Proud to Dairy

When most people think of future careers today they either have something they're passionate about or they look for a career with the most income. When you think of the diverse jobs in America it can range from jobless, to CEO of a large company and the random jobs in between. For centuries farmers have always been at the bottom of the spectrum, having people look down upon us because we prefer to work in the filth and receive a small amount of pay. In the past one hundred years it's been more common for future farm owners to receive a college education. There are still farmers out there who have learned what they know from the previous generation but we all have to learn the different aspects of the job. So here is a list of the various roles a dairy farmer has:

Veterinarian: We have animals, therefore we have to take care of them. This is a very broad spectrum. We go from treating a sick cows to helping a cow give birth. We do have a real veterinarian come in every week just to check in and do a pregnancy check, but for the past decade farmers have been doing more of the jobs vets do in order to save some money. We're basically cow doctors but we can call the vet if we get stumped!

Crop Farmer: Not all dairy farmers plant and harvest their own crops but it's a science! Planting at the right time, knowing when to harvest, storing it properly, and making sure our yields are the highest they can be. 

Business Person: Every farm operation is a business. You have to understand how to pay employees, pay your bills, manage your expenses, etc. Most farmers receive a price, they don't set it like most businesses so it's crucial that we manage how much we spend because you never know when the milk price will drop!

Geneticists: In order for a cow to produce milk, she must have a calf (just like humans). Therefore we are responsible for breeding her to Mr. Right. Each farmer has his/her own preferences to what Mr. Right might look like or what he might be able to improve. Say we have a cow that has terrible feet or an udder that sags too much. We are able to look through a listing of bulls and find one that can (hopefully) correct her fault and create a calf that is like her, only better. Some farmers do this themselves while others who have a much larger herd can do it through a special program. This program has every cow in the herd ranked depending on milk production, and physical appearance (like what I was discussing previously). The software then matches them up with Mr. Right... kind of like e-Harmony!

Manager: Some farm businesses are strictly dependent on family labor which can get stressful because you spend all your time together and other farms have very little family members involved. No matter who is working for you, you have to manage people and make sure they are spending their time efficiently! No only do you have to manage people, you have to manage the herd and the business. Keeping accurate records is key to managing the farm to the best of your ability. 

Gynecologist: We don't have any bulls on our farm so we artificially inseminate all our cows and heifer. We have to understand the anatomy of the cow's reproductive tract and be able to know her heat cycles and breed her on time. 

Machine Operator: This is one of my favorite jobs because I typically get the tractor with AC in the summer. :) We use tractors to clean barns, spread manure, and harvest crops. This category also includes truck driving for hauling all the crops back to the bunk where we store them. We also use trucks to haul sand which is what our milking cows are bedded with. 

Chef: A proper diet is very important to grow heifers, for cows to produce quality milk, and to keep the cows maintaining themselves at a healthy weight. There is a lot of work that goes into making the perfect cow food! Most dairy farmers here in the Northeast harvest their own crops to create a basis for the cow's feed called a TMR (total mixed ration). It's basically a salad of the crops we have harvested, plus grain and minerals to help cows meet their nutrient requirements. This salad is all formulated by a nutritionist who stops by the examine the feed we have and the cow's poop to see what they aren't digesting properly. They also have software programs to help them create a ration that encourages the best digestion for the cow and most importantly, it has to be delicious too!

Maids: The part of farming the repel most people is the cleaning chores. Along with cleaning we have to give the cows bedding too. Wouldn't you hate to sleep on the floor?

Mechanic: We have a lot of equipment running on a daily basis and things happen to break. Without a quick fix from someone at the farm it's hard to continue chores like cleaning, feeding, or milking. 

Environmentalists: Our farm is right next to Lake Champlain and we have a lot of cows so we have regulations on how much manure can get put on certain fields to prevent run off. Vermont also has a manure spreading ban from December 15th to April 1st. So for this time of year we have to dump the manure in a single pile in the field. Come April 1st, we can spread that pile around the field. The thought behind this ban is that the ground is frozen during this period and whatever we spread can't flow down into the soil. We also pay close attention to how much of her food is being digested and how much is being excreted. 

Milker: We all knew this would be on the list.. but it's the money making job of the farm! We milk three times a day and our parlor can hold twenty cows at a time. It takes about seven hours to milk one shift and an hour to wash in between the milkings. 

Educator: Not all farmers have blogs or a website to promote the farm, but it is our job to answer consumer's questions and help them understand what we do. If you ever have questions PLEASE ask! There is no such thing as a dumb question!

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Comment by Betsy Fleury on February 21, 2014 at 1:52pm

Ashley, you gave a excellent explanation of the many hats that a dairy farmer has to wear. I am sure your blog followers can now understand much more about the tasks we do and the life we have chosen to lead. Thanks for spreading the word!  

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