Posted on

Celebrating dairy and dads month

Celebrating dairy and dads month
byMatt Oehmichen Agronomist
Celebrating dairy and dads month
byMatt Oehmichen Agronomist

It is June in Wisconsin, and this month brings about a lot for our agricultural community; first cutting of hay, last planting of cash grain acres, and the dairy-breakfast tour. June Dairy Month celebrates the legacy of our state’s dairy industry, especially our dairy farmers. Hosting dairy farms along with local businesses, organizations, and community members dish out a breakfast worthy of a farmer, and provide tours of the sights, sounds, and smells of the farm. But there also happens to be another entity that is celebrated in June, but it only gets a day. Of course I am talking about Father’s Day, which was celebrated this past weekend.

Almost all the dairy farms in Wisconsin are family owned and operated (more than 95%), which make up 10% of all farms in our state. That means there are a lot of dads that not only have to manage bossie-cows but also (in some instances) bossy-kids. Generations of our state’s citizens have been influenced by family dairy farm experiences and will continue to do so. To explore this more I conducted an interview with someone that not only milked cows but continues to give agronomic advice to dairy farmers, and happens to be a father himself. I sat down with the best dairy farmer and father I know: my dad, Larry.

Matt: Hello dad, thank you for sitting down with me today.

Larry: Hey, let’s go. We got things to get done. What are your questions?

M: When did you begin dairy farming? L: After I graduated from high school in 1970 I stayed on the family farm and ran it with my parents. But the earliest I started helping on the farm was when I was 6 or 7 years old and I drove the 8N Ford tractor to pick stones from the fields. I was so light I had to stand on the clutch to push it down, to slow the tractor down while mom and dad threw stones on the wagon. M. What was your earliest memory being on the family dairy farm? L: I was 3 or 4 years old, and I was the only child at the time (eventually I became the oldest of 3), and they made me sit on a bench in the barn while they milked cows. I didn’t like it, at all. I would try to sneak away of course, but they would catch me. M. Where did you see the most challenges (physical, mental, financial) managing a dairy operation? L: I’d say a combination of all three, but low milk prices were as big a problem back then, as they are today. I never minded milking the cows, I almost found it relaxing. It was the crops that would give me stress, especially in the spring when fields had to get ready for planting, and then planted. My work force was two women, my mother and your mother, but we made it work. Wasn’t easy, but we did it.

M: When you graduated from high school why did you come back to the family farm? Did you explore other career paths?

L: My dad was in poor health. If I didn’t come back to the farm they probably would have sold out, so I stayed. I am glad I did though, because of how well things turned out for our family, how you kids turned out. Being on the farm helped you kids; you learned to work, how to solve problems, and about responsibility. But I would have enjoyed a law profession if I wasn’t a dairy farmer.

M: What was your biggest responsibility as a dad and a dairy farmer?

L: As a dairy farmer, I did everything I could to make sure the cows stayed on schedule. Cows want to stay on a schedule, they want rhythm. So, I made sure we had those cows milked in the morning and evening, every day of the week. It was very difficult for us to get away somewhere fun. But, you kids were very important too. Children are a parent’s greatest treasure.

M: What are the key factors to working with your sons in a family business/family farm?

L: The key is to let them make mistakes, and not intruding. You want them to make decisions on their own, and not just look to see what ‘dad’ has to say first.

Dads and dairy farmers often share the same characteristics; that despite the situations and challenges, they bear the burdens to bring prosperity, happily. Because the goal is to leave a legacy, a positive impact, in all that they touch. The great Paul Harvey once said God made a farmer, who “would bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing,” which reminds us that special people put their strong arms around their family to hold tight the relationships that make this life worth living.

Much like a dairy farm, every family has a story to tell. And it is a story of strong bonds of affection, love, and perseverance that keep it thriving. In a way, both my dad and the dairy farm influenced me to help become a dad myself. I do not tell him enough, but I owe dad everything. Because behind those callous hands is a man that deserves a ‘thank you.’

The Soil