And then there were none…

Hi everyone! Muts mom here for a blog take over. Mut’s talked your ear off about the health benefits of milk, and why it’s safe and all about dairy farms but I’m going there again. The dairy industry is currently in a state that many people don’t realize.

Here’s a scene many of you can relate to, farmers or not. You just put the baby to bed, knowing you have about 2.5 hours before his teeth that are just starting to break through wake him up. You sit down at the table with your beverage of choice ( I either go with warm milk or Cabernet, depending on how much my ulcer hurts) and stare at the stack of bills in front of you. You fire up the computer and open quick books and just stare at the pile. You know milk prices are at a few year low and this year is predicted lower. You do what you can to pay who needs paying and pray as hard as you can that next month will be better. You’re almost relieved when the baby wakes up so you can put off the bills for a little while. 

We have our farm and our baby and that’s our whole life. You think that working every single day, long hours in all the extreme elements would be enough. It should be enough. That the security of being able to leave the farm to our children, if they want it, is there. That it’s not even a question of if they will be able to grow up and choose because it will be there for them. But that’s not the reality all over the country. The reality is that soon dairy farms across this country will be as common as households with typewriters. They will become obsolete and moved over for the next “better” thing. In 1950, there were 3.5 MILLION dairy farms. IN 2012, there was 58,000. In 2016, 41,809. Just take those numbers in for a second. Yes, there are larger farms than in the ’50’s, and yes, farmers are producing milk more efficiantly, but look again at those numbers. 

It’s not just that dairy farmer who sold out. It’s his vet, nutritionalist, milk tester, hoof trimmer that all lost a client. It’s his supply company, repair man, semen company that all lost his business. It’s the local hardware store, gasoline company, tire shop, tractor dealer, and feed mill that all lost his money. Maybe it was just one small dairy farmer. But then it happened over 16,000 times in just FOUR years. 

Why is this happening? There’s a few reasons, or so I’ve been told. China and Russia aren’t importing what they were a few years ago. Farmers have added on more cows (If you need more money to pay bills, you need more milk which means you need more cows which means more milk on the market which means lower milk price-vicious circle). But people also stopped drinking milk. They stopped trusting their farmer. It wasn’t long ago that people thought “farmer” and they thought “honest”. They may have also thought “denim overalls” or “simple” but the truth is people trusted farmers(and I much prefer yoga pants to overalls!). If you were lost, you would stop at a farm, because that farmer could tell you where to go and you trusted him. Now I’m not old enough to reminiscing about the “Good Ole Days” but that’s just how it was when I was growing up. And then came the Internet. And then came social media. And then came people believing absofreakinglutely everything that they read on the Internet, without ever once checking a source. Activist groups slowly got bigger and bigger and started infiltrating farms and staging videos to make farmers look bad. And soon the idea got swayed from “farmer=honest” to “farmer=lying”. For this reason, I hate social media. I know, I know, I’m on it as much as the next person, and here I am writing a blog to post to Facebook. But the “information” that is at people’s fingertips is disturbing. The fact that people need to hit record on their phone when they see an accident and never call 911 because they don’t want to stop recording? I guess if you get enough likes that’s all that matters. 

Why am I writing all this to you? Because, in a nut shell, my heart is broken. More and more large companies and orginizations have turned away from dairy, whether intentional or not. Tonight I saw a post on Facebook from Cheerios, who was listing Blue Diamond Almond Milk as their best friend, and win a trip to California. I was almost positive that nothing went better together than cereal and milk (not nut juice mind you, milk). The Girl Scouts are advertising their cookies this year as vegan. Not allergen free, but vegan. To me, this feels like a knife in the back. “Et tu Brute?” With milk prices so low and falling, and the general population with a unfavorable opinion of dairy farmers, if you’re not with us, you’re against us. We need all the help we can get. I don’t know what Cheerios agenda was. I don’t know why the Girl Scouts were advertising their cookies as vegan, whether it was a marketing ploy or someone’s belief getting rubbed off to impressionable young girls. I did offer to work with them to implement an ag program for the girls, but was dismissed. So it’s like this, you come home from work, after being on your feet for 12 hours in the freezing cold, taking care of your animals, knowing they are all safe and warm and fed, while you yourself are numb and starving and while warming up some leftovers, you scroll through your newsfeed and see video after video, article after article about why farmers are bad, how they’re hurting they’re animals, why nut juice is better and you just want to cry. You put every ounce of yourself into being the best farmer you can be and you see these things and can’t wrap your head around it. 

It would be easy for us to sell our cows right now. By easy, I mean the most sense financially. We are losing money every single day by keeping them. We have cut back everything we can and see our future dwindling very quickly. But you know what else is easy? Loving our cows. To me, to any farmer, they are not “just cows”, just like that doggo keeping your feet warm is not “just a dog”. They have their own personalities, you see them more than you see your family and to you, they are your family. If we have to sell a cow, I cry. Every single time. It literally breaks my heart. Muts mom passed away shortly after she calved. She was older and sick and getting Mut was a huge blessing, as she was my favorite cow. I cried for days. I’m getting choked up writing this because I loved her and I still miss her terribly. But the bond goes both ways. She loved me too. She would come when I called her and she would give my husband a hard time because she was my cow. When I hugged her, she would wrap her hear around me and rub it up and down on my back. She was so much more than “just a cow”. So although it would be the wiser thing for us to sell our cows, I don’t think I can handle that. Losing money is worth looking in their eyes and telling them we will do everything we can to keep them home where they belong. To me not having them is unfathomable. And I didn’t even grow up on a dairy farm. For my husband, who has worked so hard his whole life for this? And has done a damn good job, I might add, at having healthy, friendly cows that milk well. I won’t let his dream end. Maybe it’s the Irish in me but I’m a fighter. But that might not be the case forever. There may come a day when we have to sell. When we say we have lost everything we have and now we have to say goodbye to what we love the most. This is the current reality for hundreds-thousands- of farmers across the country right now. Just close your eyes and put yourself in their place for a minute. Think about their broken hearts and dreams. Those long cold winter nights helping a cow deliver a calf and placing that calf in your warm truck hoping she makes it. Those hours you spent lying with a sick cow, knowing there was absolutely nothing you could do to make her better but you’ve been there for her since birth, so you will be there for her in the end. You lie with her, stroke her head, whisper in her ear thank you for all your hard work and you promise to take care of her baby. All of that gone. It’s ending.
Every night, I rock my son to sleep. I sing him lullabies and when he shuts his eyes I stare at his perfect face. I say my prayers while I’m still holding him tight. I pray he grows up respectful to all, gentle to animals and always helps anyone in need. I pray he gets to grow up in a world with out hate and one that’s at peace. I pray that one day he will have the opportunity to make a living in the most honorable profession, and feed his fellow man. I pray we can hold on long enough to see a turn around. I pray he won’t have to go through these tough times. I pray he gets to know what’s it’s like to feel the love and trust from a whole herd of animals. I pray that my husband and I, and our son will never have to stand in an empty barn. 

16 thoughts on “And then there were none…

  1. The answer is bypassing the processor and selling directly to your consumer. Raw milk is the answer to dwindling dairies. I feel your pain, I have fought for dairy farms to be able to sell direct. The processors want total control.

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  2. Former rancher here… the thing I personally (emotionally) couldn’t accept, to do for dairy operation, is those poor ole girls (I owned ONE), just love their babies more than most momma cows do, and would take any baby you’d let them have sometimes, they love their babies more than the Salers mommas who put me over a fence at tagging time, but, she gets that newborn baby of hers jerked off of her in 48 hrs every year as soon as she has bonded with it and gave it all the colostrum it needs to survive on a bottle. That truly does bother me. I couldn’t do it. I still buy milk. I wish to goodness someone besides the typical huge corp proprietary A2.com would get smart and start producing A2 milk, in a serious way. Off that to their neighbors. Without it being 3 x the going rate for A1 Holstein milk. But I love post here, I 100% get it, been there, still living with the loss, still grieving. I feel your pain, and know it is everywhere. In Oregon, 2016, the FBI murdered Lavoy, a rancher, and the news called him a terrorist, and the Bundy’s are getting raked over the coals and their lives ruined. People who watch mainstream news, raising yet another generation on concrete, don’t have a clue. Oh, yea, then add all the rescue (hoarder) horse people to that number, who will tell you how evil ranchers out west are greedy, and are out to exterminate all the poor wild mustangs, put all those kinds together, and you have a lot of people who have not experienced what I know as life, and don’t want me or you to, either.

