Nov. 17 2022 08:00 AM

Dairy farming is a complex job every day.

Whenever I tell people that I own a dairy farm, their usual response is, “Oh my gosh! Do you have goats, chickens, and horses, too?!” When I respond with a “no” or a head shake, they sound disappointed and say, “So you just milk cows?” I usually nod or say “yes” and move on with life. What folks don’t know or see is how much more we do besides “just milk cows.”

As most of you know, a normal day on the farm can consist of us doctoring a cow, being a pediatrician to a calf, playing dentist, dabbling in accounting, being a chauffeur, bookkeeping, cattle wrangling, fence building, and professional barnyard feces scraping. However, most truly believe that I just milk cows. The overall stigma is that dairy farmers milk cows and go home. Most don’t believe we work in the fields or with the cows day in and day out. I even had someone tell me that we were the “lazy” farmers because machines do all the work. I bit my lip and made my momma proud that day. That lady got under my skin, but I let it go. Some battles are better left alone.

The issue we have as dairy farmers is the fact that we are so incredibly busy and so well-rounded with our jobs that most will never know what we do. As much as we’d love to set the record straight, the time it takes is time we don’t have. Having a set schedule can be useful, yet also challenging. Every day, different chores and activities begin at the same time. Having no real fluctuation in time can lead to a steady, healthy relationship. However, cows are unpredictable, and some days they do things they shouldn’t have. Those days lead to rushing around after and before evening milking to keep the ladies happy.

The general public doesn’t fully understand what we do. We are superhuman because of our ability to be versatile with everything we do. We wear many hats and learn new things along the way. Dairy farming is so not for a “lazy” farmer. We work hard so others don’t have to. As farmers, we are here to till the soil, provide for animals and plants, and be our best 24/7/365. The next time someone says, “So you just milk cows,” tell them that milking cows is the easy part of the job because some days, I wish it could be “just milking the cows.”

Courtney Henderson

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.