Farming, a job not to be pursued

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

According to the Wall Street Journal in it's 200 best to worst jobs, farming is 161 and dairy farming is 198, only slightly better than lumberjack at 199 and roustabout at 200. Interesting that they singled dairy farming out as separate from farming in general. Actuary came in first, by the way, closely followed by software engineer at 2 and computer systems analyst at 3.

Opinions? I'll share mine later in the thread.

Thumbnail by Kathleen
The Ozarks, MO(Zone 5b)

We sold our dairy almost three years ago after dairying for 26 years. It broke my heart to see those cows got to another farm but the handwriting had been on the wall since the very beginning. When I see the price of milk consistently lower than it was when we started in 1981 it stirs an anger in me that cannot be expressed. Dairying was something DH had always wanted to do so he took early retirement, we sold everything in So Cal and move to Mo. It is not something I regret since I loved working with the animals but from a monetary standpoint it was not rewarding (to say the least).

I know that money isn't everything but I know how much a dairy farmer has to invest to get into and stay in business and the return on your investment is so very minimal. I always told DH if we could just make minimum wage we would make a good salary due to the amount of time you put into this business. It is definitely a labor of love but it also "doesn't buy the babies shoes"!

Our area used to be called dairy row as there were so many they are few and far between. I don't know how the ones that are still in business are doing it...just hanging by a thread I would suspect. I know it isn't much but I do respect and feel for the hard working dairy farmers...I have been there and done that.

I shudder to think what will happen to our dairy producets if our farmers are forced out of business....

Richmond, TX

I grew up working on my uncle's dairy. No one works harder than a dairy farmer! His son has since turned the place over to grass farming and growing strawberries in greenhouses.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

It IS a hard life... after growing up on a dairy farm, I realize it has to be a labor of love. We were a large family of nine children to assist with the farm chores. Even in those days, it did not pay well. My folks were diversified, growing crops, gardens, fruit orchards, hogs, sheep and chickens. We had a good and healthy raising and I appreciate the hard work ethic that was instilled in us but none of us chose to farm when grown. At least not for occupation... two of us have small rural "hobby" farms.

When I go home to the area in MN that I grew up, I see very few dairies and I can't help but wonder where our milk is now coming from. Sadly too many people are choosing the financial gain option and there are no longer folks willing to do the manual labor. How will the rest survive when there are no longer the workers doing the providing? My thanks to those of you that are exerting the effort!

southeast, NE

I just finished getting our stuff in order for income tax. Been doing this for 32 years and every year I show the "bottom line" to my husband and ask him to remind me "why do we do this?" And we're not full time farmers. We rely on our off the farm income to support our farming. I do not know how you full time people do it?

What I really get tired of is those non farmers making broad assumptions that if you aren't organic, you must be cruel, you must not care about the environment, you must be feeding hormones, antibiotics, etc.

I live in a state that is heavily dependent on agriculture. I am amazed at people who assume farmers get all kinds of tax breaks. Someone wrote a letter to the editor about these so called tax breaks. For example, the writer assumed that since there are farm license plates, that we don't have to pay taxes. Wrong!!!!

I don't know how you dairy farmers do it! We have friends who still milk. They consistently have problems finding help. It is very rare that the couple goes on trips out of town together as one stays back to do the milking.

Ferndale, WA

I don't hardly ever frequent this forum, but it caught my eye when I read an occupation not to pursue.

I do recognize so wonderful friends here that I did not know came from a farming background. Podster, Porkpal.

I grew up in the Great Northwest, son of a lumber jack, as a boy all my friends were either children of Logging parents, or children of farmers. The one thing we all had in common was hard work and long hours. We never knew we had it hard, it was all we knew. I came from a family of thirteen. I remember at nine years old having to go out and work two hours before going to school, comming home and changing clothes and going out and working for two hours. Come in for dinner and then school work. It seemed a rare occasion to get new clothes of any sort. Being the third from the youngest everything was hand me downs. I never could figure out why with all of us working we never had anything new...As and adult I choose neither of the two occupations. The one thing I took away from it all was the work ethic, never be afraid of honest hard work. I went into law enforcement, and Pastored a church for several years. I know what farmers go through and I take off my hat to all of you who have been there and done that. God Bless all of you...Haystack

Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

I am so burned out by these cows I am on the verge of a meltdown. Just popped in and saw this thread, will comment more later as I gotta run. Cows dictating my time, you know..........*sigh*........

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

I'm sorry I haven't been back here - got two new knees in early February and kind of missed the responses to this thread until today.

Anna, I know exactly where you're coming from!

We've had a bit of an upset here, Stan's brother having had a heart attack and Stan and a couple of friends selling the milking herd over the weekend. It will be hard for his brother to come home to an empty barn, but there is at least the possibility that he will come home.

