But since the vast majority of dairy farms are family farms, bringing on the next generation is not only a goal but a priority for many. Here are the stories of two such young farmers.
Ashton Bauman came back to her family’s farm, Metzger Dairy in Kimmell, Indiana, three years ago. Bauman began by picking up some of her mom’s responsibilities in bookkeeping and office work, before realizing she had the opportunity to join the farm full-time. Bauman was driven by the same feeling of legacy and responsibility that motivates many people to return to their family farm.
“I saw everything my dad’s done around here and I didn’t want it to go to waste,” Bauman said. “Maybe my kids, in the future, could farm here if they wanted.”
Returning to the family farm is not without its challenges, though.
“It’s not always easy to work with your family,” Bauman said. “Chores at the farm have to come first, which can be tricky sometimes. Work-life balance doesn’t always happen, but we do try.”
Janny Kleine (above), of Kleine Dairy Farm in Cedar Lake, Indiana, graduated from Purdue University six years ago and has been full-time on the farm ever since.
“It was always my plan to come back,” Kleine said. “My dad couldn’t run the farm by himself. On a dairy farm, you really need more than one person to make everything work.”
Kleine’s brother also returned to the farm full-time, but even so, it’s an action-packed day for all family members.
“I get up at 4:30 in the morning to go milk the cows,” Kleine said. “When we’re done we have a little rest time to eat breakfast. Then I go outside and do more chores. It really depends on the season, like right now I’m harvesting pumpkins and setting up my side business, which is a pumpkin stand. We should start harvesting corn silage soon. In the evening, I milk cows until 6, then I’m sort of free. It’s a long day, from 4:30 to 6, so I try to relax at night.”
In the fall, Kleine adds harvest to her list of responsibilities.
“I like to help out during harvest,” she said. “I drive the grain cart. I don’t get to do tractor jobs very often so I really enjoy getting out and working dirt. I normally love taking care of the baby calves, but we’ve had seven calves born in the last six days so it’s a scramble to make sure they are all getting the best possible start right now.”
Joining the farm as a young woman has been a mostly positive experience for Kleine, although every once in while someone will underestimate her.
“I had a salesman come up the drive as I was walking out the house,” Kleine said. “I was just in casual clothes--I guess I didn’t look like a farmer. I started talking to him and I could tell he thought I didn’t know what I was talking about. He was definitely looking around for someone else, even though I’m the person who places all those orders anyway.”
But, Kleine said, things are changing. She’s a part of an online networking group for female dairy farmers that serves as a support group and sounding board. Plus, Kleine’s able to use her computer savvy to run her farm’s cow tracking software and to organize the records the Kleine family keeps on their cows.
By bringing a unique perspective and skillset back to their family’s farm, young dairy farmers like Bauman and Kleine are helping to combine their family’s farming legacy with a modern approach. That fusion of ideas is what will keep dairy farms successful for generations to come.
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