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Are you a ‘real’ farmer?

Katie Dotterer-Pyle for Progressive Dairyman Published on 23 April 2019

If I had a dime for every time I heard, “He’s [or she’s] not a real farmer,” I would probably make more than I do currently milking cows. Actually, I don’t milk cows. I hate milking cows. In my opinion, I think it’s the most monotonous job on a dairy farm.

I’d rather shovel manure all day than milk cows. I’d rather drive truck, do fieldwork or herd health than milk cows. I just don’t enjoy it. I know most farmers don’t share that same opinion, and that’s fine. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not a real farmer. I’ve also heard that same allegation when it comes to large herd sizes. “[The owners] don’t milk their own 1,200 cows.” Jealous much? That’s what I think when I hear this. Just because a farmer has expanded their herd because that’s what made sense for their business, family and their future, they’re not a real farmer? 

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Like most dairy farm spouses, I work off-farm too. You know, so we can have health benefits and actual money to do things. Because of this, I hear the whispers from other farmers. “She’s not a real farmer.” This isn’t a fair statement. You know what else isn’t fair? Having to work off-farm just so a farm family can survive. And for the record – yes, I know life isn’t fair. I heard it on a constant loop from my father during my childhood. It’s more than not fair; it just isn’t right. 

I may not put in 14-hour days like my husband on the farm, but I put the same amount of hours into my side hustles: teaching Spanish at a local middle school part time, teaching an online Spanish class in the evenings I tailor specifically to the dairy industry, selling online merchandise, and most recently, an ice cream business. Oh, and I still feed calves and help where I can on the farm. But that means I’m not a real farmer? If you only knew the guilt I deal with daily. Am I providing enough? Do I help out enough? Is there more that I can do? Should I cut back on the side gigs? Should I get a full-time job? 

Any time a farmer takes a vacation – near or far, one day or 10 days – this claim of not being a real farmer drips off the tongues of farm neighbors. Everyone deserves some time off, especially farmers. We need time to recharge and destress, and with the way the industry has been the past four years, this is more important than ever for our mental and physical health.

I’ve heard farmers state, “I’ve never missed a milking in x amount of years.” I find that unfortunate. I think about all the things that farmer more than likely missed: birthdays, soccer games, weddings, family gatherings, community events, etc. If never leaving the farm is the definition of a “real” farmer, count me out. There’s more to life than milking cows. 

In a world that is changing at an accelerated pace, perhaps we should change the definition of a farmer. We aren’t the same type of farmers our grandparents were in the ’40s; we can’t be, and we certainly don’t farm the same way they did. As small as our industry is, you would think we would find more ways to build each other up instead of tear each other down with an accusation as hurtful as, “She’s not a real farmer.” Being less than 2% of the population, we can’t afford to not support and encourage each other. If you’re the person tearing your fellow farmers down, are you a real farmer?  end mark 

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Katie Dotterer-Pyle
  • Katie Dotterer-Pyle

  • Dairy Producer
  • Union Bridge, Maryland
  • Email Katie Dotterer-Pyle

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