Dairy farming is traditionally thought of as a generational vocation. Farms are handed down from parents to children over time, or from an owner to a successor. Sometimes there’s a period when multiple generations are present at once, working together to operate the business.
Of course, this picture doesn’t fit every farm at first glance. I grew up on a first-generation dairy, so a lot of my family members didn’t have any on-farm experience when we first started. While my dad did grow up around cows and other dairy farms, my mom was raised in the suburbs of New Jersey where both of her parents were teachers.
My grandma taught at an elementary school, and my grandpa taught various auto-shop classes. Both went to school in New York City and had absolutely zero on-farm experience. It’s safe to say that dairy farming and everything associated with it was pretty far outside of their comfort zone. But, when they retired, they made the move 300 miles north to a small, unfamiliar town in upstate New York.
Here they would live in a camper in our backyard while their house was being completed, tolerating and helping when the cows got out (although they were only awake because the heifers had rocked the camper), when the pipes broke, or when the power went out. Now they’ve lived a mile down the road from our farm for the last 19 years, and they have helped my family succeed in every way they could since then.
My parents always said that my grandparents move from New Jersey was intimidating, as we were still new at dairying, but it was also an incredible vote of confidence in their ability to make farming work.
Family is still an integral part of every occasion on our farm. My grandma loves to help give farm tours when family from downstate visits, and my grandpa used to help us fix equipment and work on any moving parts we would give him. He would be there to lend you a tool, help fix an engine, or anything in between, all while keeping us and everyone else in our family on our toes with his antics and sarcastic comments.
In this industry, we have a tendency to discount those who didn’t grow up on a farm, but sometimes your off-farm family members can be some of your biggest supporters. In this world, we tend to minimize the importance of working with your family, even if you don’t always get along or they don’t understand the sacrifices that come with your profession. I think it’s important to appreciate all of those experiences while equally valuing the intentions behind them.
My grandma and grandpa’s intention was to be a part of my parents’ lives and to get to know their grandchildren. They planned to assist with day-to-day tasks, to alleviate stress, and to help in whatever ways they could. Some days that meant proving childcare, lending us tools, or fixing equipment. Even though neither of them had any on-farm experience, my grandparents moved because they wanted to help us succeed, and they did, despite it being entirely out of their comfort zone.
Abbie Cox grew up in Cato, N.Y. on a first-generation dairy farm and currently attends Cornell University as a member of the class of 2021, majoring in ani-mal science with a minor in education and a focus in dairy. On campus, she is involved with the Cornell University Dairy Science Club, Sigma Alpha, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and is a Peer Adviser with CALS Student Services. Cox has interned with the MILC group, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and was the 2020 Hoard’s Dairyman summer editorial in-tern.