Don't give up on small dairies

Don't give up on small dairies. You've heard it, so believe me when I say the last year has been incredibly difficult for ALL dairy farms. We just experience the struggles differently based on generation, size and manpower. Dairy farming is a way of life and for many families it has been the way of life for years and years and years. Thank you. Thank you to the children who have chosen to stay on the farm and take it over caringly. Year by year battling the hardships and pushing through to see the family farm continues. 97% of farms are family owned. Every year they grow and they invest in land or equipment or buildings and cattle.

But when the family farm begins most times it is small. The equipment is old, the herd is young and the debt is hefty. What would you say to that farmer with just 7 years under her belt? What would you tell her when she asked, "is there still a place in this business for a small farm?" Because she hasn't been through this before and all she sees are established farms feeling the stress or getting bigger. How would you follow up the response when you notice the tears in her eyes listening to someone say "small farms are going to get pushed out"?

After a year of dealing with "milk surplus" and our income being reduced well beyond what is feasible, I cannot help but wonder when is enough? How many cows do you HAVE to milk?

I am not my husband. He started this business because he does not easily accept no. I am the wife who supported his idea. I am the mom who has gotten attached to being home with her kids and taking care of her animals. I am the farmer who knows the needs of her cattle and of her children and knows if she expands right now something has to give. So when someone tells me they just aren't sure a small farm will make it, it gets me down. I have reasons why I want to stay a small farm. And yes, I know that it takes the milk hauler A LOT more stops to fill his truck BUT he will also get a lot more holiday treats this Christmas.

I ask that you not give up on the small dairy farm. I ask those that can't even define a "small dairy" today to remember the majority of farms are less than 200 milking. And I ask consumers to continue adding dairy in your diet because waking up early and working long days, weekend and holidays is a lot easier to do when people appreciate and need the product.

-Farm on, Nicole

Raw Milk in Michigan

Did you know in Michigan it is illegal for me to sell raw milk? Sure is; I could lose my Grade A license which allows me to sell my product to a cooperative. Over the last few years I have received more and more questions about selling or trading milk from my farm, but the answer is always no. There is a lot of chatter whether or not raw milk is better for you or taste different but to tell you the truth my kids and I have NEVER tried the milk from our cows. It's a personal choice but my husband drinks milk from the cows and so far he seems fine.

The sale of raw milk from me is illegal here in Michigan but you do have the option for cowshares. Cowshares would include entering into a contract with a farmer and paying them to harvest the milk for you. An annual payment would give you ownership in a cow and pay for her spot on their farm. A monthly payment would help the farmer feed your cow and cover the labor for them to give you 'X' amount of milk a month. This is legal because you assume ownership of the cow, and removes the farmer from selling a product you could become sick from.

Another option you have for raw milk is to have your own cow that you milk yourself. This would come with financial responsibility and the expense of your own labor to feed and care for the animal, but if you have the acreage and shelter it may be something you'll consider. Some things to keep in mind are that cattle do not produce milk until they have delivered their first calf. You will want to purchase a cow that is in milk and possibly even confirmed pregnant, that way you get milk immediately and can continue getting milk after the calf is born. There will be a period before the calf is born that you need to stop milking the cow... So maybe your homestead will have two cows 😉

There are a lot of pro's and con's to the argument of raw milk and the great thing is that it's your choice to make. I choose to buy my milk from the grocery store because it is what I'm comfortable with. Milk on the store shelves comes from Michigan dairy farms and it travels from farm to fridge in 48 hours. That's pretty darn fresh. At processing plants milk is pasteurized (required by law) and homogenized, bottled and labeled. Thank goodness for our milk haulers and truck drivers who mooo-ve the goods!!

I hope everyone continues to keep dairy in their diet, regardless of where you get it from. Who knows, maybe the law will change in the next several years or maybe I'll start branding my own milk like these Michigan families (check them out).

