Archive for The Milk House

Will You Still Be Dairying in 2023?

Five years is not long in cattle breeding time. But, it can seem like a long time on the business side of dairy farming when you’re losing more money with each successive month.  What the dairy industry will be in five years was on the mind of one Wisconsin Milk House member when he posted the question “Where do you see the dairy industry in five years?”. It obviously was on many members’ minds as there were 364 comments, the most ever for a Milk House post. This article attempts to capture the input from the over 11,000 dairy producers members of The Milk House on dairying in 2023 (Read more: Introducing The Milk House – Dairy Breeder Networking on Facebook).

The Current Scenario

The ever-increasing over-production in the United States dominated the responses to the question. This situation in the US follows the recent EU, New Zealand and Australia low farm gate prices, the re-balancing of supply with demand and ultimately an adverse effect on farm numbers and dairy farmers lives in those countries. The global oversupply of milk, especially skim powder, is on the minds of everyone these days. Let’s hear what Milk House members see for the next five years in dairying.

Real Facts For The Next Five

Milk House members agreed that the following items would define the next five years:

  • The US decline in total herd numbers (now at about 40,000) and the increase in herd size (currently at 234 milking cows) will continue. USDA is predicting more total cows and even more total production in 2018. Things will not get better soon.
  • The cost of production (COP) will continue to rise, and herds over $15-16/cwt will be forced to eat up reserves or to go into debt.
  • Respondents see a wider margin now between farm gate price and in-store price than existed when farm gate prices were high in 2014. They question if farmers are being taken advantage of.
  • Immigration, animal welfare and environmental laws will have a significant impact over the coming years. Drought and rainfall is always a significant factor for the dairy farming industry.
  • Farms are exiting the business and hurting service providers and local communities.
  • Out-sourcing of some services (i.e. cropping) is being tried by some farms but with that option comes a hefty bill, and it may mean that farm labour is not being fully utilized.
  • Government support last time (buy-out program) to help dairy farmers did not get the public’s support. Such government support programs have only been short-term solutions.
  • And finally, morale amongst dairy people is low. It is perhaps at an all-time low. Some respondents openly shared that they are seriously considering exiting the dairy industry. Change is needed!

Real Challenges

Milk House members listed both immediate and five-year challenges:

  • Often farmers blame each other (i.e. small vs large) for creating the current situation of over-production and low prices. Respondents said farmers find themselves at the mercy of their financial institutions and their processor. And many commented that the focus is on blaming and not on finding solutions for the next five years. The truth is that solutions are needed immediately.
  • The respondents with the most concern about the current over-supply and low farm gate price were farming from Eastern to Mid-West USA. Producers commented on the high cost of equipment and automation and losing over $2+ per CWT. Only 75% of current Mid-West herds are expected to be in the industry in five years. Since 1992 70% of US dairy herds have exited the dairy industry at an even pace.
  • Many respondents did not feel that their farmer directed organizations are showing leadership to address the current situation and ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ for five years from now.
  • Within the respondents, there was disagreement about whether their marketing coops had their backs. They wondered if coop directors adequately represent the farmer members and if the coops are fulfilling their mandates. Consumer education by the coops was said to have not returned benefit. It was mentioned that the ‘milk for health’ concept will be slow to catch on and may take more than five years to have a significant effect.
  • Respondents mentioned that discussions are about the ’average’ herd without allowing for consideration of individual herd circumstances. Remote farms, especially ones under 200 milking cows, are facing significantly increased costs for milk transport and all other services.
  • A government cheap food / cheap milk policy, a lack of consumer and politician awareness of agriculture, trade policies and financial support of foreign producers by their governments were all mentioned as significant challenges outside US producers’ control.
  • A couple of respondents wondered if dairy would go the route of pork and poultry industries where the corporations supply the cows and feed, and farmers provide the labor and facilities and are paid on a monthly per cow basis. That possibility was viewed negatively by most respondents.
  • One respondent identified that after producing milk products, there are 32 byproducts that must be made use of in American or that are put on the world market. Often at the global level, there is an excess already, and so the world price is low.
  • However, respondents always came back to the current farm gate price being below the COP. They need to survive today, or they will not be in the industry in five years.


