Tag Archives: Dairy Industry

Economic Profitability Key to Sustainable Dairy Farming

My personal vision of dairy farming has changed over the years. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a farmer, a vet, an ice cream maker; among other things. I will never forget in discussing my plans with my Great Uncle Frank – everyone has an Uncle Frank right? – who was a dairy farmer himself back in the ‘40’s and 50’s in Westborough, Massachusetts. When I told him I was going to be a dairy farmer, he replied, “Oh, you’re going to marry a dairy farmer!” Being the determined person that I am, I said, “No , Uncle Frank, I’m going to be the dairy farmer.” To which he then said, “Oh, you’re going to marry a man, he’s going to do the work, but you’re going to be the farmer!” And I just shook my head and walked on, but little did Uncle Frank know that my love for dairy would lead me to life not only in the industry but also on the farm.

My vision for dairy farming continues to evolve as I meet more and more people in this great industry. My vision includes a great diversity of business models and smallowners/managers – commodity and value added, large and small, conventional and organic, purchased feed and homegrown, cattle and sheep or goats. There are certain characteristics that are common to all models – hard work and a love for the animals and land in our care.

For my own family, we are proud to be continuing a family tradition, and raising our children in a farming life. Our two young farm boys already have such a grasp of how things like tractors, mowers and choppers work as well as the importance of caring for another life. While it’s hard to predict the future, it’s exciting to think about the time when either one or both of them take over the reins of the farm.

Whatever the business model, the old adage will remain true – “If your outgo is more than your inflow, you’re upkeep with be your downfall.”

Having a good handle on your finances and making sound decisions based on what they tell you will be central to economic sustainability – an absolutely key component to farm sustainability. What’s more, planning ahead using economic information will allow you to get ahead. Tools like benchmarking, forecasting and budgeting will serve to improve the performance of our dairy businesses. The importance of financial skills cannot be understated as we move forward into the future – so that we can carry on with our passion, our farms, our livelihood.

 

The above was from a short speech given at The Vermont Dairy Summit, November 2015.

 

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Three Times a Day, You Need a Farmer

I was lucky enough to catch some attention with a post that I wrote that tried to simply answer, “What makes farming worth the heartache?”

While I expanded on idyllic images, (which happen to be my reality), I wrote it in response to many other’s lamentation about the hard times and sadness that often comes along with farming (which is also my reality). Farming must be closely related to Mother Nature – who not once, among the many things she has been called, was ever referred to as “fair.”

There’s not much that is more rewarding than nursing a sick cow or calf back to health; and then to have her live a long, healthy and productive life. But just as easily if not more so, that same animal could be gone in a literal heartbeat.

It certainly makes one appreciate life, and the things in it, that much more.

At the end of the day, this way of life, this collection of extreme ups and extreme downs and whatever comes in between is all done in the name of producing of food. Food that is served at the dinner table or grabbed in a rush. Food that is baked or cooked in your kitchen for those closest to you with love. Food that nourishes our bodies so that we may carry out our string of daily tasks that make up our lives.

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” –Brenda schoepp

We as dairy farmers take particular pride in producing what’s been described as “nature’s most perfect food.” Milk provides protein, calcium and nine essential vitamins and nutrients in a single serving; ounce for ounce it’s nutrition cannot be matched. So there’s a bit of pride and even more reward had in providing such nourishment for our neighbors, communities and family.

Of course other goodness in dairy products include cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cream, butter, and more.

But our beloved milk has come under attack. Fewer and fewer people are drinking it; fluid milk sales have been trending downward for the past several years. Milk has more competition now from plant-based beverages that have the same look and feel (but not the same nutrition). Various label claims create confusion about everything from hormones, antibiotics, animal care to the environment. All in the name of selling.

The worst part is talking about these issues with dairy farmers who aren’t active on social media and/or who don’t see these claims every day.

The best part is knowing that despite the spin, despite the claims, despite the advertising, there are millions of people – children and adults alike, who depend upon us everyday – even three times a day – for our milk. And we won’t let them down.

