Monday, March 2, 2009

A New Chapter

Sometimes things don't always work out as planned. Zachary and I have had this dream of running our own dairy farm for a few years and we've been doing it the past year and a half. We believed we could be a small dairy farm that could survive today's dairy industry, that you don't need to be a giant factory farm to be successful. Unfortunately we are not going to be one of those farms. Zachary and I have decided to exit the dairy business.

It was a difficult decision, but it will be the best for us. If you don't know, the milk market has dropped significantly in the last couple months, since late December. Early speculation was it would crawl back up by summer and be profitable again. Recently, new analysis expect the milk price for dairy farmers not to improve much until 2010, maybe. We thought if we could buckle down for a few months and limp along, we would see daylight again. But with the current outlook, there is no way for us to compete. I know there are things we could have done better in our farm management, but even if everything we did was perfect, we'd most likely be in the same situation. We are only a year and a half into owning our own business and not well established.

By February we knew we were in trouble. Zachary and I poured over our financial information, seeing if we could find a way to make it work. We already cut back all our expenses, and the income stream was shrinking. We knew it wasn't going to work. As if my Dad was reading our minds, he told us to stop pounding our heads and quit milking. If he was still running the place, he told us he would stop milking too. It was a relief hearing that from him. We were really stressing on how to handle this situation and talk to my parents about it. After all we were slowly buying the farm from them and continuing the family tradition of dairy farming on our farm as he did and his Dad did. We felt like screw ups for not making this work.

So after feeling a little better about ourselves, we started making calls and having people come and look at our herd. Since the milk price is down, so is the cow price. Cows are worth about half as much as they were a year ago. It is very sickening to think of the investment lost, but that is with anything nowadays. I recently looked at my 401K retirement plan and it has lost about half it's value in about a year. We had auction guys and cattle jockeys come in to look at our milking herd. We decided to go the auction route and after Tuesday, all of our milking cows will be gone. The guy we went with is going to clean them up and push the feed to them and will have a sale in a few weeks. I don't think it will sink in until it's milking time and there will be no one to milk.

We are in a bittersweet state of mind around here. We are sad our dairy farming dream is gone. We had a lot of hopes for our herd and we seemed to finally getting somewhere with them. We always thought about going to organic grazing once the cows were paid for. We were proud to have our own business and I hoped to be able to leave my full-time off farm job one day and join Zachary on the farm. But we are optimistic about the future. We are planning on keeping our young heifers and steers as a side business. If money allows, we would like to buy calves now and then to raise. Not having a milking herd will allow us not be a tied down to the farm as we were. We still have the young stock, but it is easier to have someone to care for them if we want be away for more than 6 hours. We are looking forward in hopefully getting more time for our hobbies, like gardening, camping, hiking, and paddling. Zachary's time will now be focused on the young stock and farm upkeep. He will probably get a part-time job somewhere to help with the bills and hopefully help get our kitchen project going again.

Other than that, I am not sure what the future holds for us. Once my parents get home from their winter in Florida, we discuss the details and what will lie ahead for all of us. But I do know that agriculture is what Zachary and I enjoy and no matter how things end up, we'll always have it in our lives, no matter what scale and form it is in. This experience was just another chapter in our lives and we are about to begin another.


Amanda said...


I feel bittersweet for you too, but I'm glad that you have things you're looking forward to!

JLB said...

I'm so sorry that the milking didn't work out for you. Unfortunately that's the way our country works now and almost no small scale operations can make it :( We're having problems here on the ranch as well. Good luck with your hobby's and good luck to Zachary for finding a job!

Any Girl said...

Wow. Change is interesting. One one had it offers the promise of newness, on the other hand it requires you to go through a mourning process. Tuesday should be "The Day" for you, and I truly hope all goes well. Good luck! It will be great to see how the next few months unfold and what direction you head. Smiles!!! (This is Red Clover, by the by)

Mad Bush Farm Crew said...

Hi Jennifer

I read this post with a heavy heart for you and Zacharry. Farming is a hard game. Friends of mine many years ago lost their entire farm in the 1980's when the interest rates were at 27% and things in the Dairy Farming Sector were really bad. Don't give up that dream. I think when things are a little more stable in the near future you guys will be able to get back into Dairying. Good idea on the calves. One of neighbours go out of dairying a couple of years back but kept sixteen cows and milked them to feed heifer replacement calves. I raise dairy heifers each year and send them on to the sales. Prices last year were still good but I'm not expecting the same return this year. I'll be thinking of you guys.

Love and hugs

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny,
I'm so sorry to hear about the farm. I'm sure it's really hard on you two. Let me know if you need anything. Is the auction taking place at your farm? Hope it goes well.


Mad Bush Farm Crew said...

Hi Jennifer I've added a couple of more chickens onto that chicken post on the blog. More to come I'll add onto it a little later 2 day for you to check out. We ahve storm damage here on the farm trees have fallen so I have to get next doors boys to chainsaw them throwgh.

Take care

Zachary and Jennifer said...

Thanks everyone for your supportive comments!

Kevin said...

I wish you two all of the best..I hope it works out for you.
I live in a farming community and it is the same thing here. My buddy lost his Mom in a farm accident last fall. Between that and the farm market they were forced to shut down the farm. The whole family was devastated as the farm was many generations old. They hope to pick up later, but are not sure if it will ever make sense. There is a 5000 head milk operation that just opened a few months ago just down the road in Rosendale...throws a wrench in everything.
We just have to keep our chins up and make it work for us!

Zachary and Jennifer said...

We did hear about the Rosendale farm permits going through. Yeah, that doesn't help the over supply of milk right now. That is industrial agriculture for you.

Annette said...

Did the programs under the Department of Agriculture help at all? I thought that the milk subsidies were supposed to help small farmers? How sad; I am sorry it wasn't better for you. :( Just make sure you check out anything that may still help with your other cows at