March 7 2024 03:49 PM

Leaving the farm, even for a short while, requires detailed planning ahead of time.

As dairy farmers, it is very rare that we get an opportunity to leave town for a few days — much less leave the state. This year, I have been given the opportunity to leave my little town in Virginia and fly west to Nebraska for a short, four-day adventure while receiving some beneficial leadership training and meeting folks from all over. As excited as I am, the nerves are ever present as I finish final preparations. As much fun as I am planning to have, I can’t help but feel anxious about leaving my girls.

I took over the parlor from my father when I was in high school, so 10 years ago. My father is more than capable of handling the parlor during my trip, but the fact of the matter is that I’m just nervous. I’m one of the first people the girls see in the morning and the last at night. I know who is who based on personality, markings, and temperament. I know how they’ll act in the parlor and when they are sick, in heat, or just having a rough morning. So, leaving them even for a short time is hard.

When I took over the parlor, my father continued to be there with me when needed, but he is usually handling all the other day-to-day stuff. Whenever I go on a trip, though, he takes over the parlor while I’m gone. Before I can leave, I write up a list of cows that have blind quarters, need treated, or act up in the parlor and any other important facts about the cows or parlor at that time. I also ensure we have enough medicine stocked in our parlor medicine bucket and that Dad has all he needs for however many days I’m gone. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to the girls, so even though I know Dad knows what he is doing, I still go overboard to ensure everything is ready for my absence.

On top of parlor preparation, I also line up labor to ensure everything is covered while I’m gone. When all of us are there, we run like a well-oiled machine. Dad takes care of the calves on milk and any other jobs necessary, Granddad hauls hay and feeds cows plus other odd jobs, I run the parlor then help outside between milkings, and we have hired help that feeds youngstock. When one person isn’t here, we all shift to ensure everything is covered. So, Dad comes into the parlor, Granddad assists with calves as the hired help then takes on both youngstock and milk calves. It’s a shift that is necessary, but also makes me feel bad knowing it must be done. I hate being gone and causing the flow to change, but I must remind myself it’s just for a couple days.

Dairy farmers don’t often get to get off the farm, so when we do, anxiety runs high as we prepare for our own absence. As someone who hates leaving work for others and who treats the cows like her friends, it can be a challenge to turn things over at times. I know a trip is necessary once in a while, but it’s a tumbleweed of emotions leading up to it. Y’all stay safe out there.

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.