This past Mother’s Day, while I heard many ladies talking about the relaxing day they were having and their gifts of spa days for rest and relaxation, I noticed a slight variation of this coming from the dairy farmers’ wives that I know. They were working. I guess that won’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, being a dairy farm wife is a 365 days a year, no rest responsibility.
Now let’s get our facts straight. First by no stretch of the imagination can we assume that all dairy farmers are men only. In fact, we have had the opportunity to profile several female dairy farmers. Julia James is one. (Read more: Julia James: “Cow by Cow. Doing it Now.” and Michele Payn-Knoper – Standing Up and Speaking Out for Agriculture!!) As well there are numerous dairy farms that are 50/50 operations. (Read more: Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country) We have also had the opportunity to interview dairy farm wives who came to dairy farming not from their childhood, but rather through marriage. These woman traded stilettos for rubber boots to marry a rough and ruggedly handsome dairy farmer.
Having established that, when the dairy farm is a family operation, the modern wife’s role is far greater than just caring for the children, as the old romanticized version would have you believe. The modern dairy farm wife’s role ranges from raising calves, bailing hay to making long-term financial decisions. Right beside their husbands, their day starts before the sun rises and does not end until after it sets. There are cows to be milked, calves to be fed and pens that need cleaning. There are few weekends off or sick days. Being a dairy farmer’s wife is as big a commitment for her as it is for him. Not to mention that she also multitasks because there are kids to be fed, chauffeuring to sports and lessons to handle and a healthy dose of community involvement to stir in. (Read more: Dairy Farm Moms are Unstoppable) The logistics of a dairy wife’s routine would make the heads of most socialites spin.
While many may assume that all decisions on the dairy farm are made by one person, usually the male farmer, in reality spouses and children often work together to set priorities. Much of what they decide is talked about at the kitchen table which is less formal but just as effective as the boardroom table in city settings.
Like any effective business, running a dairy farm requires diverse skills, cooperation, and commitment. Now the typical duties must still involve the obvious ones about crops, machinery, feed, and pastures, which have traditionally been male domain. However, today the wife too goes beyond the traditional role of household budgeting, childcare, and decisions about leisure activities. On the modern dairy operation, women also make decisions starting with the care of calves to retiring a favorite cow from the milking string and everything in between. Crucial decisions about capital investments, dairy herd development and long-term financial decisions get input and consideration from both halves of the team. There’s definitely a division of labor, but it’s the person who does the work that makes the decisions. Dairy farming is hands on and decisions are required 24/7. That’s why many significant decisions that involve long-term judgments are discussed around the dinner table. The rhyme says, “The farmer takes a wife!” but the underlying message is “Dairy farming takes the whole family.”
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Dairy farming is more than a job. It is a lifestyle. It is the way of life that takes the involvement from the whole family. While everyone has a different role and responsibilities on the dairy, they all have the same-shared goals. Many people choose to dairy farm in part because they enjoy being on the land, working with the cattle and they value the dairy farm as a good place to raise children. The dairy wife is a key factor in this family scenario. Wives working on dairy farms see themselves as dairy farmers. No glass ceiling here. Just dedication, commitment and teamwork. “Mother’s Day” for them includes their dairy girls and their offspring and, around the table or around the dairy farm, they don’t mind a day to bask (however briefly) in the glow of being recognized for their valued contribution.