Mornings on our farm usually consist of my dad feeding calves, my grandfather cleaning out the barn and feeding cows, a co-worker feeding youngstock, and myself milking while dad makes sure I have cows ready to come in the parlor. We keep part of our herd out in the pasture, so when I start to run out of cows, Dad takes the old four-wheeler up to get more. The other morning, he was busy with a set of newborn twins, and I was completely out of cows. So, for the first time in months, I got on the four-wheeler and rode up the trail to get the girls.
As I rode up the trail, I marveled at the beauty of the mountain before me. It stood tall and proud in the morning haze, and its glory shone beneath the sheet of fog that caressed it ever so gently. The brilliant sun was making its way up the mountain to heat the Earth below. The cattle were huddled on the trail. Most of them were standing next to another; others were trying to reach above and below the fence to get to the grass that protected the new trees we had gently planted on the mountain last year. It was beautiful to look up, but coming down the trail toward the farm brought tears to my eyes and a small smile upon my face.
The cows slowly swayed down the trail in front of me with their heads slightly moving up and down and their big ol’ bellies swaying side to side as they walked. The ominous clouds left zigzags across the clear blue sky above, signaling rain that afternoon. The barns below looked toy-size from the height we were on the hill. I could see Granddad on the old yellow Ford, carrying scoops of manure from the barn to the spreader, and Dad going from hutch to hutch with a warm bucket of milk. The calves were frolicking in the pastures around us as the ones in the barn munched away on their hay. The motor from the parlor hummed as cows gathered like ants in the holding area. The corn in the fields stood tall and proud while its leaves danced in the morning breeze. The world seemed at ease just for a moment, and as I looked down, I realized what I saw versus what others would see.
Most would see a dairy farm with tractors, cows, corn, and hay. Most would exclaim its beauty but not know the history behind it all. As I looked down, I saw my granddad on the same yellow Ford that I learned to drive at 8 years old. I saw my father feeding the babies in the hutches — the hutches that I helped assemble and learned to work hard to keep clean and the calves cared for. I see an old freestall barn where hard work becomes your life to make sure the cows have a clean bed. I see the new barn that we spent months building just to go through a trial-and-error phase of pack management practices over and over to get it right. I see a place where I cried, laughed, smiled, yelled, and grew up. I see my whole world in front of me. I think of Mom bringing us food and medicine for cows when we were in a pinch and needed assistance. I think of the days my brothers and I would work side by side due to an unforeseen circumstance. I think of all the memories and realize that before me is my world, not just our farm. That’s when I realize this is where I want to be. This is where I’m supposed to be, and this is where I learned to fly.
The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.