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HERd Management: Dairywomen: Masters of the ‘side hustle’

Somula Schwoeppe for Progressive Dairyman Published on 18 July 2018

We all know dairy farmers are some of the smartest, most innovative and creative people in the world. Who else gets to do everything and be everyone? We get to be accountants, doctors, teachers, chefs … heck, some of us even have a bit of interest in robotics, microbiology, genetics, nutrigenomics and environmentalism.

OK, so maybe I am being a little bit sarcastic here, but let’s think about it: It’s empowering knowing we can accomplish almost anything we set our minds to do. And let’s not forget, many of the people doing all these things are also the centers of their family support system.

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Dairywomen today often provide family support through work off the farm for things such as health insurance, that new baseball glove, school clothes and groceries. Today’s harsh economical climate in the dairy industry makes it difficult to perform what many consider the traditional role of farmwife.

While working as a milk tester, I had the honor of making lifelong friendships with many dairy farming women and men. It is amazing to see the efficiency and ingenuity every farmer applies to their operation, and I learned dairy farmwomen are no exception. In fact, they set the standards as the “masters of the side hustle.”

Many women work both on and off the farm to support their family and their family business. Whether you are a deli clerk who milks before heading out to make sandwiches for the lunchboxes of your community, a nurse who feeds baby calves before heading into the obstetric department at the hospital or a substitute teacher who wrangles kids and provides crowd control between milkings, your work may be off the farm, but your heart and your efforts are supporting those who are on it.

Without your various “side hustles,” life on the farm would be that much more difficult. Sadly, this effort is sometimes rewarded by criticism and conflict. Many times, the older generation neither appreciates the situation nor realizes the true economic necessity of a family’s survival often depends on the “master of the side hustle’s” off-farm income.

Take, for instance, the matriarch of a family who criticized a daughter-in-law who was working three part-time jobs for not being available for every milking. This same matriarch bragged about the fact she could not operate a “town gas pump” because she had never had to put gas into her own car in town.

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Being insensitive to the situation of others causes conflict, and it is not surprising, today, this is a family in crisis. Having multi-skilled people in your family and on your farm is an asset that needs to be appreciated.

It has crossed my mind an interesting research project would be to track the number of dairy farmers who are married to teachers and nurses. Servant leadership is prevalent in our dairy community. We all are doing work we love. We are intrinsically motivated to serve and provide for others.

My son Wyatt chose not to go to college and instead come to work immediately on our farm. He is a very intelligent young man. I told him someone as gifted as he is has the responsibility to give to others and share the blessings he has been given.

His reply was, “Mom, how can I possibly do any more for other people than by growing their food?” I cannot argue the point with him; he is right. As often happens, my son changed my perspective. Our children are often our best teachers of the lessons of life, and they give so much joy. As dairy farmers, we have many people who have set themselves in a position to work against us for the occupation and lifestyle we have chosen.

There is too much negativity in our society, whether it be on the nightly news, on social media or even in our hometown council meetings. We are constantly asked to defend ourselves and our actions. We do not need this type of divisiveness in our families and on our farms. It is counterproductive to happiness and success. It costs nothing to be kind.

An occasional thank you goes a long, long way, and these few words are an investment that will award maximum returns for a lifetime.

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There have been occasions where I have witnessed a divisiveness in our dairy community among dairywomen. Some of us grew up on farms and are unfamiliar with “life without cows.”

Some of us are new to the scene and experiencing a bit of culture shock, and some of us are old hands and “masters of the side hustle.” It doesn’t matter which work shoe fits you, it doesn’t matter what type of farm you live on, and it doesn’t matter what breed of cow you milk.

What matters is: We are all a part of the dairy community, we each bring our own skills and knowledge to our farms, and we need to support one another.

Dairy farming is tough enough without being a house divided. Different backgrounds allow us to learn new things and create a stronger, more resilient dairy community. We need that now more than ever. If, after reading this, you are reminded of one of your favorite “masters of the side hustle,” share it. Spread the love and show your support by giving her a shout-out with a big thank you.  end mark

Somula Schwoeppe
  • Somula Schwoeppe

  • Dairy Producer
  • Huntingburg, Indiana
  • Email Somula Schwoeppe

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