Responding Milk House members brought forward numerous ideas when it came to opportunities for positioning the industry and individual farms for 2023, five years from now:

  • Most respondents saw great potential for new or current milk products to assist in making a successful industry in five years. Products identified were: butter; yoghurts; cheeses; a2 milk; full-fat milk; natural; organic; byproducts as ingredients; and more.
  • Specialized, focused and well-managed farms were thought by respondents to be the most likely to be in the best position for being viable and sustainable in five years.
  • From a genetic perspective, high component yielding cattle were suggested as being the route to follow as more and more milk is processed into the product and transporting water is an unnecessary cost. Since there is a considerable excess of skim powder and just a slight amount over the demand there is for butter, it could be that the ideal cow for production and health would be 1.5% higher for fat % than protein % (i.e. 4.5% F & 3.0% P or 5.3% F & 3.8% P)
  • Practising top management was often mentioned as the key to a farm being in the industry in five years’ time. Automated on-farm data capture and the use of that data from cows, calves and heifers along with financial data was mentioned as being necessary.
  • A few respondents mentioned that they are considering processing their own milk, with a focus on local customers. It was recognized that this is not for everyone and is often location dependent.
  • Supply Management was often mentioned, and it got both support and ‘it is not for America’ comments. Setting a base period to determine a herd’s supply allocation was mentioned as being problematic. The Canadian Supply Management Model of producing for domestic needs was thought by some to be worthy of consideration.
  • The Milk House members mentioned one price for domestic milk and a lower price for export milk as worthy of consideration.
  • One respondent put forward that the US must find its own solution to both current and five years hence relative to supply, demand and pricing. “We cannot depend on there being a global crisis or a global animal health issue to solve our problems.”
  • Respondents mentioned that, immediately, there must be more collaboration amongst industry stakeholders to find both short and longer-term solutions to the volume of milk produced in the USA.

 Poignant Thoughts

Two Milk House members from the USA provided comments that may assist US dairymen as they plan for the industry and their farm five years from now:

Kirt Sloan (Idaho) – “The industry is like a wagon train circled and angry … only, pointing the guns at each other inside the circle. The time is coming that unless we focus our attention united against the forces that attack us … the dairy industry will be like Custer’s last stand … picked apart and over-run by a large group bent on destroying our way of life and efforts to feed a growing hungry world. … The fight is not against big dairies … the fight is against regulations that set the stage with capitalized requirements that require more cows to pay for them. The environmental groups that say they like small farms are driving the regulations that put small farms out of business.”

 Jack Britt (North Carolina) – “Forecasting is difficult. Just 3-4 years ago we had the highest prices and largest income over feed costs ever. If we have a severe shortage of water in the west and southwest, we could see a swing from the current oversupply. If we have a bad crop year, we could see a change. The real question to ask is “How resilient is your dairy operation?”. It is not how large or small that puts a farm out of business, it is how resilient the operation is in times of change. Price per CWT is critical, but resilient farms of all sizes can survive. What is your plan? Do you have one?”

Things that can challenge a dairy operation’s resilience could include: 1) over investment in equipment; 2) owned equipment that is only used one to two months a year and otherwise sits idle; 3) expensive facilities that are not fully utilized; 4) heifers that calve for the first time at 27 months; 5) cows that are dry for four months;  6) excessive road time for equipment and labor to move crops from fields miles away from the farm; 7) rough use of equipment causing excessive repair bills; 8) excessive number of sick calves or cows that run up vet bills and require more farm staff care; 9) poorly arranged facilities requiring more labor to carry out farm chores; and many more.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dairy people, the world over, have done an excellent job of applying methods and technology over the past quarter-century. At the farm level, the focus has been on getting more and more milk. In many countries, production has outpaced demand. A viable and sustainable future at the industry level needs to be given priority and must be planned for now. Vision, leadership and inclusion must be on everyone’s radar screen.

It is up to every producer to make their operation resilient. Is your operation resilient? 





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10 Ways to Cope with the Stress of Dairy Farming

(Note: Click here for Are You Breeding for the Correct Conformation to Produce the Greatest Lifetime Profit?)

