Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hardest Part

Farming has been a part of my life for almost half of it by now. I can’t count the numerous hours I have spent among the dairy cows in the barn taking care of them, or the countless times I have agvocated on social media or on this blog. I can’t imagine myself ever doing anything different. It’s definitely not the only thing that I do, or will do with my life when I graduate college, but I can’t imagine it ever not being a part of my life anymore. Even with the bad days and the hard times, it is always still worth it, for the cows much more than for me.

But with all that, comes like I just mentioned, the hard times. The hardest part about farming is the days when there’s nothing more that can be done. It’s the days when something comes out of the blue that couldn’t be seen or guessed, and suddenly the worst happens. It’s happened plenty of times over the years, and the last time was just a few days ago.

About six years ago now I experienced my first cow dying. It was on Halloween, 2013, and it was a Jersey, along with being my first Jersey. If you’ve been following my blog or you know me, you definitely know this already. Recently another one of my cows who is a half Holstein, half Jersey was due to have her calf. She had a great, happy, bouncy Jersey a week and a half earlier than she was supposed to. For the first day I was nervous, because normally that early leads to a bunch of problems in either the mom or the calf. But for the first few days, everything was completely fine. Which is probably why this hurts so much.

Her name was Jamey. I loved her the moment I met her a few days after she was born. There was no reason to believe that anything was wrong or would’ve been wrong by the end of the week. She was just a normal, bouncy calf. Impressively she even drank her milk perfectly, and drank a full bottle. We don’t know and once again like so many times before will probably never know for sure, but that right there could’ve been the problem.

Maybe it was my fault. Maybe it was someone else’s fault. Maybe it was nobody’s fault. It was more likely nobody’s fault, but I can’t help but feel like it was mine. I always do a little bit.

Something calves can get some time is bloat. I don’t know if that’s the correct term for it, or if it’s supposed to be they got bloated or what it is exactly. But either way when calves get bloated, something that is done is to give them a bit of Dawn dish soap, and walk them around in the barn. It’s happened to many of our calves before, there was no reason to think it would’ve been anything different. Maybe it was because she was a week and a half early. It was most likely that, and because something inside was probably not formed correctly or something along those lines. Something we could never have predicted or known about until it was too late.

As you might have been able to guess by now, Jamey got bloated. Only we didn’t catch it in time, or because of being a week and a half early there was a bigger problem and we didn’t know. That’s the worst part about all of this, is we didn’t know.

Jamey didn’t make it. Eight days of finally having something happy involving a Jersey in October after six years, and now it’s worse.

This is the hardest part about being a dairy farmer. I always know that someone really doesn’t know what it’s like to be a dairy farmer when they try to tell me that farmers only care about profit, and they don’t actually give a crap about the cows themselves. Oh how wrong that statement is.

I only knew Jamey for eight days, and it still feels like my heart has ripped from my chest. Three days later and I can still hardly write this without crying or wanting to cry. Things like this should never happen, and yet things like this are so unexpected and unable to be caught or prepared for that it doesn’t help to say that. The worst lesson to learn about farming is the terror at any cow getting sick, and the heartbreak when they’re gone. More than that, farmers more than anyone really know what it means to have to learn to move on. And even after an eight day old calf comes into your life and passes, that’s still one of the hardest things to do.

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.

For the love of a cow

Sometimes I feel that people who don’t grow up on dairy farms don’t really understand me. I often find myself trying to explain my life to them, and I’m not always sure how. Even though I am a writer, I cannot always find the words. The only way I can ever really think to explain it is that my cows are my life, they mean everything to me, and everything I do I do because I love them. That in itself is always why when I hear people say what I do is cruel or inhuman I feel the need to speak up and say no. I always tell them when this happens that the easiest way to learn the truth is to find an actual local farmer and ask if you can visit the farm. I’m not sure if all farmers feel the same way as I do, in fact I’m sure there are some out there that don’t, but I do know most farmers are motivated by love for the animals they care for.

Because all farmers do is actually care for their cows, not harm them. Cows became domesticated millions of years ago; like a cat or a dog that lives in the house they would not be able to survive on their own. Farmers are out there sometimes over twelve hours a day or more to make sure the cows are safe, healthy and happy. Every day is devoted to the cows. Not that there aren’t some bad days. I can’t even count the number of times I have left the barn just mentally or physically exhausted and wanting to be home or crying because something didn’t go right or because a cow accidentally hurt me in some way. I’ve even heard my dad on his worst days saying he doesn’t know why he keeps doing this. I never tell him I know the exact reason why; it’s for the love of the cows.

Now I have never had a boyfriend. I have never seen the need. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like to be in love. I’ve just had yet to experience it with a human that is not a friend or part of my family . But I know what it is to love a cow more than anything else, including myself. I’ve been showing cows and working on the farm for almost a third of my life. I know what it’s like to feel the ups and downs of life, especially since there’s more of that on a dairy farm than probably anywhere else in the world. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve had where the barn was my only sanctuary, and I felt like the cows were the only ones that understood me. And I can’t tell you how much it hurt to see any of them suffer even if they weren’t my own special show cow, because there are no words to describe that. The worst days of my life have often included the words “there’s nothing more that can be done.” And there are no words to describe how much those words can rip your heart out.

Throughout my life I have often found my best friends in my cows. I understand that people who don’t know me, and who’ve never lived or will never live the life I do will never understand that. And I feel sorry for them, because they will never know this love that I do. Maybe someday I will be like my dad, with days where I question why I keep on doing what I do. But then again maybe not, because I know the answer to that question is love. Everything I do is done for love, the love of a cow.

If you do this you should read this book

Last week I finally finished my first novel length book after working on it for months. It is also my first nonfiction book, and it details every single experience I’ve had with all of my animals. And so if that doesn’t already interest you, I have a list of a few things that might make you want to read my book.

1. If you know me personally and know about my animals, obviously you should read my book.

2. If you’re a loyal follower of my blog and want something that goes into much more detail you should read this book.

3. If you want to read a book about animals that includes pictures at the end of each chapter then you should read this book.

4. If you only know about dairy farming from things you’ve read or seen on the Internet and want to read actual, true stories then you should read this book.

5. And lastly if you simply want to know more about cows, alpacas, ducks, cats and dogs then once again you should read this book.

Memory: True Stories of an American Farmer is available on Amazon now.

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?