Feb. 6 2024 12:01 AM

We have to make tough decisions on the farm, and they don’t always match our true feelings.

When I am angry or frustrated, I am pretty good at keeping my cool. I am not one to get loud and obnoxious. In fact, I remember one contractor (who made a major, avoidable construction mistake) who commented that he had never been so strongly reprimanded without a raised voice or a foul word. It’s just not my style; I can be effective and still be professional. That is not to say I can keep all my emotions tamed, though. Growing up on a dairy, you’d think I would be able to handle grief and loss a little better than most. Nope.

The circle of life still rocks my emotions. Perhaps that’s one of the underlying reasons I am not farming now: I wanted to avoid the hard decisions and the sadness that come when things are out of your control. And we all know that nature has the firmest grip on the farming steering wheel.

A dairy farming influencer, Dan Venteicher, the “IowaDairyFarmer,” recently explained on his social media channels why he had to cull a cow. Simply put, she was an aged cow that was no longer producing enough milk. While many — myself included — may romanticize the idea of “putting her out to pasture to live the rest of her life happily ever after,” he reminded viewers that is not how nature works. Instead, reality tells us that she would more likely face a poor quality of life as she physically declined due to natural aging. She then would not be providing meat to feed our community, either. Culling her now was the best decision for her quality of life, his farm economics, and ultimately our nation’s food supply. And yet, while it was obvious, the decision was still hard. The cow was loved, and she was thanked.

Certainly, there are emotional farmers. (Everyone knows where I get my big feelings from!) And perhaps mental health experts may say outward expression is preferred to stoicism. However, it is easy to let emotions cloud reason. I know that cussing will not get a problem solved, and I know that tears won’t, either. But that doesn’t mean the feelings don’t sometimes take control. (Thanks, Dad, for my heifer Starshine’s splint when she broke her leg! I don’t regret those tears, though I know you may regret that vet bill!)

We are human and we get emotional, though that’s not the side of farming we typically show to those outside of our dairy community. I applaud Dan’s transparency and ability to make those tough decisions. They are hard enough to make in private, but to be able to share them with the world is a gift.

Erin Massey

The author grew up on a Florida dairy farm, obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida and has spent her career in dairy processing. She now serves as business development manager for North America with Bunge. Erin and her husband live in St. Louis, Mo., with their three children. Her personal mantra is “Be Bold.”