running ones. It’s also the number one reason I hated gym class. It would’ve been fine except for all the teachers I had would continuously yell at me, whether it was running the mile (I know y’all know what type of torture that was, but imagine it when you can’t breathe after half a lap or earlier) or just tea doing anything that involved exercise. I can’t tell you the amount of times I was told to “just keep going you’ll be fine!” When you’re in the middle of an asthma attack that’s not what you want to hear.

Before I graduated high school I entered into my school’s fitness class thinking it would be better than gym. In ways it was, but in some ways it was worse. I remember jogging on the treadmill and having to stop because I couldn’t keep going because of my asthma, and my teacher looking at me like I was dying, and realizing she didn’t know or hadn’t realized I had asthma either. If I had thought she would let up on me a bit after that I was wrong. After that it once again became “you can do it!” But this time added to it was “you shouldn’t be so scared of it, you keep exercising and by the time you graduate I bet we’ll have gotten rid of it!” Nope. No. Just no. If it was that easy don’t you think I would’ve done it a long time ago? And I’m not scared of it, maybe I used to be but once you’ve had something for twenty years you know how to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean you want to, or should be forced to use your stupid inhaler that’s supposed to be for emergencies only, every other day.

Since coming to college I’ve used it less. And somehow I’ve become more comfortable talking about it. In high school I knew like two other people who had asthma, and one of them was my cousin, the other my best friend. Here you make one small mention of it in a group chat, and next thing you know you’ve met five other people who have it too. Then a work friend’s sister has it, then suddenly you’re talking about it in a Nonfiction Writing class and you realize you finally don’t feel weird talking about it. But you know it’s still hard to have it happen and to even have to think about pulling out your inhaler in front of people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to throw my inhaler across the room. Last time was literally a few hours ago when I went out in the cold and felt my lungs get the cold and heavy feeling I get in the cold weather sometimes, and suddenly I felt like I might pass out before I got back to my room and I had to concentrate on every step so I wouldn’t fall out there in the cold. I’ve heard my grandpa talk about having problems breathing in the cold, and it’s the same thing. It’s not just a problem older people can have, it’s something that I’m sure most of not all asthmatics have experienced.

The last major attack I had was when my dog pulled out of my grip and ran away from me up the road. There was a hunter on the road that she was originally going after but after he got in the car she just kept running. I ran after her, calling to the hunter to help but if you think he did you’d be wrong. I panicked thinking I wouldn’t get to her and it was a Sunday so outside was pretty deserted. I did eventually catch her, but was weazing the rest of the day.

That’s what it’s like with asthma. It’s not something terrible to live with and talk about, not like cancer or something like that. That’s not at all what I’m getting at with this post. I do think it needs to be recognized more. Anytime I go outside and smell smoke from a cigarette or weed from someone in my dorm hallway smoking it, I have to cover my nose and try to not breathe as much for fear of getting light headed and having an asthma attack right then and there. And if someone doesn’t have it it almost seems like they barely realize it exists sometimes. Not unless it affects them directly. Well take it from an asthmatic. It exists, it sucks, but most of the time it’s fine. If you know someone with asthma you don’t have to watch them every second of the day. They’re not just gonna stop breathing right in front of you. But don’t expect them to run places fast or to smoke or be able to handle being near smoke. And most importantly don’t tell them if they keep going it’ll just go away because that’s not how it works. Just treat them like a person, but be there for them if they need you. Because life happens, especially when you have asthma.

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!