A happy day in the milking barn

Baxter Black

Baxter Black

By Baxter Black

On the edge of common sense

When someone tells me they grew up on a dairy farm I say, “You have paid your dues, my son.”
The offspring of a dairyman that follows in his father’s footstep is as scarce as a second generation Nobel Prize winner, bomb dismanteler, or president of North Korea! So it is with pleasure that I congratulate those dairymen who are havin’ a heyday this year.

They, like all farmers and ranchers have had ups and downs. I remember 1973-74. I have bad dreams about it. I was running an animal health/grain mill store in Idaho at a time when dairymen were beginning to move north from California. Record high prices for grain and low milk prices sank the milk/feed ration to 1.5. I had heartbreaking conversations with desperate dairymen asking me for one more load of feed on credit.

In 2009 another national dairy wreck devastated the industry sinking the index to a 1.6 ration. But this year, the ratio hit a record 2.55! The price for milk cwt. is twice what it was ten years ago!
The beef cattle business recognizes the impact that the dairy business has on cattle prices. Last year’s president of the National Cattlemen’s Association was a dairyman!

The crossover began in the feedlots when they found an expanding market for Holstein steers, animals whose carcass rarely reaches Choice. Fast food burgers and taco meat has bolstered the price of the dairy breeds, since half of their offspring are male and there is a place to go with old cows. In Idaho I worked for a company that fed potato waste. One of the products was a slurry that was high in energy but 90% moisture. The final ration was soupy but nutritious. I remember calculating the as-fed consumption in a pen of 1000 lb. Holstein steers; 119 lbs a day!

They were not very popular with the cowboys. As Dr. Eng said, “It’s hard to be a cowboy when the steers are following you around!”
In spite of Dr. Spock’s recommendation that we all become vegetarians and that no human at any age should drink cow’s milk, the 99% of us homo sapiens who are born omnivores kindly refuse to revert to the drudgery in which herbivores live their lives. Sorry, Doctor, but we made that choice as cave men, which allowed us to evolve to the top of the heap and, rightfully have dominion over all the animals, bovine or not.

A bright future technologically is making dairying a less hands-on operation. It may become common for robots to take over tasks that we could never imagine. As it gets harder and harder for dairies to find a labor force that is willing to do the manual labor, the more they welcome the robots. And maybe these advances might entice more of the next generation to stay on the farm.

‘Cause let’s face it, milkin’ 12 head of cows by hand in a bucket before breakfast every morning is hard labor and there’s a few ol’ timers that can remember doing it. You can find them in the nursing home after retiring from a comfortable life of working for Merck, DeLaval, Progressive Dairyman or Ohio Farm and Dairy. They ran away from home!

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at:
headcowboy@baxterblack.com