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!

On Saving Dairy

Recently over the past few months things have gotten progressively worse for many dairy farmers. Milk prices aren’t what they used to be, and many local milk plants that farmers sell their milk to are closing down, making some farms have to close as well. Our farm has been pretty lucky that our plant that we send our milk to is still running but across the border, not so far away from us in PA many have been affected.

This is why a local dairy farmer (one that also happens to work for my mom), also the one that had the fire I mentioned before, is trying to change that. Just the other day there was a meeting of county executives along with the farmer (and her husband I think???”) along with a few other people that I don’t fully remember. But anyway, they were meeting because these farmers are trying to start their own milk plant for the farms in Pennsylvania that have been affected by recent closings.

Dairy farmers are some of the stubbornest people I’ve ever met in my life, and I’m sure some would probably say I’m included in that. But even though sometimes stubbornness isn’t a good thing, there are many times when it is. Especially when it is applied to doing everything they can to let the world know that farmers won’t go away easily, and when they will do everything they possibly can before, if they ever, give in and let the dairy industry fade away. And while us dairy farmers persist, the dairy industry continues on, and somehow will for a long time to come.