At the end of the day, milk is milk, still the nutrient powerhouse and wholesome glass of refreshment produced by farmers who care about taking care or their cows and keeping their farms sustainable for future generations.

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Filed under Dairy Care, Dairy Industry, Milk

[Farm] Size: Does it Matter?

Farm size gets a lot of press these days. Big farms, small farms, micro farms – each operating differently, in ways that make sense to their particular operation. The common denominator among the vast majority despite the size of the farm is a proud, caring farmer or farmers, doing their best to take care of the land and/or animals they rely upon often with future generations in mind. Usually they are carrying on a family tradition or striking out on their own after being inspired to do so.

To illustrate, I reached out to a few fellow dairy farmers to ask their philosophies about animal care. You will find their statements in their own voices first, and then a list of the farm sizes. I won’t tell you who said what, but rather let you guess.

Farmer quotes:

“Animal care is THE most important part of dairy farming. We treat our cows with respect and compassion. We treat our animals well, not because a well-cared for animal is healthy and strong and will produce quality milk in good supply, but because it is the right. thing. to. do. Period.”

“Caring for dairy cattle is in my blood, it is my passion. The most important lesson I have learned is that if you do not treat your animals well, you will not succeed. Dairy cattle are domestic animals and they depend on us for food, shelter and care. I know that as long as I keep working hard to provide my cows with the best care and comfort, they will produce well and our family business will prosper. Happy cows make milk; there is no truer statement.”

“Our philosophy is to provide as comfortable a life as possible to our animals. The more comfortable and healthy we keep our animals the better they are able to produce for us. As farmers we see animals born and we also sometimes have to make the unfortunate choice when they pass on. We don’t want to see animals suffer. Life is fragile and it is our job to make sure that theirs is as comfortable as possible.”

“For us health is the #1 priority. It’s all watched very carefully. We have nutritionists and we test our feed weekly to make adjustments. Our herdsman was a vet and he is always on top of issues. When we treat with antibiotics we have our own hold back chart which is more conservative than the medicine company. We have a hospital pen where the sick and recovering from surgeries are held to protect them. Also, keeping beds clean and dry lend to healthier animals. We work to prevent foot diseases and mastitis. We are pro-active when it comes to health care.”

“On our farm the cows come first. Every decision we make whether it is how to treat a sick cow or a renovation to make, we first think if it will make the cows lives better and more comfortable.”

“I married into farming. I never understood why someone would want to work so hard for so little. Then it happened, I fell in love with cows. Every day you go out and tend to their needs, often before your own. The work is hard, the hours are long but seeing a new life enter the world or having one of your girls give you loves, it makes it all worth it. Animal care is our top priority. In order for us to keep doing what we love which is tending to their needs, they have to be well taken care of. Our job as dairy farmers is to take care of them. Doing the best possible job we can keeps a roof over our heads as well as theirs.”

“Our dairy cows deserve the utmost care and respect, however they are animals not humans. They should get the care that they need to lead a healthy and ‘happy’ life. They are our livelihood, and deserve to be treated that way. But how do you rate the ‘happiness’ of an animal? I know that animals deserve proper nutrition and care, but when it comes down to spending an exorbitant amount of money or putting animals ‘happiness’ in front of human life, I don’t feel that it should be a hard answer. Maybe it is my faith, but God did put humans on this earth to care for it and the animals, but also to ‘rule’ over them.”

“For dairy size and animal care: I think it’s all in the management. We are strictly family run. Most of the animals have names and they are all seen by one of us every day. I think it’s important if you can to manage your animals properly and take the time to see them every day. We have plenty of room in the milking barn and of other barns and pasture for all the animals.”

“Our girls are our livelihood. Without them we have nothing. So it stands to reason that we take all measures to make them happy and healthy, just as most farmers do. On our farm we don’t push our cows to their fullest. I like to compare cows to athletes. Like any athlete when they are pushed they are bound to have maintenance and more likelihood of things that need intervention.”

