W.D. Hoard once said, “The cow is the foster mother of the human race. From the time of the ancient Hindoo to this time have the thoughts of men turned to this kindly and beneficent creature as one of the chief sustaining forces of the human race.”
You’ll get no argument from me, Mr. Hoard.
June is Dairy Month and, in my opinion, there’s nothing prettier than a dairy cow, and fully fitted dairy animal walking into a show ring is elegance in motion.
I tend to be fond of the Jersey, Red Holstein and Brown Swiss breeds. The beauty of the Jersey is undeniable with their feminine appearance and spectacular mammary systems. I appreciate the nonchalant attitude and quiet temperament of the Brown Swiss, as well as their overall strength and productivity. As for the Red Holsteins, the memory of a 3-day old Red Holstein heifer I was given as a kid has drawn me to the breed.
There are also some amazing dairy goats. An Alpine can produce more than 2,100 pounds of milk during a single lactation cycle – that’s a lot of milk from an animal that weighs about 135 pounds.
Being a dairy farmer isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for the guy, or gal, who wants to be a “part-time” farmer; it’s a day in and day out job. No days off for holidays, birthdays, illness or other reason. Cows, or goats, need to be milked two or three times a day, the calves or kids need to be fed and all of the other chores need to be attended to. There are many, many long days and short nights on a dairy farm.
The biggest struggle for dairy farmers is low milk prices.
It’s hard to make a living when you’re still in the red after the milk check comes every month. Experts say the dairy industry’s struggle has been looming for 15 years. In 2004, milk prices were high and producers began to expand to try and cash in on those higher prices. More cows meant more milk, which resulted in an increased supply that pushed down the demand and caused a reduction in payments to the producers.
Remember when we had high cattle prices about four years ago? Luckily, that increase was also seen in the dairy steer markets, which gave some producers the opportunity to catch up a little. When the market dropped, it was yet another hard blow to dairy farmers.
Raw milk producers are able to set their own prices for their milk and other products, but they still struggle to make ends meet; plus the regulations for raw milk, cow and goat, are pretty stringent. For some, the fight has been too much.
As I write this, I think about all of the long-time dairy producers who are no longer in the business, and about my friends who continue to have a foothold in the dairy industry on both large and small farms. They might have bad months, but they are still hanging in there, determined to continue as long as they can.
I also see younger farmers who are just getting their start and I can’t help but admire their ambition. Some have taken over family operations, some have started from scratch and others are working to get their foot in the door, but they all have that drive to make a living on the farm.
In honor of Dairy Month, thank your local dairy farmer for their hard work to produce high-quality milk, and if you’re so inclined, hug a dairy cow or dairy goat. It could be the highlight of your day.
Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected]