Aug. 19 2021 08:00 AM

Family members and employees – past and present – have helped shape our dairy farm.

We have had some employees come and go. Some leave and come back, and some stick around for the long haul. We have had many students come through during their high school years before heading off to college. I have worked alongside people who were like second grandparents to me because they’ve been here since my dad was in college. All of them have been part of our Hillcrest family.

When I was a kid, I watched my grandpa, dad, and uncle work day in and day out. I used to love staying with my granny when we were out of school. I was able to ride on the tractors with Papa and Dad, ride in the dump trucks hauling silage with Mr. Ronnie (one of the “second grandpas” I was talking about earlier). I was able to see what it was like around the farm before I could actually work.

As time moved on, we put more cows into production. We added more employees around the farm, and I was old enough by then to lend a hand when I was out of school. I fed calves and helped Dad with whatever he needed.

My dad has always been tough on me. In the beginning, I just thought he was just doing it for no reason. He would say quickly that whatever I had just finished doing wasn’t good enough and to go back and do it all over again. I didn’t realize at the time that there were several things being instilled in me while I was griping about how hard he was on me. Similarly, my uncle will pick on you in a heartbeat, but it’s meant with love. He and my dad have always said if you’re going to be a Rodgers, you have to have thick skin. They were not lying.

I think this goes for our employees as well. Dad can be tough to work for at times because he can be very particular, but at the end of the day, cleanliness and efficiency are very important to him and our family.

My papa doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he does, everyone listens. He is a soft-spoken man, but if you get the chance to listen to a story or two from his days, it’s entrancing. He worked harder than any generation after him did here. And to know the sweat it took to pass the farm to the next generation is amazing. He still works at 85 years old and loves it. It’s awesome to see how proud he is of what has come of this Hillcrest family.

My granny was the heart of the farm. Even though she is no longer with us, it still beats through us. She was the glue and was so proud of what we have made together. It still keeps us going day in and day out. She never met a stranger, and told everyone to come out to the farm so she could show them around and let them see how milk got from the cow to the refrigerator.

Some of the people who have come and gone still return from time to time to see us and the cows. They are still part of our Hillcrest family. They helped us get to where we are now, and they consider us family as well. I still have friends that helped me feed calves and do daily chores 15 years ago that I see from time to time, and we talk as if time never passed.

I’m proud of the group that now works for us now. The have seen and experienced one of our biggest changes yet — robots. They helped us through the transition and had many sleepless nights with us. They all stepped up to the plate and assisted us in getting where we are today.

Every single one of these people make up our family here at Hillcrest Farms, whether they were helping for a year before heading off to school or have been here for 30-plus years. I am proud of where we have been and where we are going, and I thank God for our farm every day. I couldn’t imagine a better life.

Caitlin and Mark Rodgers

Mark and Caitlin Rodgers are dairy farmers in Dearing, Georgia. The Rodgers have a 400-cow dairy that averages 32,000 pounds of milk. Follow their family farm on Facebook at Hillcrest Farms Inc.