Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

All This Milking Is Killing Me

September 15, 1997

Some changes have been made to protect the following letter writer's identity:

Dear Dr Farmer,

My name is Don. I'm a dairy farmer. I'm 46 years old and I've been farming all my life. My two kids are gone and are leading their own lives. I milk 80 cows and run 450 acres of land, some of which I own and some I rent. My wife is an RN at a local hospital. She helps me when she can.

It's hard to find good help nowadays. It seems like kids don't want to work. I would like to phase out of farming just a little but still stay in it somewhat.

I'm up at 4:00 a.m. every morning. I love planting crops - hay, corn and beans. I don't mind putting in 12 to l4 hours a day but to go in that barn at 5:00a.m. and milk cows yet - that is killing me! I would like to sell the cows and still farm the land, but when the cows go, so does the income!

At my age, I don't want to work for someone else after being my own boss all these years. My barn burned down several years ago and I built a new one plus a new heifer facility later. If I sell my farm it will take care of the debt load and capital gains tax but not leave me enough money to build a house.

To put it bluntly, it is hard to get out of farming. With milk prices the way they are, you have to milk more cows and I don't want to. I just want to slow down a little! If you have any suggestions, let me know! - Don

Dear Don,

Thanks for sharing your worries with me. Right now your emotions are in control. You are being worn down by dairying and you don't see any way out. Take the emotion out of it by doing a detailed financial analysis of your farm. Chances are you will have some assets to work with.

What do you want to do with your life? It's not too late if you have a clear idea of what you want. If you don't know what you want, a career counselor could be a sounding board for you as you sort through what you really want to do.

Leaving the farm or changing your farming operation doesn't make you a failure. It is making a change to meet your goals. It is a willingness to use your resources to further your goals. If you develop that kind of thinking a whole world of choices opens up to you.

Look at your farm as an asset. I don't know what the market is for a dairy farm in your area. If you can sell it go down the road and buy another farm that is more suitable to the type of farming you want to do.

You could look at converting your existing farm to another type of farm. How about planting a specialty crop that grows in your area or convening to a beef cow operation? Depending on how you are set up, you could lease out the dairy and continue to do crops.

You have more options than you realize. Find a farm financial consultant who can come in and help you analyze your possibilities. Right now things seem overwhelming. Play "what if" games and cost out various options. Decisions don't seem so bad if they are broken down into small steps.

Be adaptable. Take a chance. Doing something you hate is no way to go in life. It will take a little creative imagination, some courage and some good advice but you can make changes despite your circumstances.

Sincerely, Dr. Val Farmer.

Readers, just one more note. I showed this letter to some colleagues including Charlie Griffen. He is a marriage and family counselor at Kansas State University who works primarily with farm families. Some of his suggestions I incorporated into my response.

Griffen and others in his position are familiar with other families in the dairy business who are feeling trapped by their current operation. Some older couples can't retire because of the costs and risks associated with getting out of the business.