The Gentle Hands of a Dairy Farmer

“Gentle, gentle” a mother tells her 3 year old as he grabs handfuls of chocolate brown hair off of Moose the farmdog, who has ambled onto the Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery porch in search of crumbs and attention. I smile and reassure her that Moose is great with kids, in fact he’s got a new baby human at home to look after.

I think about how I’ve never had to say that to my young cousins: to be gentle. I don’t recall hearing it myself as a toe headed farm kid either. And I suppose it’s because we already knew.

Growing up I watched the men and women in my life move animals wordlessly to the milking parlor, patting them affectionately on the side or the head as they moved by. I’ve watched my father aid mother cows in the delivery of a difficult calf. I’ve watched my uncle teach the newborns how to drink warm milk from the bucket in his hand. I’ve seen our hired farmhands, with masterful and practiced touch, care for our girls.

When I think of the farm, I don’t always think of quiet, calm, and gentle. When we used to bale hay I remember watching the men in my family toss heavy bales into stacks. They throw tires onto the silo, hurl grain buckets into the truck, lift engine parts into the tractor. I recall holding my hands up to my Dad’s as a child and thinking they were the biggest paws I’d ever seen. Standing at 6’6″ with shoulders that fill a barn door, my cousin could do some serious damage to any life-form should he choose. But with the cows, and for seven generations, we have always been, and always will be, very very very gentle.

It was last night, after reading about it on the internet and seeing the video posted on social media; after feeding my own calves, showering, and eating dinner, that I sat down on my couch to watch the 4 minutes 11 second video. I was in tears and hurling my phone across the room almost instantly, begging my boyfriend to finish watching it for me so he could tell me about it – so I could write about it.

I’m a seventh generation dairy farmer, or FarmHer if you may. To see hired hands treating dairy animals in this way made me ill. And in the age of #MeToo, see men treat ANYTHING this way made me angry, and it made me scared. These low-lives might have been paid to conduct this abuse on camera. But paid or perverted these men are not fit to work on dairy farms, they are not fit to work with animals, they are not fit to be in society: they must be prosecuted.

For 5 scumbags to represent all dairy farmers in this country just made my cry more. Some people should not care for animals, but what those people do does not define the great majority of farm employees. They are outliers whose actions, while horrible, do not represent the truth about the farmers who love, value and take pride in their animals. Every farm owner wants the best for their animals, including the best employees.

You’ll notice that I haven’t linked the video in this post and I haven’t mentioned the organization by name. This animal extremist organization plans to release more footage today. Don’t watch it. Clicking, searching, reacting, commenting, sharing gets more eyeballs on their content, putting more actual money in their pocket, and perpetuating an inaccurate view of what goes on at dairy farms. With an already volatile milk market, paychecks missed, and stress high, the last thing family dairies need is bad press.

Perhaps that’s the root of the problem? Thanks to tariffs, price regulations, and competition from “milks” that aren’t even real, there’s no money left in dairy. Dairy farmers work hard and we expect our employees to as well. But we’ve come to the point where consumers would rather pay more to the people handling their waste than to the people growing their food. With a herd to feed, crops to plant, equipment to update, a family to care for, and employees to pay – farmers are left with very little – and you get what you pay for.  We need to pay more for the food we eat, and I’m not just talking dairy. When there’s more money circulating at the bottom of the foodchain, there’s more money to employ compassionate, experienced people in the food industry – and the scumbags are left picking up trash on the side of the freeway.

For the sake of the dairy farmer in your neighborhood, who produces nutritious food for your region, keeps farmland open, keeps dollars local, who works long hard hours for little pay, for the dairy farmer provides the best care to each cow in his herd – please, be gentle.

Signup for Barstow's monthly newsletter