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HERd management: An ounce of prevention

Laura Flory for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 February 2016

It was a sunny morning, and I was already running behind. I pushed back a bit of frustration as I hastily put on my boots to head to the dairy. It was one of those days winter doesn’t spoil you with too often – sunny and 50ºF – making it destined to be a great day, no matter what, in my book.

I was quickly making my mental to-do list and thought I better go ahead and feed my chickens in case I didn’t make it back home for lunch today. Don’t worry, I haven’t changed careers – but for some reason, if 200 cows aren’t enough, I am still collecting little critters to take care of.



My goal is something akin to Noah’s ark. Maybe you could keep that quiet if you happen to talk to my husband?

Anyhow, I marched out to feed my chickens before I go to the dairy. Nothing too unusual – until I heard something walking around in the barn loft just above my head. To give you a little better picture, my chickens live in a horse stall with an outside run, and the barn is closed up tight at night.

You can see why this left me wondering how whatever that was walking around upstairs had gotten in and, in the forefront of my mind, I wondered: How fast should I run? For a moment I froze, trying to judge its size.

Definitely too big for a mouse. Probably not big enough for Bigfoot. Then, out of nowhere, the mystery creature starts crashing all over the loft, and dust starts falling down, and the chickens are squawking, and I am terrified. And just like that, it stops.

I mustered up some bravery and started tiptoeing up the stairs, ready to karate-chop anything that came my way when, much to my surprise, I came face to face with a gigantic red-tailed hawk. I think it’s safe to say we both felt a little frazzled. With a sigh of relief, I continued walking slowly toward the door to the loft to let the beautiful bird have its freedom.


It’s still a mystery as to how this large bird got inside. I have done some thinking on the subject, but I haven’t been thinking so much about that hawk and my chickens as I have something they have come to represent.

You see, I was caught off-guard that morning – a feeling I have felt before. That hawk was just like any number of things we would put on our list as “bad.” Maybe it’s a suppressed milk price. Maybe it’s too long a list for a day.

Maybe it’s someone who lets us down or making a plan that failed. Knowing chickens are vulnerable animals, I shut them inside at night to keep them safe from predators. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed the flying predator which they have protection from when they are outside would be able to so delicately sneak inside.

Now, for those of you wondering, no chickens were harmed during this incident. Probably for the sole reason that I am a completely crazy person and insisted we put a net above them inside the barn as well, “just in case.”

I thought we might get a trapeze-artist raccoon or a sly fox. A hawk was not what I had in mind – they needed protection from inside but, turns out, it worked for that too. This is the part where I started to fidget a little when I realized I haven’t done as good a job protecting some other areas of life, ones that are much more important.

In so many areas of my life, I have put off doing something because I didn’t know “something” else. I was waiting until I knew exactly what I needed protecting from to act. It was probably too late, and it was probably one of those times I got caught off-guard.


I did for my chickens what I should have been doing for myself, my family and our business all along.

There is a meme on social media I have seen that says “Being an adult is like looking both ways before you cross the street – then getting hit by an airplane.” Now while I don’t like to be negative, there is some basis behind being prepared. I actually think that being overly optimistic in the past has caused me to miss some things.

When I started asking myself harder questions, I found more ways to be prepared. Are consumers always going to care about their food supply?

They probably will. Is the milk price always going to swing from the North Pole to the South Pole and stop for vacation at the equator long enough for us to think it’s going to stay? I don’t know, but I’ll prepare for it in case it does.

Will we ever be less busy? Not unless we change something to work toward that goal. So I’m going to finish out this winter with a few more hours at the desk, and I’m certain I won’t figure out a way to avoid life’s challenges, but maybe I’ll keep them from eating me for dinner.  PD

Laura Flory
  • Laura Flory

  • Dairy Producer
  • Hillside Farm
  • Dublin, Virginia