Whenever anyone learns that I own a dairy, they eventually ask whether we milk at 6am and 6pm, and I tell them, “No.” In fact, we usually milk closer to 9am and 9pm, because that’s what is best for our farm. I have an educational business to run that is my priority and my wife has a home and ten children to take care of. The dairy is a part of our life that we love very much–but we have to make sure everything gets done, every day.
The reason why dairy farmers traditionally milked early was because they were farmers who had lots of other work to do during the daylight hours, or they had jobs to get to off the farm, or they needed their kids’ help and the kids needed to get to school, or the milk truck came to collect their milk and it had to be ready or sit around in cans for 24 hours.
There is no necessary reason to milk cows early.
Our family is self-employed and we have a lot of work to do every day. The dairy is just one part of that work. The cows need to be milked at regular intervals mainly because they are fed at milking time and have to carry a heavy load of milk around if they’re not milked regularly. Our cows have free access to quality hay and water, so they’re never hungry, waiting for food at sunrise. When the sun comes up, they make their way to the hay feeders and water tank and get started.
I wake up around 7am and take a look at my email and business work for the day ahead and make sure everything’s OK. I get dressed, and take a tour of the farm, make sure the cows have everything they need, feed the pigs and chickens, collect the morning eggs and head back up to the house. Then, I wash the milk cans and equipment and get ready for morning milking. I take a break and have a cup of coffee, talk to my wife as she gets going and finish up preparation work around 9am. By then my kids are all up and dressed and joining us for coffee, I give them any instructions they need and I get back to my morning desk work, while they take care of the morning milking. I usually stop in and make sure all is well. By 10:30am the milk is in the dairy, where my wife filters and bottles it and make sure everything looks good. Whatever my wife doesn’t need for the house or share owners, I take to the pigs and chickens in the evening. Kids and I get washed up and head over the office where I work for the day and they study.
At 5pm or so, I wrap up in the office and head out on the farm to take another tour before dark. I wash the milking equipment and prepare for the evening milking, as in the morning, and my kids take care of the milking. Once that’s done, I head to the house to spend the night working at my desk, my wife takes care of the evening milk and sets the milking equipment to soak until morning. Everyone is settled down in the house around 10pm, we have a snack together, and the kids usually have some leisure time after a busy day. My wife and I get to bed with our laptops and get some work done while we watch a show, have a cup of coffee or wine and enjoy some time with baby Anna. By 1am, we’ve got some work done and can get to sleep.
If something comes up, we don’t get stressed about milking times. On Sundays, for example, we milk after we get home from Church, closer to 11:30am. It’s no big deal. In fact, I tell everyone to quit worrying about the clock and just get your work done as best you can. We take care of all of our responsibilities, and get milking done as close to the normal time as possible every day. The dairy is sustainable because our whole life is sustainable. We’re not killing ourselves to milk cows, the cows are a part of our family, and, like everyone else, they have to wait their turn some times.
If the schedule becomes an end in itself, we’ll all be slaves on our own farms. That’s not how life works. This, I believe, is one of the reasons so many families have abandoned farming, which is a terrible decision for families. There has to be balance and the daily farm work should be enjoyable. On our farm, we’re pretty happy everyday and I think this is our kids are engaged in the farm and not trying to run away.