Karen Bohnert

I wish my mother and my father were alive so they could tell me it would all be okay. But they are not. And all I’m left with is my faith. And, honestly, that is enough.

I lost my job eight years ago, and it stopped me in my tracks. My passion and my livelihood revolve around talking and writing about the goodness of dairy. I don’t live in a dairy rich area, and in April 2009, I was called up to the human resources office and told that due to fewer farmers shipping to their cooperative, they were going to have to let me go.

There were tears; I was paralyzed. My life path was destined to have dairy employment in it. My husband never skipped a beat and knew that goodness awaited. Thankfully, he was right.

But I still remember the uncertainly that weighed down my heart and my mind — and there were sleepless nights. What would I do to contribute financially to our household? What would we do for health insurance? And so many more questions plagued me.

Two thousand miles away, my mother assured me it would be all right. “It will all work out, my love.” And, you know what, she was right.

My heart is again heavily plagued with endless worries and uncertainties. Last month, several of my friends received letters from their processor informing them that they had less than 30 days to find a new home for their milk. If they don’t, cows will exit their farm, and their dairying days will be done. While this is not happening to me, I feel that all dairy farmers easily empathize that this, too, could be us.

I watch my husband lace up his boots and head out to the barn each and every morning. Just like so many of you, he works endlessly to care for the cows, to care for the land, and to care for his family. And lately it seems as if he is working hard to pay the bills, to wake up, and do it all over again. Add scrutiny and politics into the daily scenario, and that can quickly wear someone down. I’ve heard exhaustion in so many of my dairy friends’ voices. I’ve heard it in my own husband’s voice. This is alarming to me!

I’m married to a guy who was born to milk cows for a living. Some people know from very early on that they want to be a doctor or veterinarian or teacher. For so many of you, you knew your job was to be a dairy farmer. And the world needs you all — now more than ever.

Friends, I won’t lie, we are up against challenging times. We have endured a tough chapter; we are being scrutinized on how we care for our cows, our land, and our livelihoods. This can wear someone down.

But I encourage you all to continue to pull your boots on and head out to the barn. We cannot live in fear of the uncertainties, and most importantly we cannot let fear divide us. Remember what threads us together — our roots, our love for cattle, our love for land, and our endless commitment.

Listen to Paul Harvey’s, “So God Made a Farmer” speech on days that you struggle; adding a bounce of hope in your step and support in your spine.

Look at your children, deep into their eyes, and ask yourself in the silence of your hearts, what do you hope for them? I know for many of you, you hope they find their passion, and if that passion leads to taking over the family farm, you know your heart will explode with pride.

Don’t let all of this doubt dwindle you down and diminish any bit of hope the younger generation might have of following in your footsteps. Plow ahead, my friends. Think of those late nights when you were exhausted but kept going to get the crop in the ground because you knew rain was on the horizon. The slight fear of rain coming in bucket forms, and the thought of maybe having to replant didn’t force you to park the planter; you plowed ahead.

Think of that promising heifer that you could not wait to calve. But she tested your patience, going two weeks past her due date, to give you a bull calf. You didn’t give up hope. You freshened her in and got her going, bred her back, and hoped for a heifer the next time. And just think of that one cow that took four years before she delivered a heifer replacement for you; and the satisfaction your heart felt.

At the first of the year, I thought things were going to change this year; milk price rose. But now a few months later, I think we better hold on tight. Our optimism might have shrunk, but our endless love and the devotion we pour into our cows, land, and family have not. Focusing on fear and hate will generate more of the same. Focus on the good, and I promise you goodness will grow.

I cannot tell you how things will pan out in 2017. But I can tell you to anchor your uncertainties to your faith, and you’ll be reminded at the least expected, and sometimes at the most needed of times, “It’ll be all right.”

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 450-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.