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It's more than money...

My mind is on the farmers in New Mexico this morning, dealing with the aftermath of Winter Storm Goliath.

One article I read estimated that 5% of the dairy cows in New Mexico were killed by the storm. Five percent doesn’t sound like a lot. But there were around 150 farms affected.
Many of those farms were forced to dump their milk when trucks were unable to reach them. Dairy farms do not have long-term milk storage – they depend on a regular schedule to transport their milk from the farm. Two days of milk, literally down the drain.

The media coverage in events like this usually focuses on the financial fall-out. How much were the cows worth? How much production was lost because of the storm? How much was the dumped milk worth?

The Stauffer Family, dairy farmers in Washington.
But for the farmers, the impact is so, so much more than financial. That fact became very apparent to us when we were living in daily fear of bird flu last spring. The financial aspect is scary – no doubt about that. Farming is a risky business and there’s a huge capital investment that makes today’s farms run. With tight profit margins, one disaster can be enough to ruin a farm that’s been in the family for generations.

Generations… more than 90% of the farms in the US are family farms. Even the big farms are family farms. And most of those have been in the family for generations. It is more than a business, more than profit and loss. It’s a family heritage, and the work of our ancestors has given our generation of farmers an opportunity to continue the way of life we hold so dear.

For many of us, our ultimate goal is that the next generation can come back to the farm if they want. We are merely temporary guardians, responsible for the farm for a relatively short time in its history. And we feel that it is our duty to honor the generations before us and prepare for the generations to come.

Krista, The Farmer's Wifee, and a calf.
It is a great responsibility. And it weighs on our shoulders. Add to that the connection farmers feel to their livestock, and the stress multiplies. Livestock like dairy cows are not pets. But they are living creatures, and farmers work hard to care for them. When those animals suffer, it hurts. I cannot imagine digging out cattle buried alive in the snow, like the dairy farmers in New Mexico are right now. The task itself is daunting, but the emotional toll is immense.

I ran this blog post by a dairy farming friend of mine, Krista, and her response just drove home the point. “I can honestly say that losing our cows is the hardest thing we deal with on the farm. The cows are our life, we are with them 365 days of the year. The other night in the milking parlor (as a family) we were having a blast as the cows would walk in as sisters, mother daughter, grandma/granddaughter, etc. Many of our cows have been with us since we started the farm; that is every day for 6+ years with these animals. My heart just breaks for these farmers.”

When disaster strikes, even something that’s completely out of our hands like a freak winter storm or massive disease outbreak, the impact reaches far more than our checkbooks. It is just as psychologically devastating as financially, but you won’t hear farmers talk about that very often. The farmers will pick up where they left off, do what they have to do, and continue on with their farms the way they always have.

Would you like to comment?

  1. amen- i agree with this 100%. i don't have a farm, but i know that any kind of smaller owned business takes a huge emotional hit when things happen.

  2. Great post Katie! I think you hit the nail straight on the head. Prayers to all of the farmers affected by the blizzard, and for all farmers dealing with financial and emotional hardships right now.