Don’t forget about small dairy

When we talked about starting our own dairy farm we never imagined milking 400 cows, we have always just had a different mindset. Often times I hear that if a business isn’t growing it’s dying, but there are other ways to “grow” than by increasing cow numbers. We currently milk 60 cows and that is definitely enough to keep my farmer and I busy, and I enjoy visiting bigger dairy farms and learning how they operate, but it just isn’t for me. A lot of farms around us milk more than we do so the question of whether or not we will grow seems to come up. Often. With the trend being to grow I wonder, can a small farm exist? I want to believe they can, that they also have a place in this industry. And for anyone who wants to know why I’m just not on the bandwagon to expand here are a handful of my reasons:

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Our barn. Our barn has 63 free stalls and narrow alleys so if we crowd around 70 the cows just aren’t comfortable. Cow comfort is an important part of good milk production and happy animals. In the summer we do let the cows out onto a small dirt pasture which helps but in the winter months we don’t have that option. To expand our herd, we would need to build an addition to the barn or (more preferably) build a new, more up-to-date barn. At this time building a free stall barn is not a possibility.

We are only 1 family. Many farms are still family owned, even if they milk a large number. As the farm continues through generations there are more family members involved and the need to support those families grows. My husband and I started our own dairy farm so at this time we only need to support one family of 5. Also, I have three little kiddos who are young and need us, a lot. As our herd grows the labor involved to run the operation grows and I would rather spend more time in the house with my kiddos than in the barn playing in cow poop. Yes, I could hire a few employees to help with the workload but I’m not ready to go there.

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Available land. The area in which our farm is located is populated by other dairymen, beef farmers and crop land. As our herd increases we struggle to find more land so we can feed the animals. We could grow and just purchase the feed we are unable to grow ourselves but that is an expense that needs to be considered as well, survival mode 101 tells me to reduce expenses.

We are young. We started our farm when we were 23 & 24 and jumped in with both feet. It seems crazy to think that we could sell out and do something different but the option needs to be there. I want to keep the farm small so that if one of us decided to try a new career or if we chose to stop milking cows all together, it would be easy for someone to manage and grow as they desired.

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I am tired of growing. For almost eight years we have been building and growing this business and at some times it has felt like we were sliding backwards. Our herd grew from 6 cows to over 160 head. We have converted an old barn into a milking facility, then started over by building a new parlor & milk house, we have built a house & pole barn, and we have built a heifer barn. We went from a newly married couple to a family of five in just 6 short years which is full of exhaustion in itself! I’m tired. I am tired of growing and expanding and to be honest I just want a break.

It takes all kinds of kinds – we all have our own struggles and accomplishments, heart breaks and road blocks. For us, for now — being a small farm that operates efficiently is the goal, spending time with my kids and cattle, and being able to do it all {which is my over bearing, over-controlling, first child, stubborn to the bone, right}.

Xo, Nicole

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