Working on a large dairy farm is much like working in any corporate setting. You may be outside, you may be working with animals, but when push comes to shove it is a business like any other. You have to make sure the product you are producing is high quality, while keeping costs down. There are wages to consider and regulations that need to be adhered to.
When I worked on a large dairy farm, I soon found out I had a lot to learn. I grew up on a small family owned dairy farm. The stalls for the cows were stationary and each milking cow had her particular spot in the barn. They had over 800 milking head, a 16 cow parlor, milked around the clock, and the stalls were all free stall. The premise was completely new to me, and although I understood the basic milking principle, the way the farm was operated was totally different.
First I had to punch in and out like any company. I had specific hours in which I worked, and had co-workers. I started off working part time on weekends while I finished school. I feed the calves in the morning. While my father’s farm had maybe 10 calves at most at any given time, this farm had well over that. Just feeding all the calves took over 2 hours, and this had to be done twice a day.
After I finished school I started working there full time. In the beginning I worked in the parlor milking cows or in the barn doing what they called “rounding up”. If I was doing the round up that day, my job would be to watch when the milking group was almost done. Once it finished up I had to switch gates, get the next group of milking cows into the holding pen for milking, and get the last of the group before into their pen. Two people were needed at any given time for the milking to go smoothly. Other duties while rounding up would be to use the bobcat to push in the feed closer to the cows so they could easily reach it, check and administer medicine if necessary to the hospital group, and clean pens as needed while they were being milked.
The largest difference between a true corporate job and working with animals, even on a large scale is simple. When I was out there, working with just the animals, there was a peace and simplicity to it all. The basic principle of milking and getting dirty, knowing the what you are doing will feed a great many people and for my dad, feeding his family and creating a livihood… well there is a purpose in that. You get to know the animals you work with, and the barn has it’s own rhythm. From the fans running, the parlor humming, and the stalls clinking lightly throughout the barn, the sounds mingle together to create a harmony. I used to walk through the barn, listen to it’s quiet music, and just smile at the simple satisfaction in what I did.
Growing up on a small farm, then moving to a large corporate farm gave me a great understanding of the differences between the two milking systems. While my father supported his family and got to work at home, the advantage of running your dairy farm on a larger scale and as a true corporate culture business, when done correctly can increase your profits and be very satisfying as well. The efficiency in which the large dairy farm I worked at cannot be denied. It was a great experience and one that has only increased my overall knowledge and understanding of the dairy industry as a whole.