Every day as I walk my dogs, I pass Ron’s farm. My husband and I have brainstormed with him about how he can save his farm. It’s nothing Ron has done wrong. His cows are healthy and contented. He’s careful to move them from pasture to pasture for the best grazing. His calves drink milk, not milk replacer. He devotes all day, every day, to tending his land and his animals. But it’s nearly impossible to stay in business as a small scale dairy farmer these days.
That’s because there’s a dairy crisis. Prices paid to farmers are less than they were in the 1970’s. Ron’s dairy sells milk destined for cheese and butter. He earns less than $11 a hundredweight (per 12 gallons) although on average it costs him more to tend the cows producing that hundredweight. Someone is making a profit, but not the people milking cows.
Many are selling off their herds and leaving the farm. Ron is determined to stay on the 70 acres that have been in his family for 62 years. Although he doesn’t have the resources to fix up his house or outbuildings, that doesn’t matter to him. He’s just looking for ways to keep his cows. One solution is to raise this year’s calves to start a herd of grassfed cattle.
But it’ll take nearly a year and a half before the first steer is ready for market. Ron will need funds to fence some more pastures, to replace lost dairy income, and to keep tending to his contented cattle. We know what it’s like to raise these gentle creatures. We can’t imagine our neighbor losing his herd to today’s cruel economic realities.
In fact, Ron’s situation has just gotten worse. He was informed that the local creamery (wholesale milk buyer) in our area that buys from small producers, the one that has purchased his milk for years, is cutting his farm out as of April 30th. They’re concentrating their efforts on larger farms. That means Ron’s income completely halts in a few weeks. He works 10 hour days, yet when the money stops coming in there’s no unemployment compensation.