The author is a partner and large animal veterinarian at Thumb Veterinary Services in Deckerville, Mich.
Something happens to us when we age — quiet times of reflection occur more often, at least for me. It seems like such a short time ago I entered my chosen profession but it has been nearly 40 years. That’s unbelievable!
We all recall special times when we’ve received blessings for diligence and hard work. This certainly is true in the dairy life. Many of you have been in your chosen life’s ambition for much longer than I; others are pursuing means to enter the dairy industry.
Our practice, like many other practices and dairy farms alike, mentors young people who may or may not have agricultural experience. Work experience and seeing firsthand life on a dairy farm (or perhaps detecting that unbefitting smell after spending a day with Dr. Mark) bring delightful discussions of the “whys” of nearly everything these young vets encounter.
What is it that continues to inspire those of us involved in the dairy life? I would like to share a few of my thoughts on that “why.”
In a class by themselves
Hopefully, after a day on our clients’ farms, my friends and students begin to realize that the dairy cow is impressive. Her biology is unquestionably fascinating! Not to diminish the other important food-producing animals, but her ability to convert “grass to glass” is quite a feat. All female mammals can produce milk, but there is little comparison to the extent of what our modern dairy cow produces.
My visits on dairy farms are filled with discussions about the “six freedoms of pasture” and our desire to fulfill the cow’s requirements in modern housing. Providing air, light, water, feed, rest, and space lays the foundation for thriving cows and for a successful farm business.
Much of our time these days is spent on preventing disease. Still, herd health challenges and individual animal cases arise and provide weekly diagnostic and therapeutic discussions. Correct diagnosis of an underlying disease can be challenging yet rewarding. When driving out of the farm driveway, I reassure those suspicious of cows’ behavior that our patients actually like us! (Well, most of the time.)
The families and people
As I continue to practice vet medicine, the realization for me is that it’s the people — the owners, the employees, the farm teams, and the advisers — who make a difference. Over the years, I’ve tremendously enjoyed how our dairy animals respond, oftentimes within days or weeks of positive change, to our husbandry practices. This could be providing new or renovated deep cow beds, more rest/space for your transition cows, or enhanced newborn calf hygiene and nutrition. I’ve been rewarded, as have you I’m sure, by witnessing improved health and performance and less disease when positive changes are made.
Everything matters on the dairy farm. I love doing dairy work because of the people I get to meet and have been able to develop long-lasting relationships with. There is such a marvelous diversity of personalities, experiences, and goals. Learning, sharing, and growing up on a farm is wonderful, not only for the immediate family, but also for those who work with you. Individual farm success can be achieved in many different styles, but positive attitudes truly reap the harvest. I personally have experienced the “heart” of dairy friends in so many ways.
I recently passed my 30-year anniversary of being cancer-free, a diagnosis that carried a poor prognosis. Many wonderful dairy friends provided immediate meals, visits, prayers, and remembrances at that time and will never be forgotten. Farm folks are a big part of my family’s blessings. It was never mentioned in vet school, but I can tell you today that in the years since undergrad, vet school, and my nearly 40-year career, I’ve come to embrace the great relationships I’ve experienced with many of you.
Most of you have had your own history of challenges, setbacks, and times of wondering the “whys.” I’ve seen times of discouragement on farms, from health issues, tragedies, market swings, weather extremes, labor shortages, and more. Yet, the dairy farm work continues, the tasks are done, and you pause and pray for better days ahead.
I hope to share and gain appreciation for the ambition and work ethic this industry is made of. Often, I witness multigenerational farm families mentoring from older to younger and sharing ideas from younger to older, providing the essential foundation for a viable, successful dairy. The dairy industry continues to exemplify stewardship, both with animals and our land resources, to the vast population watching. Most of my truck passengers comment, following our observations and discussions on the farm, how “they really care.” Thank you for setting this example!
For me, dairy work has been a blessing beyond my dreams. How about you? I give you a smile, a compliment, and a question. What makes your life on the farm great? What is your story of blessings and faith? Let’s encourage one another and build each other up!