For almost 85 years, my husband’s family milked cows at our farm. Twice a day, everyday, without fail. In 1949, during the time his grandfather milked, there were 2,299 operating dairy farms in the county where we live. Small dairies generated enough income to support the family and the farm operation, and if you were lucky, the ability to purchase a used piece of equipment.
In early 2000, farmers started to see an increase in their operating expenses. During 2002 – 2012, according to the USDA census, livestock feed prices rose by 139%, fuel prices increased 148% and fertilizer costs when through the roof by 192%. Yet, during the same 10 year period, the farmers income margin increased by only about 20%. By 2012, just some sixty odd years later, there were only 92 two dairy farms left in our county. We were not one of them.
Though my husband does not miss getting up a 3:30am to milk (and then go to his full-time job, come home and milk again), we do miss the girls. Each had their own personality and habits. Some were ornery, some were aloof, most of them were gentle and all of them were extremely nosy.
Beefers have now replaced our milkers. Though they are wonderful to watch as they graze across the fields, moving in a perfectly choreographed group, they are not like our dairy girls. There will always be a special place in our hearts for the last of the dairy cows.