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HERd management: Is the grass truly greener …?

Ellen Durrer Published on 29 October 2012

Another day comes to an end. Dinner with our boys was eventful, as always, sharing the new adventures of kindergarten and preschool while trying to catch up with the day’s events with my husband all at once.




Before I know it, the little guys are off to bed, daddy is “watching” ESPN updates through his eyelids as he relaxes on the couch and I’m just trying to get caught up.What does that mean anyway, get caught up? It seems like there is always just one more thing that needs to get done and, before I know it, the clock strikes 11.

Eeesh … I drag my sweetie from the couch, brush my teeth, crawl into bed and all I can think of is getting some solid sleep before the alarm strikes 5:30 when – RRRIIIIINNNNGGG!! RRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGG!!

We both sit straight up in the dark – the phone! Which one is it? Cell phone? No … the house phone … fumbling in the dark for the handset … a muffled, “hullo” … I can’t make out the words on the other end but I can feel the urgency and a bit of nervous excitement … “I’ll be down in a minute” … click. I wait a minute or two before giving him a nudge. “Do you have to go to the dairy?” “Yah … heifer is having trouble,” comes his groggy reply.

Once he’s up, dressed and heading down the half-mile stretch of road to the farm, I’m suddenly wide awake again. There is no going back to sleep. Wondering if there will be another call letting me know he’s waiting on the vet and will be a while or if he’ll be right back. I turn on the TV and after about 45 minutes, I begin to doze off.

What have I gotten myself into? Late-night and early-morning phone calls make for rough mornings and long days. Who signs themselves up for this? If I hadn’t married a dairyman, I’m sure my life would be much different. I would have a job, perhaps a career, somewhere.


I’ve worked in a restaurant and held customer service positions that I really enjoyed. Each was busy, hectic and full of deadlines. A girlfriend and I have joked about opening a restaurant; that doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Good food, tasty beverages and the company of friends and family, what else would a girl need?

Maybe it would be a job that required traveling – Alaska, Sweden, Switzerland and Niagara Falls are all incredible places I’d love to visit again. Having a legitimate excuse to see the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon, Australia or roll down Route 66 just because it’s the “shortest way to get there.”

There would be a condo on the beach, after all I would need a place to relax with my rear in the sand and my toes in the water after all of that traveling. Of course a nice glass of wine and a tray of cheeses would be within arm’s reach.

I would surely spend more time on my fashion sense – daring to wear boots and skirts (gasp!), even heels more often than flip-flops, less T-shirts and more jewels. Hats would be saved for hiking or boating, instead of used as an easy escape from digging out the blow dryer and flat iron.

If my life was different, I am sure I would not be living the country life. A laundry room littered with dirty work clothes, boots, clumps of dirt and other delightful surprises. Finding shredded, matted blue paper towels in the washer would never happen and there would not have been that service call to remove a needle from my dryer.

Planning trips, vacations and days away from home would be much easier, since there would be holidays and vacation time and days off that could be planned well in advance.


An hour later, he comes back, undresses and washes up. I’m awake again. His skin is cold to the touch as he crawls back into bed. Exhausted.

“Did you get it?” I ask. “Yah. Heifer calf, I gave her a bottle.” It’s like having a newborn in our house that doesn’t grow out of the newborn stage. Calls in the middle of the night for calving cases, equipment problems, a down cow – things that can go wrong on a dairy don’t care if the sun is up or not. But the sight of that little heifer wobbling around the maternity pen in the morning sunshine makes it all worth it.

And that’s when it hits me … I’ve already got the career. Maybe for now it means shuttling kids to and from school and other events, keeping involved with a variety of industry-related events and providing any support I can on our farm.

Maybe it means doing the laundry, the shopping and playing Legos. It definitely means dress down Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays (well, pretty much every day) because you never know when you’re going to have to get dirty.

Living out of a suitcase for one week was enough traveling to last me and while the beach condo does not sound all that bad, it would revolve more around sand castles and s’mores, though the cheese and wine would still not be out of reach!

There are plenty of opportunities for family time when we are working together to feed calves, play in the commodity barn and enjoy the countless country-life sunsets. Holidays and vacations are about being together, even if that means there is work to be done and the meal will be eaten on the run.

There is no reason to take these daydreams as anything more than just that, daydreams. Growing up on a dairy farm is how my family has endured the past four generations. To think that life on the other side of the fence would be as fulfilling as what I have right in front of me, well, that is one math equation that just won’t calculate.

Sure, dressing up and going out is always exciting. Escaping to somewhere out of the norm, with fewer responsibilities and more time to reflect is always enticing. But it’s that time away that truly makes you appreciate and cherish what you have.

Oats are beginning to sprout around our farm, calves will be born and the challenges that face us each day will remain. I am constantly reminded of the wonderful gift I have been given, to raise our children the way children in their family have been raised for generations, in the dirt, on the farm, surrounded by the ones who love them the most. Giving them the foundation and the ethic that has brought me to where I am today.

I am biding my time until our little guys are old enough and I can once again go with my sweetie to the barn for those “after hours” calls, to add a helping hand or two or to just provide support. There is one thing that is absolutely for certain – I am right where I need to be. PD

  • Ellen Durrer

  • Dairy Producer
  • Modesto, California