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HERd Management: There is life after cows

Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn for Progressive Dairyman Published on 23 November 2016

It was March 2003, and I had just returned home from a dairy promotion as the Pennsylvania Dairy Princess. “We are selling the cows,” my dad said to me as I sat across the kitchen table from him.

I don’t recall exactly what I said at that moment in response, but I do know tears were streaming down my face.

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The following weeks, months and even years were hard for me. Although I was only a senior in high school at the time, it felt like my world and everything that I had known was being stripped away. I could no longer call myself a dairy farmer’s daughter.

I wouldn’t need to be home for evening milkings or to help feed calves. I was devastated because I felt that living on a dairy farm defined who I was.

Now looking back more than 13 years later, I realize the decision to sell our cows was probably the best step for my family at the time. My father had the opportunity to pursue other career goals which didn’t involve milking cows 365 days a year and, even though our cows left, a few heifers remained, along with our beautiful, historic property.

Most importantly, selling the cows allowed our family to re-evaluate our farm business and where we wanted to go in the future.

In the dairy industry, we have a culture that focuses on legacy. There is much pride that comes from carrying on the family dairy farm and doing what our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did before us.

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While this is certainly a strength of our industry, it can also offer challenges. One challenge is the emotional tie farmers have to their businesses, which results in the thought that exiting the dairy business means failure.

In too many instances, this has resulted in dairy farmers not being proactive about changing their business model and instead waiting until they are in a dire situation and are forced to sell their cows.

Exiting the dairy business doesn’t mean there is no future for your farm. We all must change and adapt our businesses over time, and sometimes this means re-evaluating what you are doing and how you are doing it.

While I didn’t understand it at the time, this was exactly what my parents did 13 years ago, and the lessons I learned have helped me with other challenges in my life over the years.

Life has a strange way of coming full circle. While my family no longer milks cows, we now raise dairy steers for beef. We also raise hogs and chickens.

We direct-market our products at farmers’ markets in Pennsylvania and northern Virginia and leverage talents of our entire family in this endeavor. It’s exciting to be doing something new, and I do feel that we are carrying on our family’s legacy even if it does not include milking cows.

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I also once again live on a dairy farm. My husband and I operate a dairy with his brother and sister-in-law on his family’s farm. There’s no doubt I love dairy cows, but my perspective has changed since I was that 18-year-old girl crying at the kitchen table.

I’ve learned that there’s more to life than cows. There’s family, faith and a future of opportunities.  end mark

Raechel Kilgore Sattazahn is a dairy producer in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania.

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