The Emotional Loss in the Dairy Industry
Updated: May 7, 2019
Eastview Farm's cows are being auctioned off and will soon walk through the milking parlor for the last time. While a dairy that I work with has shut its doors every year or two throughout my career, this one hits me hard. 2018 was an epically bad year for dairy farms with a Virginia dairy going out of business every 5 days throughout the year. Most dairy farms have been operating at a loss for several years. They are paid on average $16 for 100 pounds of milk (~8 gallons). It costs anywhere from $15-20 to produce that 100 pounds of milk. With no certainty that the situation will improve, dairy farmers are forced to leave the work that they love. Although I work with many types of farms and farm animals, the dairies are the ones I visit regularly. They are family to me and their heartbreak is my heartbreak. When I see a fourth generation farm go out because they see no hope of going forward and hanging onto the farm it makes me sad, frustrated and even angry.
I am sad for this farm family. Sad for the farms that have gone before them. Sad for the farmers that are struggling to hang on. The Nuckols family is a pillar of the Virginia dairy community and seeing them go is like a punch to the gut to many. Eastview Farm was my first stop as a new veterinarian. My first patient was their heifer named Poppy. I remember it well because I did not have the equipment needed to diagnose or treat her on my newly stocked truck. It was a farm where none of my first few surgeries seemed to go right (and she was always the best cow on the farm). They are the farm that lays claim to the phrase “While you’re here, Doc.” It is where I learned not to count pregnancies until the herd check was over. They are my neighbors and they are my friends. I have attended their birthday parties, weddings and funerals. And they milk a phenomenal herd of cows.
I am angry. Dairy farmers are some of the hardest working people in America. The cows are milked and fed before Christmas presents are opened. Before you go to your own wedding or your grandmother’s funeral. There are no sick days. There are no snow days. It is backbreaking, unforgiving work. And dairy farmers persist in it, fighting to keep working these grueling hours for little or no pay. All for love of the land, and their cows, and the legacy that is passed from generation to generation. We are told that hard work pays off. And yet somehow hard work, passion and dedication are not enough to save a dairy farm anymore.
As more of these farms go out, the cost of production for surviving farms in the area increases. You see, as dairy farms shut down, so do many other businesses that work to serve the dairy farms. Feed stores and feed mills. Nutritionists. Hoof trimmers. Farm and milk equipment dealers. Veterinarians. Milk processing plants. The ripple effect of dairies exiting the industry goes far beyond that one farm family. Surviving dairies pay more to access the services that they need to keep the farm running.
I am heartbroken to see these beautiful cows leave Eastview Farm. But some things will not change. The Nuckols family will pass the farm in some form to the next generation. They will carry their faith, work ethic and grace into their next endeavors and continue to be pillars of their communities. So while I mourn the loss of the dairy farm, I have faith in a bright future for the farmers and their families.
Only one dairy farm now remains in my county. The landscape is changing. But I pray that another kind of change is also coming that will allow surviving dairies, small and large, to flourish once again. We all stand to lose when dairy farms shut down. We lose a nutritious, affordable, locally-produced food source. We lose a local business. And we lose a way of life. Please support our remaining dairies. It will do your body and soul a world of good.