A common phrase in farming is “once a farmer always a farmer”, and I have always found myself agreeing with this term, until recently.
On 31 March at 12.02hrs we received a text from our milk buyers informing us of a 5.3 pence per litre price drop with effect from 1 April. That is a little less than 12 hours’ notice of a life-changing price drop which has contributed to a 12.3 pence per litre price drop since Christmas.
As a farm we have worked for 10 mediocre years for nine months of good times only to have it snatched away from us with 12 hours’ notice. I know people are struggling with everyday life and with paying the bills, but so are farmers.
Angry, irritated, frustrated, livid, are all words that spring to mind. Why do we carry on? Is it just for the next generation? Would building bungalows be easier than slogging your heart out for 365 days a year? How can any farm function with that amount of volatility?
As a dairy farmer you automatically wake up to ensure the cows are already in the collecting yard ready for milking; you automatically listen for the hum of the parlour in the early morning or late afternoon, or the pulsating of the clusters, feed rattling through the pipes into the parlour, the wash down hose, the tanker pulling down the drive and the ‘mooing’ of the cows. It’s second nature to ensure that everything is running smoothly.
The last thing you check before you go to bed and the first thing you check in the morning is the temperature of the bulk tank. Over the past few weeks, we have found ourselves imagining how life would be without cows, a thought that had never entered our heads before.
Friends describe it as an intense grieving period and loss in the first few weeks/months. Is this due to the relationship you have with the cows? Some of them will have been helped into the world by yourself and reared until they have reached the age that they can go into the parlour. Some will have been in the sick bay and been nurtured back to health, some will have undoubtedly had a life of luxury.
You know their quirks, their markings and even the last four digits of their tag number, knowing which cows love a head rub etc, etc.
Can we really sell up and move on? For a business to work it must be viable or even profitable. With the new regulations that are coming through, how can we make the required changes when the price per litre keeps going down and down. When will it end?
In my opinion, calving all year should be mandatory to stabilise the milk volume. Drying your cows off all at once is a blessing for the farmer but the financial hit the rest of the industry seems to suffer when the cows calve and reach maximum production must be taken into consideration.
The boys are now such an integral part of the team that any family time off has disintegrated at a rate of knots and with that comes the guilt of work, work, work and more work with very little time for them to play. We all lead an amazing life but it’s a way of life and when we are governed by the hierarchy it occasionally becomes hard to realise that you still own your own business.
“Once a farmer, always a farmer” The jury is still out at the moment.
Until next time stay safe and keep well.
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