I recently received a copy of a letter that had appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The headline over the letter was "Dairy Farms Become An Expensive Hobby." The subject of the letter was dairy farmers' operating losses. The writer of the letter had calculated that a dairy farmer with a 115-cow herd needed $76,590 per year to subsidize his "hobby" and just break even. From a psychological standpoint he wanted to know why anyone would pay $76,590 for the opportunity to milk 115 cows twice a day 365 days a year. The following is my reply to that letter.
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
I am writing in regard to the letter written by Barry Jenkins, Arlington, Va., headlined "Dairy Farms Become An Expensive Hobby." Having been a dairy farmer for 60 years, I take offense at your use of the word "hobby" in reference to dairy farming. Dairy farming has never been a hobby. Dairy farming is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Dairymen and dairy women rise from four o'clock in the morning and on. With a quick cup of coffee, which they usually carry with them, they head to the barn to milk and care for their cows. Breakfast will wait until chores are done, whatever time that may be. The time when they eat a meal usually depends on machinery breakdowns, cows calving, or the weather. They don't get an hour off for lunch or an afternoon quitting time. They are often found in the barn in the middle of the night delivering a baby calf or tending a sick cow. When they aren't in the barn they can usually be found plowing fields, planting seeds, or harvesting crops to feed the dairy cows. It is all work, never a hobby!
To answer your question as to where they get the extra $76,590 to pour into the operation annually, usually the wife or another family member works off the farm and their paycheck is contributed to the expenses of the farm and family living. Sometimes the dairy person also works a part-time job. The children often raise steers or dairy beef feeders as 4-H or FFA projects and sell them at local county or state fairs. When old enough they take on baby-sitting or part-time jobs to help out with expenses. Dairy farming is a "family affair" with every member contributing in some fashion. When the income isn't enough they borrow money, go in debt, and make payments.
Why do they do it? For many reasons. They love their farms. Many have been in the family for generations. They have a history going back years and years. They love their land and working with it. They love their cows. Most have bred cows for years. They have worked hard to develop a herd with outstanding genetics that will contribute to their chosen breed for years to come. They have bred and shown prize winning cows that become like members of their family and you will find many dairy farms where those cows have a burial site on the farm instead of being culled. Dairy farmers just love being dairy farmers, just as other people love their occupations!
And last, but not least, they have hope that someday, somehow, and someway changes will occur that will once again allow dairy farmers to earn a decent living by just milking cows. They are determined to keep going until that day arrives. They don't give up. They have faith that keeps them going in spite of the hardships. They are special people and they are optimists!
Barbara R. Lumley
5192 Alamo Road SE
Carrollton, Ohio 44615