Meet MI Farmers at Curry Farms

Curry Farms with Karen Curry

"Curry Farms was established in 1868 by my husband Mark’s Great-Great Grandfather Isaiah Thomas Curry.  The dairy cows were not brought in until 1938.  At this time Mark’s grandfather, Waldo James Curry, purchased 12 dairy cows.  We now have the existing facilities at their max with 220 dairy cows and 185 young-stock. 
(Curry Farms, Tawas City, Mi.  Photo Credit: Karen Curry)
Dairy farming gets into your senses.  You see things, hear things, smell things, touch things, and taste things that most will never be able to comprehend in their lifetime.  For example, your eyes light up when you see a newborn calf stand for the first time, your eyes hurt when you come to the barn and find a cow down with a broken leg.  You get excited with the sound of spring  rain, your hearing haunts you with the  shriek of an animal in pain.  Most farmers love the smell of fresh alfalfa and corn silage, the manure pit is a smell that most do not enjoy but it is a commodity that must be dealt with.  Farmers are known to work with their hands.  They touch everything, but the sweetest touch is from their loved ones when work is done at the end of the day.  We have all tasted defeat at one time or another but tasting the sweat from our brow encourages us to battle on.  Many life lessons are learned from a farm.
(Photo Credit: Karen Curry)
Agriculture is not for everyone.  We all know someone who grew up on a farm and as quick as they could, they moved away.  And that is OK.  To be a successful farmer, you have to love it.  You have to love getting up early and seeing the sky filled with stars.  You have to love pushing yourself to physical exhaustion because you know that you have to.  And at the end of the day, you are able to finish your day with the most beautiful sunsets. 
(Curry Farm milking parlor. Photo Credit: Karen Curry)
We can talk about the daily tasks of feeding, breeding, treating, and  vaccinating animals.  We could also go on and on about planting corn, harvesting 4 cuttings of alfalfa, baling hay, harvesting oats, baling straw, harvesting corn silage, combining high moisture corn, applying manure to the fields, fieldwork to get the soil ready to be planted, maintaining buildings and milking parlors, working on broken equipment at the shop,  farm business book keeping, meetings with cow nutritionists, meetings with accountants and ordering parts and supplies from the salespeople that stop out on a regular basis, but who wants to hear about all that? With all that there is to do, how do we have time to do anything fun?  Well, farmers have to be experts in time management.  Family vacations are short and to the point, but they are getaways nonetheless.  There are unexpected things that arise and make us unable to attend functions.  Our families are well aware of this. 

(Photo Credit; Karen Curry)
Mark and his brothers are the 5th generation to uphold the family tradition of farming here in Tawas.  Each generation has put his own stamp to the business.  This is why you see outdated buildings on a generational farm.  Every demolition, every addition, every new piece of cement poured holds a story.  Stories that aren’t always told, but should be. Here is to hoping that the American Farmer can keep the respect of this nation while diligently working to provide for it."                      
(Photo Credit: Karen Curry)

- I would like to thank Mark and Karen Curry for taking the time to share their farm story.

The day before it gets tough

I love this life. For all of its ups and downs this is where I am happiest. If money were magically to land before me; you would still find me milking cows tomorrow. Because it's not the money that drags my ass to the barn is everything BUT money. 

Being a farmer (like they say) is a lifestyle. It's being a milk maid, a caretaker, machine operator, bookkeeper, weather watcher and business partner. It's having a daily routine but EVERY DAY is different. I live on caffeine and carbs because a 'workout' is hidden as a chore and occasionally I open a cold one an hour before calling it a day. I make my own schedule and hit the beach when the thermostat says 92 degrees so I can have a family day (field work permitting). I ride in the pickup truck with my husband and for a few moments it feels like we are dating again and life is simpler. I watch my kids run through fields, get covered in dirt and be wild horses searching for the missing and mysterious river.

I feel older and wiser when I'm sitting in a tractor cab and find solutions to all the world's problems. I also feel like a country super star belting out the Top 40, but who wouldn't?! I am reminded of how to treat others when I'm frustrated with an animal, because nothing is accomplished in anger when you're dealing with 1200 lbs. These lessons on the farm have made me more patient and thankful and those were qualities I lacked in the first two decades of my life....if I'm being honest. 

Now, tomorrow will be a hard day.

I know this now and it won't stop the day from happening. Because for every three things I love about being a farmer there is one that I hate. Tomorrow I will put one of my girls on the trailer and she will leave the farm. 

And tomorrow I will sit here and dislike my job so today I needed to remember what I gain from it all. 

Meet MI Farmers at LMN Dairy

LMN Dairy with Melissa Guoan

"Our current farm is owned by my husband and I, it was established by his parents in 1978.  We milk 200 cows including dry cows, altogether on the farm we have over 400 head from calves to cows.  Agriculture is a way of life for my family.  It is my passion to take care of my animals and produce the best quality milk that is high in butterfat and proteins.  Agriculture feeds the world and I love being a part of that, and being a girl makes it that much better because I can show that not only guys are farmers.  

Sometimes I struggle with being too attached to my animals.  This is a hard part of the industry for me because people might not understand our passion for what we do and claim that we don't take care of our animals.  Our animals are treated better than we treat ourselves most of the time.  I work with my girls 24/7 and they all have their own personalities.  When it comes time to cull my herd it is very hard for me to do.  