Dairying is hard and dangerous and all encompassing. You work with cows that weigh more than half a ton and have the brains of a sparrow. They don't shut down for the weekend, and live by the adage, 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." By the time you're old enough to have figured it out, you are really too old to be farming! And on top of that, as someone mentioned above, if you are not rabidly organic, you are poisoning the world with your antibiotic and hormone laced product and cruel to your animals. Not to mention the nuts who think we should turn them all loose and let them run free.

I'm going to end up preaching to the choir here, so I think I'll quit.

Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

No kidding.

none of ur business, OK(Zone 5b)

I guess those people have never tried to catch a free roaming cow ?? sheesh.
I m so sorry to hear that the dairy farmers are getting such a hard deal in life. Just doesn't seem fair.
I have a stupid question though if i may.
if we don't have dairy farmers then how do we get our milk ? ( please don't hurt me for asking .)
i m just a novice little hobby farmer who has only chickens and some kids ( LOL yes real human kids ) and still learning all the ways of this farm world. I don't do it for a living but i have great respect for those who do.
thanks and many blessing to all the dairy farmers and other farmers out there.

Moss Point, MS(Zone 8b)

At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if they started importing milk solids and reconstituting it. I just don't understand why there hasn't been an effort to break up the monopoly of milk.

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

The government is holding price down so people can afford to buy it. Some day it will backfire!

Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

It's prett sad when the milk check won't cover the cost of the bill from the business we buy all our crop chemicals from. To be fair, we also buy gas, diesel fuel, and our cow concentrate from them, so it is one big bill, but still.........last summer on month that bill was $2,000.00 MORE than that month's milk check. And it wasn't 'cause we squander either.

Our credit card statement is quite large too, but we have started making farm purchases with a CC, figured we might as well get some "free" air miles so if we can get the kid to do chores and milk for us for a week, we can at least go somewhere and basically fly free. It really is a good deal for me, as I find I am writing alot less checks every month. And I'm able to highlight the farm expenses on the statement for the bookkeeper to itemize.

McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

I really don't understand why the price of milk is so low. I doubt that the gov't is holding the price down so people can afford it! Maybe the dairy industry is too honest and hard working and doesn't have anyone paying off someone who could change things. Our trash removal has gone up from $25 to 145 in the last 25 years. The price of milk stays about the same - break even in a good year!

Here in the UK the retail price of milk is lower than that of bottled water, sounds like something similar is going on in the USA.

The reason it's so low here in the UK is because the supermarkets use it in their battle for the hearts minds and more importantly wallets of the British consumer. The majority of the population consumes milk, it's on sale almost everywhere, even in places that don't sell food other than confectionery or soft drinks.

The farmer often has little to no say in prices, not just in milk but in most ag industries, and many are frightened to even raise the subject of price with the buyer for fear of losing what may well be their only customer. Some who are (un) fortunate enough to get supermarket contracts (allegedly) have to comply with expensive schemes pushing up costs and (alleged) thumbscrew pricing so the supermarket can offer their discount pricings and two for one offers where the farmer (allegedly) ultimately foots the bill. If the supermarket refuses the product, on products which are packaged, the farmer has to pay for repackaging, having already paid for the original packaging. It so bad that sometimes it actually costs more to package the product than the farmer is paid for the product. Much of this dealing is done of course through an intermediary who sells the produce to the grocer giants, I can't say for sure but I can only image that this is not a service performed for free.

So why sell to the supermarkets, because the top 4 grocers have around 80% market share, farmers and local producers markets and farm shops may be active and vibrant but they are small ... miniscule even.

Back in the early 90s the monopolies commission stopped the major buying roles of the various marketing boards the farms sold to. But farmers have ended up with a similar situation as regards to customer choice, i.e. there is pretty much no choice for all but the very niche, and with little if any of the protection offered by the boards. We were told back then that we shouldn't be afraid of competition with the loss of the marketing boards, and they were absolutely right, competition wasn't a problem! What we should have been, and indeed often are, is afraid of was our future primary customers instead.

The unwitting consumer supporting these giants in commerce, the average British person about village, suburb and city, tend to be taught from an early age that farmers are usually rich, greedy and abusive to the produce, livestock and have completely wrecked environment ... willfully. This is reinforced from time to time with faintly sorrowful television programmes, aired at dinner time, longing for a past that never existed or just outright good old farmer bashing.

So little to no help from the general public other than demands to lower farm gate prices even more, find a way of producing meat without killing animals and wave a wand over the countryside ravaged by what is ultimately rampant consumer demand, while they rage on about the might of the supermarkets and then go and shop in them sniffing at produce that isn't perfect and bathed in chlorine rinses, wrapped in that well known environmentally friendly substance/never killed wildlife since it's creation ... plastic.

Hypocrites all, and I'm one of them. While I do use the farm shop for veg and meat, I actually buy food and household equipment from the supermarket as well. There are no independent grocers left for miles around, it's either a large chain or another supermarket. My one salve to my battered conscience is seeing the looks I get for refusing to put the loose vegetables and fruit in plastic bags for the convenience of the checkout wallahs. Life is full of small hollow victories like this.

