Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm – “I Leased my First Dairy Heifer”
Being a farmer in New England is always an adventure, especially when you are a farmer just starting out. Coming from a suburban household, farming was never something that Mom and Dad really thought I would be interested in, but when I got my first rabbit at the age of 7, I was hooked! Starting in 4-H with my little bunny, Buster, I learned all about proper animal husbandry. Even at that early age, I knew I wanted to work with animals. As I got older, I studied animal science at my local high school in the Agricultural Education program and joined the National FFA Organization. My project started off as a few rabbits, but with a sharp focus in animal science, I eventually discovered my true passion, dairy cattle.
Mom and Dad didn’t know what to do when I came home from school telling them I leased my first dairy heifer, Autumn (an 10 month old Jersey heifer, with quite the attitude) and that I was going to show her in the local 4-H fair. They supported me as best they could, but didn’t quite understand why I had to work with an animal that was so smelly and so big (“After all, what is wrong with your cute bunnies?”). After that first show season, I decided I wanted to start working with dairy cattle as my SAE project (Supervised Agricultural Experience). I went to a farm in the next town over and started working right away. That fall, I was able to lease my first registered Holstein, Delilah.
Once out of high school (and still working on the dairy) I went to the University of Connecticut to study animal science in the associate’s degree program. My final year in school I lived in the dairy barn! There were available dorm rooms dedicated to students that were interested in learning and working with cattle besides taking classes.
Even after school was done, I went back to working full time on the farm that I started with in high school. Delilah and I were still a team, going to all sorts of shows and events. She even had a daughter, Daphne, that I was also showing. Shortly after school, I started working at FarmTek, a perfect fit. I was able to farm then go to work and talk about farms, it was and still is a great match.
2009 was a tough year for not only me, but the dairy industry as a whole.
Delilah passed away after having her last heifer calf, and when the dairy market crashed, the beloved farm I worked on decided to sell all of the milking cows and replacement heifers. I made a quick decision to purchase all of Delilah’s offspring (4 additional animals, 2 of which were milking) so I could keep my cow family together. Luckily, my former roommate from college had a working dairy farm, so there was room for them there. Even after moving the cows about an hour and a half away, I would milk every weekend and any vacation day I could get there.
After about 12 months of commuting and missing my girls, I had the opportunity to move them back to the home farm. I was able to lease space for all the cows and replacement heifers (there were 2 new additions since the original move) and I could milk them for myself. Bringing them back in October of 2010 was exciting! I did not have enough cows to ship fluid milk, so I decided to raise calves. Daphne and Daffodil (Daphne’s daughter) were able to feed enough calves to pay for rent and their feed. Since that time, my small cow family (everyone’s name starts with the letter of their mother’s name so I can identify which family they are from) turned from 4 to 12! I also purchased other Holsteins and a Milking Shorthorn that has had 2 heifer calves since she moved in. All said, I have 17 dairy animals with 5 of them currently milking and more babies born all the time.
Chores are something a lot of folks around here tease me about; I usually pass up going to dinner or out on the town for milking and feeding calves. My dream is to be able to milk enough cows to sell fluid milk through the local cooperative without having to purchase a large herd at once, so I am willing to work hard now so I can reap the rewards later. Just like the FFA Creed says, “I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturalists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.” I know that quote is not about just doing chores every day, but it does mean that if you work hard now, you will benefit from it later.