“On our family farm it’s all about the cows. Our greatest efforts and resources are always devoted to ensuring that our family of cows receives the best care and are provided the greatest comforts. We truly believe that any cow, provided with the right care, can reach her potential which is why we invest the bulk of our time, money and resources into not just maintaining but improving all aspects of their lives- from feed, health & nutrition to housing, comfort & quality of life. Farming is our way of life, it just also happens to be how we make our living.”

Farm sizes and a few other details:admin-ajax

  • 500-cow dairy
  • 115-cow dairy
  • 1200-goat dairy
  • 70-cow dairy transitioning to organic
  • 725-cow dairy
  • 130-cow dairy
  • 1700-cow dairy
  • 200-cow organic dairy
  • 50-cow dairy
  • 270-cow dairy

These statements are all straight from the farmer. Despite the varying sizes and the different ways accomplished, one theme winds through them all: animal care is of utmost importance. There may be folks who still want to debate differences between the sizes of dairy or other farms and what they can or can’t offer, but those discussions should all be held with the knowledge that at the end of the day, animal care is a primary influence on decision making.

Farmers know that if they take care of the animals, the animals will take care of them. And I’m proud to say that I couldn’t agree more.

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The Future of Dairy Farming in the Northeast

Starting my own personal blog has been in the back of my mind for quite some time now. I found lots of ways to let the time pass and not get started. Strange as it may sound, I was nervous, too; mainly that my opinions would be applied to different organizations with which I am associated. So, before I begin, let me make clear that the opinions presented herein are my own and in no way represent my employer or any of the volunteer organizations that I participate in. Phew! Now that I have that out of the way, let me begin. Came across a fitting first-time blog entry the other day…

Recently a friend and colleague asked me (during a youth dairy contest at a local fair, mind you), “So, what’s the future of dairy in the Northeast?” Well, if that’s not the million dollar question for those of us involved in the dairy industry, I don’t know what is! And here I was thinking I would just have to judge a few heifers and kids that day. After a brief hesitation, my friend quickly changed his question to “Is there a future for dairy here?” My quick reply: Yes.

Now, I have been accused in the past of being too “Pollyanna” but I think I have evolved to be what I consider realistically optimistic. Certainly, the dairy landscape has changed and is changing – aesthetically, production-wise and in the way we do business. This is not new. The way things are and the way they used to be is and has always been different. One thing that stays the same though is that in this country we have the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness and in my experience, albeit relatively short, I have seen that where there is a will, there is a way.

That’s not to say that things don’t get out of control or beyond our reach. Unfortunately the stark reality is that we all have bills that need to be paid and for the most part, we rely on an income stream that is dependent upon factors beyond our control. Yet even then, there are folks who are figuring out how to get more control over the price they receive or are supplementing by diversifying their income stream. They are utilizing minimum milk price contracts. They are selling product directly to their neighbors and beyond. They are investing in more efficient operations. They are starting side ventures like agri-tainment. The list goes on.

There’s something about someone telling you “no, you can’t” that makes you want to push harder to make it work, no?

So I think that’s why my reply was so quick in coming to the second question. I have no doubt that there is a future here in the Northeast for dairy. What that future looks like – whether it is a brand new highly efficient free-stall herd or a low-investment pasture-grazed tie-stall herd or both or something else or everything in between, remains to be seen. Maybe it won’t look too different from today. I happen to believe that there is room for all types of dairy farms.

I relate back to my 4-H dairy experience. When my family first started in 4-H 28 years ago there were lots of kids involved but very few, if any, showing dairy calves that did not come from a farm. We were one of the very few. As the years went on, it seemed the number of participants dwindled. I know now that we were going through the Dairy Herd Termination Buyout and that real estate prices soared in Massachusetts, making it tough for dairy farms to compete with houses, among other things. Today, believe it or not, the Massachusetts 4-H Dairy Program is growing again. I won’t say we’ve come full circle, but maybe something like it. Most kids lease or purchase animals, and do not come from a farm or at least one that provides the sole financial support of the family.

Twenty-eight years ago when non-farm kids were a rarity in the 4-H show ring and through a time where dairy farms were being replaced by houses faster than residential construction could keep up, who would have thunk it?

Clearly, the future of dairy here and everywhere is ours for the making.

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