The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.

If i asked this audience of readers to raise your hand if you did not grow up on a dairy farm, the odds are high that several of you would raise your hand because you migrated into the dairy business through various avenues. The past few years, I have heard enlightening stories of people becoming interested in the dairy world who did not come from an agricultural background.

Marilyn Hershey

A young lady recently told me the story of how she entered a career in the dairy industry. She was looking for something productive to do on the weekends and started showing up at a dairy barn on her college campus. It did not take her long to see value and fulfillment in working with cows and making friends with the dairy students. She eventually switched her major and currently has a job in a dairy business.

She grew up in a major metropolitan area, with a family that yielded generations of dentists and never had previous experience with animals. Yet, she found her niche in life by working in the barns and expanding her knowledge in the dairy field. The other positive element is that her nonfarm family is now much more familiar with where their food comes from and our good sustainability actions than they were before her involvement in dairy.

This narrative is not unique to this young lady. Young people get pulled into our dairy circle through friends, experiences with animals, and the relationships that they develop along the way. Combined, these factors help them decide to stay.

The obvious truth is that there are available jobs in the dairy community and there are not enough farm kids to fill the quota. So, we are fortunate that others are interested in an agricultural career path.

FFA and 4-H provide ways for all youth from all backgrounds to be involved and informed about farming. These organizations allow children who are not raised on a farm to lease animals so they can fully participate in the valuable programs offered. Leasing animals opens the door for countless youth to find their way into leadership roles, agricultural business openings, or as a key player on a dairy farm.

The other program that I consistently hear about is Holstein USA’s Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI). I admit that I have a bias to YDLI because Duane and I were in the first class and the value we continue to see coming out of that program is incredibly encouraging for our future. If you look across this group of YDLI graduates, you again see there are handfuls of people raised on and off the farm who are investing their careers into the future of dairy.

YDLI is not the only program like this in our dairy community. There are several chances for our next generations to learn, grow, and develop so they can pursue new opportunities and be involved in agriculture.

I am certainly not making light of the value that our farm-raised youth bring to our businesses. It is refreshing to hear from farm families that their son or daughter made the decision to return to the farm. There are many farmers I know who are in this fortunate position.

We have a nice balance on our farm. Some of our employees are from a farm background; others had no clue how to work with cows or equipment when they started. Yes, it has taken a lot of training and patience for them to learn the ins and outs of our daily schedule, and they need to have a willingness to learn. It seems to take a year to totally train a person in their position on the farm. Every season brings its own set of challenges.

Duane and I are convinced that if the right young person comes along and loves a variety of jobs, embraces the challenges that dairy farming brings, and is teachable, we are willing to invest in the training. Passion, attitude, and willingness to learn outweigh experience.

I am very thankful for the employees we have who care for our animals. Through their career path, they have grown to love working with dairy cows, raising calves, and making our farm a better place.

We are fortunate that there is interest from outside our farm gates. Many people are needed to keep our dairy world spinning. That void is deeper and wider than our own children can fill.

I am encouraged to see the passion that our youth, from all backgrounds, bring to our increasingly challenging and changing dairy industry. The enthusiasm, respect, and admiration for the dairy cow will come from both within our dairy community and from the outside. Together, they will carry the dairy industry forward onto new levels, and we will not be able to attain that without them.

And that is just fine with me. We need more hands raised to get the job done.