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    • I think you will start to see more a2 milk in the coming years! From a farmers standpoint it’s a little difficult, we can do a genomic test on our cows via hair sample that will say if they are a2/a2 or not, but if you have 100 cows and 15 are not, you would have to either sell them or sort them out somehow. Lucky for us most color breeds are a2/a2. But I believe this is starting to catch on, so in time!

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  3. We have a dairy farm in mid Michigan and have also toyed with the idea of processing on farm. But such a huge investment and so many regulations for permitting and sales….I share your pain and just posted earlier today about the heart break of watching or neighboring dairies sell out because they can no longer afford to go on. It is very depressing to drive by and see the empty barns. Hopefully the market will improve sooner rather than later….God Bless 🙂

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  4. My husband was the 5th generation dairy farming on our family farm in the Midwest. It was the hardest thing we ever did to sell the entire herd in 2011, but you can only operate at a loss every month for so many years before you have to sell and pay debts to avoid losing the land. We stepped out on faith with him having no plan for his next career. God blessed us in ways we could never have fathomed……we are financially a place now that seemed impossible 7 years ago. I say all this just to offer hope if there is anyone reading this that is worried about their future in dairy farming. My husband couldn’t imagine be happy doing anything but farming, but he is so happy now. And he gets paid for his work now instead of long thankless hours in the freezing cold or blistering heat just to lose money. 🙂

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  5. I’m 5th Generation farmer ,we put the 4 kids to bed tonight and had a very long conversation on if we should sell out in the next few yrs or reinvest/ modernize build a new facility the early 70s barn the cows are in is worn out and inefficient. The plans to build, bids are all there but there is no way it cash flows and turns a profit. we even did a plan to double our herd size we currently cash crop the extra acres. I was better than the first plan and it made us think long and hard, but. the painful decision is it still doesn’t support a family.

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    • It’s so sad to see so many people in this boat. I pray that your family can make it work! And if not, I pray you find peace in doing what is best for your family. Hopefully things will turn around before it’s too late.

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    • We’ve lived and know those are incredibly personal and difficult decisions, but if it doesn’t cash flow, think about where you might be 5 or 10 years down the road. Borrowing money to lose money is never a good idea. *Even* when it is a 5th generation farm. We had that exact same issue. An expansion and herd growth was what eventually led to our sell out. It was a go-big-or-go-home decision and we ended up “going home.” We had one of the top-producing herds in the state for several years, but that wasn’t enough because when you are leveraged with debt, sometimes even great production is not enough. Finally got to the point where the writing was on the wall that continuing to lose money every year could lead to losing the farm that has been in my husband’s family since it was land granted from President Jackson in the mid-1800’s. If you are a believer, pray hard (or continue doing so) and be open to whatever God’s plan is for you. It wasn’t the answer we were hoping for, but in hindsight, we are SO glad we stepped out on faith and sold. We have close friends who also sold their cows shortly before we did, and they too are in such a better position than they ever imagined. The stress of a struggling business can have negative effects on heath and a marriage too. The effects are rippling. I will quit rambling now, but I just want to offer hope that selling the cows is not the end of the world, and it doesn’t make you failures. Those were some very dark days leading up to our sale, and a lot of tears were shed, but boy is life bright and happy again on the other side. God bless.

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  6. Dear Little Brown Cow
    I do know how you feel. We’re in the commercial fishing business and to be told everyday in the media how horrible you and your business/ way of life is….. well it’s frustrating and heartbreaking.
    Much, much love to our fellow food producers!!
    PS I was also a former dairy princess in California.
    I got ya.

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    • Wow, that is a hard way of life as well!! I have an obsession with (esp folk) music from Newfoundland (um hello Alan Doyle😍) and the songs and the pictures they paint of being in that industry. There is nothing I love more than being out on the boat, but having to do it for a living at the mercy of the weather… God bless you and keep you safe and maybe someday people will realize the hard work that goes into their food!

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