*To cull within your herd means selling an animalFarmers have different reasons for culling depending on how they operate their business.

I want consumers to know how hard we work to produce the products that we do.  I want them to know the struggles that we endure and the obstacles we have to face to continue the farming traditions.  I think everyone should spend at least a couple of days on farm job shadowing, to realize just what goes on behind the scenes.  I think a lot of people would be surprised, in a good way.  I've learned that you can NEVER take anything too serious!  Try your best to laugh everything off because if you take it all to heart you will be VERY disappointed in your farming career.  Learn to laugh....a lot, because sometimes that is the only thing you can do.  

We usually show up late to wedding receptions and birthday parties (and I pray they keep the food out because a cold dinner is better than no dinner).  I usually don't go out with friends very often because I have to get up early to do chores.  And my son misses out on a lot of things too because we have to chop hay or work fields, etc.  I do feel bad sometimes, like I fail at being a good mother because I can't take him to activities and things that he wants to go see or do.  My family is affected a lot but my goals are to pay everything off and farm for the fun of it.  I want to farm because it is something I enjoy, not because of the pressure to pay this or that.  Once I have everything paid off I want to milk around 100 cows and run a little greenhouse of my own."

- I would like to thank Nathan and Melissa Guoan for taking the time to share their farm story.

Meet MI Farmers at Bigney Dairy

Bigney Dairy with Judy Bigney

"I feed approximately 30-35 heifers each evening and twice on Wednesdays and weekends, I am also the township clerk for our community.  My husband and 19 year old son milk twice per day.  We have a small family farm (with no employees other than family) and milk between 40-45 cows; counting all the calves, heifers, and one bull, we care for approximately 80 head of cattle.  Our dairy farm has been in my husband's family for 150 years started by his great-grandfather.  My 86 year old father-in-law still helps with all the field work and feeds the heifers on mornings when I am at work.  But, I think our farm days are numbered.  We are located in an area that has been experiencing residential growth and we rent most of the ground we grow crops on to feed the cows.  The ground we rent is slowly being used up for housing.  Our younger son would like to continue to farm and I would like him to buy a farm somewhere else, somewhere more rural.  

Watching my husband, father in law and son work so hard and never get paid what they deserve is the hardest part of this industry for me.  It is very hard to see my family break their bodies doing something we all need but not get paid for.  Farmers are people just like all consumers; they want good healthy food to eat and they care about the animals they raise.  

In farming, patience is the greatest lesson I have learned.  If you don't have patience on a  farm you will literally drive yourself insane.  And there's good and bad with farming.  We have more freedom at times to run about, that is if the chores are done and it's not planting, haying or harvesting season.  But there are no family vacations.  It always seems just when you plan on going to a family reunion, Christmas party, birthday party or something, a piece of farm equipment or tractor breaks down or the cows get out so you can't go.  But, there are so many good things too.  Like the day my five year old son caught a baby kill deer bird in the pasture, watching my two boys grow up with their cousins playing in the farm creek and the baby calves....they're always so cute!"

- I would like to thank Bob and Judy Bigney for sharing their farm story. 

A bad mom moment

I feel like a bad mom.

Maybe you feel this way too.

Perhaps you've thought, where in the hell did summer go? One minute I was rejoicing the last day of school and the memories that we were going to make and then life happened. Now, the kids are back to school, I'm still struggling to get a grip on life and I feel like I've let something special slip between my fingers.

For me it was this farm. This stupid "24/7 business that I have no control over and I'm loosing more than I'm gaining" farm. These cows who took more of my energy, more of my sweat and time than my kids. This place that isn't fun anymore....

Because, right now; I don't feel like I'm creating a future I feel like I'm losing the present.

I wanted to take my kids to the bay last weekend. It was the last weekend before school started and it was beautiful weather. I wanted to get ice cream, put my toes in the sand and listen to the waves. I wanted to breath.

Here though, the farm come first. The hay was cut, and the relief milker couldn't make it in, and the kids spent the weekend with grandparents. The farmer and I worked here. Angry with ourselves, angry at the situation, and angry with the farm. And while I was here being grouchy I began to realize I did no "adventures" with my kids this summer. Yes, we spent time together. Together in the tractor, truck, and barn. But that wasn't what I'd had in mind back in June.

I'm not sure where the lesson in this lies. I know how people say growing up on the farm is the best experience for kids; but I can understand why some farm kids grow up and leave the farm. Parents aren't perfect and I will learn from this feeling.