In today's economic climate, it's become far worse, many farms are not making a profit or even breaking even, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a bug bear for many, the forms, regulations and rules required can and sometimes does stifle commerce and production. It's been like this for too long and to cap it all off, because of the rural community, it's actually quite difficult to near on impossible to admit you are struggling and keep your standing in the community. It's a crying shame!

The entire industry needs a shake up and if you have an idea on how to do this .... answers on a postcard please!

Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

What always galled me was the dairy farmer has to pay a set amout per 100 # of milk sold for "promotion" do the pork producers and beef producers have a "check-off". It is ludicrous to expect the producers to pay for promotion when we don't get a decent price to begin with, let alone taking some out for promotional purposes. Don't get me started.............oh, ya, I guess I already AM started.

McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

Don't get ME started! Our facilities need upgrading or replacement says the milk inspector - how he expects us to do this with the price of milk is a mystery. We actually lost 100,000 last year - he ought to be glad there are some dairy farmers willing to continue to bash their
brains out against a cement wall instead of expecting us to go further in debt to keep up a "farm beautiful" look for the public...

Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

I'm SO glad we got out last Oct. Our stanchions were non-existent, we had pretty much made tie stalls out of all of them. Waterlines were getting bad. But, we invested in a new barn cleaner chain about 4 years ago.........oh, well...........We had a complete dairy dispersal auction on Oct. 1st. WE had a GREAT sale, everything went way beyond what we had expected. So, I am finding out what it is like to have a life.

Now, you will laugh at this, but the Spousal Unit and I are doing chores/relief milking for other farmers. There is really good money in it, and since we obviously know what we are doing, we haven't had the problem of those we have done the work for worrying about their farm while they are gone. We haven't advertised, as we don't want to be doing this all the time (if we did, we'd have kept our own cows.......LOL) but it's enough to keep us out of trouble. None scheduled for July, but have a 4 day job the first week of August and then I'm going to New York for 10 days. A lady on my FarmWife list group. I milk her cows, house-sit, and as an added benefit, I bake for her. LOL I did a 4 day job for her in March.

I didn't hate the milking or the cows here at home.......what I hated was the fact that I NEVER got out of the barn. This gives me the opportunity to say "no", and I've actually had to because I had a conflict with milking jobs. In fact, there is one guy that called and wants to book us a year in advance; for next September.
We have cash-rented out the cropland and are custom-raising some heifers for the neighbor that rented the land. So far, it's working.

Richmond, TX

Farming in Texas is really a struggle this year thanks to the drought. I checked the "Hay Hotline" for our county and the only hay offered for sale was baled rice straw, unharvested baled corn stalks, and some weathered (?) mixed grass round bales from 2010. Fortunately I still have hay, but for how long...?

McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

We are having a near drought here in our part of Iowa also. The grass just is not growing well for our grazing dairy herd. That will mean tens of thousands extra for hay that could be free with enough rain. Yes, farming is a constant challenge...

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

You're not far from where my Step-son works. He is on a dairy farm near Decorah.

McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

We have the constant problem of finding good help. We would like to find someone who genuinely likes cows and dairying and would like to eventually take over. All farmers reach the stage in life where they can't maintain the constant stress and work and if they don't have a son or two that is ready to take over you can only hope for adequate help.

Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

We have 3 sons and none of them wanted to take over the farm. We did not encourage them to farm.

Waddy, KY

What a hoot! My father offered partnership to my two brothers and in less than 20 years they'd sold out. I wasn't offered the same because I was a girl and though I was plenty good enough to milk, feed calves and do farm work, I wasn't apparently skilled enough to run a dairy. My husband and I are running around 150 cow/calf pairs but my real loves were my Jerseys.

Richmond, TX

I wish I could have taken over my uncle's dairy on which I had grown up, but my cousin turned it into a sod farm. Now we're doing the cow/calf thing too. It is less work, but...

Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

You don't have to be there twice a day to feed, bed, and milk sod. LOL

Richmond, TX


Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Anna_Z, said "Spousal Unit" and I almost shot underpriced milk out my nose!!! A big hearty THANK YOU to all you farmers for everything you do and have to put up with.


Monroe, WI(Zone 4b)

Glad I can at least be entertaining.

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

Lots of us have seen that term from her for years.
Hi, Doug.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Hello Bernie. Doesn't look like I'm going to be able to make the RU this year. Too much going on....


McGregor, IA(Zone 4b)

Well, it's back to the want ads to look for more laborers for the vineyard. The cows manage to get milked but there is a whole lot of other jobs that need doing. We seem to mostly get "hard luck" people that apply for a job. And often it seems that they have made life choices that make for the "hard luck". I would like to be free to hire hispanic people as the ones I have known are eager to work and are looking for a way up into a better life, like all of our other immigrants were in past centuries.

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