Jan. 3 2018 08:00 AM

People in the dairy industry, and maybe more so my cows, have made me the farmer I am today.

Just this week, a professor I encountered at Penn State passed away. I wasn’t his favorite student. In fact, I doubt he’d have even remembered me if I had recently seen him. By the time I got there, he was no longer teaching fulltime, and yet he was a great man who helped me change my life. If it weren’t for him, I never would’ve had the opportunity to move to New Zealand, which was the experience of a lifetime. New Zealand changed my life, and by extension, so did Dr. Muller.

In the same way that the experience of working abroad shaped my life, my cows have also shaped me into a better herdsman.

Last night, Bond, a jumpy 4-year-old, wouldn’t let-down and was kickier than usual. I stripped her, thinking something must be wrong and found her right, front quarter to be slightly less white than the milk from the other three. Normally, I would be a little worried but let her go on her way and check her in the morning.

Then, I thought about Goldfinger. Goldfinger holds the record at our farm for the most milk ever given on herd test day, 130 lbs. One day, Goldfinger acted the same way Bond had. The next morning, she was weak from toxic mastitis and a week later she was gone. So, I treated Bond, hoping I wasn’t wasting my money or our time. This morning Bond came in looking a little less than perfect with a right front quarter full of mastitis. Maybe she would’ve been fine, and I would’ve simply treated her this morning. But thanks to Goldfinger we don’t have to know.

Five years ago, baby FooFoo taught me not to give up even when I feel completely hopeless. Two years ago, Blush taught me that a cow can spear herself with a piece of metal and then proceed to give 90lbs/day for another year. Fifteen years ago, Fireball taught me that a cow can survive in a manure pit for two days with nothing but her nostrils and an ear tag above the surface. Then I learned that you can pick a cow up out of a manure pit with a backhoe and a chain and she can stand up on her own, race to the barn, and live for another three years.

These cows, plus dozens more, have shaped me into the farmer I am today. And honestly, I’m just as grateful to them as I am to every person who has gotten me here.

Jessica Peters

The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.