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HERd management: The ups and downs of being a farmer’s daughter

Katie Dotterer-Pyle Published on 24 August 2015

females on farm

“Nothing is more constant than change.” “I want results, not excuses.”“You’re missing the fun factor [of covering trench].”



These are just a few of the gems my father has passed down to me.

So many kids don’t have the privilege of having a dairy farmer as a dad. Dairy-farming dads are a different breed. I grew up on a large commercial dairy, where it can be challenging to raise kids on a farm along with 40 employees, but my dad succeeded. While I thought my dad was violating child-labor laws, he was really instilling a work ethic in me.

I was 6 when I started feeding calves with sand-castle buckets. It took a lot of those to fill a 5-gallon bucket. I learned carpentry, masonry, welding, cow-calf care, equipment handling – I got my butt kicked if I didn’t check the fluids or didn’t idle after usage – and much more by the time I was 16.

I begged him to teach me to drive truck and will never forget the day he jumped out of the tri-axle I was driving, hauling haylage, and said, “Well Kate, it’s sink or swim.” And swim I did. He told me he chuckled every time I came to unload in the trench because “… all of these big trucks come in, and there’s this big truck with a tiny girl behind the wheel.” I never saw the humor.

I loved summers because it meant working long hours on the farm, and I always looked forward to the gratification that followed. But I also loved working closely with my dad. I always tried to make him proud, even when I got scolded for “chasing snakes” when mowing hay. My biggest fear was disappointing him. Little did I know, I would disappoint him greatly a few years later.


Fast-forward three years. I have a business degree, met my husband while working at another dairy – Dad’s rule if we wanted to come back to the farm – and returned home. But things didn’t turn out as I had planned. There was more family in the picture, and it was no longer just me and Dad. It was family arguments, family meetings and three very different generations trying to work together and not destroy what the first two generations had built.

Two years later, I told my dad the hardest thing I’ve ever had to tell him: “Dave and I are starting our own dairy. We’ll be moving to Virginia in March.” To say my dad was upset would be an understatement. I felt like the worst daughter in the world. My biggest fear came true.

In the spring of 2009, both of our families helped us move to Virginia, where we bought 90 cows and rented a dairy. I was scared to death. What the heck did I just do? Why would I leave such a progressive business? My family was going to be five hours away; I’d never been that far from them.

About two months later, Dad called to see how things were going. I told him we were actually doing pretty well; the cows were milking well, I got a job at a feed co-op to help supplement income, and we were getting to know the locals. And then he said, “That’s good to hear. I’m proud of you guys for doing this.” I almost dropped the phone. I didn’t know if I heard him right. I muttered a “Thanks, Dad.”

Fast-forward another four years, and now my husband and I are proud owners of a 350-cow dairy farm in Carroll County, Maryland. When we were looking at dairies to purchase, I often called my dad for his advice. I’m biased, but he’s the wisest guy I know and knew that he wouldn’t steer us wrong. I know he’d still love for us to come back, but I think he’s also pretty pleased and still proud of what we have done since we started on our own.

Whenever I visit my family dairy, I’m reminded of what I left. There seems to be something new each time I come home: a new barn, manure pit, grain center, etc. Do I miss it? Not really. What I do miss is working with my dad. I miss our conversations we would have at the end of the day, the “atta boy (girl)”


I would get when I exceeded expectations, and just being in close proximity to get advice any time I wanted it. My brother and sister are both at the farm, and I admit, I get a bit envious that they have better access to Dad’s ear than I do. He’s not a man of many words on the phone. I still strive to make Dad proud with our farm and my career. I will always be proud to be a farmer’s daughter. PD

Katie Dotterer-Pyle
  • Katie Dotterer-Pyle

  • Dairy Producer
  • Union Bridge, Maryland