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HERd management: It will become your job

Jennifer Heim Published on 22 May 2015

females on farm

This time of year, like so many farmwomen, I find myself spending a lot more time alone.

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Depending on where you’re located, it’s likely planting, chopping or hay season. Or, if you’re like us, it’s a mixture of all three at once. I suppose alone isn’t really the right word. After all, the cows and calves surely deserve a little recognition.

I’ll rephrase: This time of year I’m able to spend a lot of quality time with my bovine friends while my husband attempts to finish X, Y and Z ahead of the forecasted rain.

I didn’t grow up in the dairy industry, and when my husband and I were dating, he taught me the basics of the farm. While we were working, he often remarked that once you learn how to do something, it becomes your job. It seemed almost like a mantra, but I foolishly took this statement at face value.

Obviously, as a kid, after he learned a task, it was added to his ever-growing list of responsibilities. I failed to realize what he was saying was a warning that would have long-lasting implications in my own future on the farm we would later take over.

As I learned more about the ins and outs of the operation, and specifically the cows, which were my main interest on the farm – other than my husband, of course – I began researching genetics and selected a few A.I. bulls.

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Genetics was the perfect fit for me, where my love of numbers and cows collided. Soon though, I discovered that semen selection and mating had become my job. I didn’t stop there, though. The more I learned, the more jobs I took on – tagging calves, keeping breeding records, breeding cows.

As the previous generation took a step back into retirement, the list grew even longer and faster: milking, feeding calves, overnight calving checks, and on and on.

Then I did some research and made some suggestions to change our newborn and fresh cow protocols; my husband accepted the changes, but I learned a new lesson: If you make changes to something, it doesn’t just become your job, it becomes your responsibility to manage. And future changes to or issues with that task will also be your responsibility.

I don’t mean to complain, though; I love my work at the farm, even when it requires long days or late nights. I love working alongside my husband, through the victories and the struggles.

But as I sit here in manure-stained jeans at the end of a long day, I look back on the naïve girl who wanted to learn it all and wonder: What if I had known then what I know now? Realistically, nothing would probably change; I chose this crazy dairy life because of and in spite of all that comes with it.

But I write this as a cautionary tale to anyone in my former shoes with a lust for learning all things dairy. Be careful. If you learn how to do it, it will become your job.

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And if you learn how to do it and don’t enjoy it, I suggest unlearning it as quickly as possible before anyone realizes or remembers that you had ever known. And please, never remind my husband that I once learned how to mix feed. PD

jennifer heim

Jennifer Heim
Dairy Producer and Engineer
Easton, Kansas

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