July 3, 2019

So Your Child Wants To Dairy?

 |  By: Mike Opperman

One of the greatest commercials ever produced was the Dodge commercial from a few years ago titled “God Made A Farmer.” It aired during the Super Bowl and instantly became the anthem for the nostalgia that represents the American farmer.

The farmer Paul Harvey talks about in that ad closely resembles my dad. He could probably shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, as Mr. Harvey says, and he did work all day and then go to off to school board meetings.

I know I couldn’t shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire. Or shape an axe handle from a persimmon sprout. But I could probably Google it and figure it out if there was a YouTube video.

Such are changing times. I, like many of my generation, didn’t want to work as hard as dad did especially given the opportunities available to me that he didn’t have. I tried, though. My wife and I managed a dairy for almost five years before we realized that an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job that paid well was much better than a 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. job that didn’t.

That’s one of the reasons why so few young people go back to the farm. It’s not that the fear of hard work deterred them. It’s that they saw how little was returned for the effort applied.

Recently a poll in Dairy Herd Management showed that 64% of respondents didn’t want their kids to come back to the farm. If I had to guess, I’d assume that most of those who replied had small dairies. I’m wondering what the response would be for owners of larger dairies.

My guess the results would be different. I don’t think it’s any secret that smaller dairies have struggled through the financial downturn, more so than larger dairies. And while managing a large dairy is still hard work, it’s not as difficult as smaller dairies where there aren’t employees to do the feeding, milking and other chores.

There’s also more cash flow to give yourself a paycheck. And employees and even other family members who can cover for you for when you want a vacation, or go to the kid’s ball games.  Because it’s no longer a badge of honor to have not missed a milking for the last 20 years, as guys from my dad’s generation would boast.

The life of a dairy producer is evolving to where it’s more of an attractive profession for young people. There’s more technology available to running a dairy than ever before, and some of it rivals even large corporations when it comes to managing data. You can cash flow robot technology so at least you don’t have to feel tied to milking cows every day of the year.

Getting started in dairying can be done, as our cover story shows (page 8). And prices, at least in the short term, are looking up (page 16). Recently I spoke with an older couple whose son and daughter in law were trying to take over the farm. They got a note from the bank to buy the cows and feed, and could cash flow at $14 milk.

You could see the pride in the parent’s eyes, knowing that they had kids who wanted to take over. It’s almost as they would, as Paul Harvey’s speech ends, “laugh, and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when their son says that he wants to spend his life doing what dad does.”