There is no question that Dairy Farming at the best of times is one of the most stressful jobs.  Add in low milk prices, an uncertain future and the stress of day-to-day dairy farming, and it’s enough to cause even the best of us to feel exhausted.  The Bullvine asked members of The Milkhouse how do they deal with stress on the farm. Here are 10 ways that dairy farmers have found to cope with this stress:

  1. Spend time with your children/family
    For many dairy farming is not just a job it is a way a life. A way of life that also includes your families.  Doing chores and tasks with your children can be some of the most rewarding times of your day.   “I go home, lay on the floor with my little girl, and play, and let my worries go for the day, realizing not everyone’s got that.” Shares Andrew Kammerer from Alexandria, Pennsylvania. Keith England from Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, comments “Anyway, stress relief for me includes family time, working out several times per week, watching a movie, taking long hikes, taking a rare day off (1-4 days per month) among other things yet these things I enjoy as well as vacations are either interrupted or ruined because of others.” Ashley Bridges McMurry from Polkville, North Carolina, adds “if we are having a crappy day or lost an animal or lots of money…please don’t take it out on your children. Find other ways to deal with the stress. I find taking a long drive with the windows down, and loud music helps me!”
  2. Laugh a lot
    “Aside from my children sharing time in the barn together, laughing helps a lot, trying to find something funny or know people that are hilarious and make you laugh helps a lot. Also swearing, it releases my stress. Just my honest opinion!” – Craig Sperberg, Shawano, Wisconsin
  3. Ask for help
    Sue Sellers from Belleville, Pennsylvania , adds “the farmer has always been portrayed as the eternal optimist. But sometimes it just doesn’t get better, and I think we all need to be able to admit that we are struggling, we can’t get up in the mornings or sleep at night, our tempers are short and the list goes on. Please know that it’s OK to ask for help, it’s not a sign of weakness!! Us old farmers are tired, young farmers are broken hearted, and their spirits are being broken. I don’t have the answers, all I can offer is an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, but I’m here if anyone ever needs to talk.”
  4. Find a hobby
    Bridget Achterberg shares “I have hobbies aside of the farm. Hay burners to be exact. When it’s been a long, hard day and nothing seems to look up, going for a ride usually takes care of the extra stress. Otherwise, coming home just to relax. I think the key is that at some point there needs to be some form of escape from the harsh reality of farming.”
  5. Misery loves company
    Most times, we are very isolated people who would rather stay home tending to our work and avoid society. So, Kristin Pfaff from Alma Center, Wisconsin recommends “Start Thirsty Thursday. Invite a few farming neighbors over BYOB. Sit around chat and laugh. Very low stress”.  Jeff Wriglesworth from Hepburnia, Pennsylvania adds “I’m by myself a lot of the time here on the farm and appreciate the short conversations with the AI technician, milk hauler, nutritionist and anyone else that might stop by. Can take your mind off of a bad day and often turn things around.” Rob Anderson  from Atlantic, Pennsylvania  adds “I spend time talking (venting) to other farmers. People that can relate to the struggles and give you the incentive to hang in there.” Cheryl Irwin DeMent adds “CPNO. Cow people night out. 5 of us local couples that have cows get together for supper about once a month. Great to socialize and chat to realize you aren’t the only one struggling or to be doing great…whichever the case at the time.”  Good advice comes from Cody Mullikin from Waldo Wisconsin “Surround yourself with positive influences. Being there with people who were negative influences and it’ll make it worse. Sometimes just walking away and keeping mind off the subject is the best manner. Come back the next day, with a positive go get it mindset.”
  6. Spend time with what hooked you
    Ryan Schaufenbuel shares “For me, I go back to what got me hooked… the damn cows. Spend five minutes with them (especially heifers), and you can’t help but smile, laugh and shake your head when they are displaying their personalities. Brings it all back into perspective.”
  7. Get Social
    “Conversing with other farmers. Whether it is on here or other social media outlets. It lets your problems go with people who can understand them and maybe help.” Comments Bruce Hill from Ottawa, Ontario. “We’ve been somewhat in limbo for a year now. Luckily I have a few FB friends that I can talk to about whatever is going on.” Adds John Kiser. “We have found that since launching the Milkhouse the members of the group have been amazing at supporting each other. An excellent example of this was Kipp Hinz when he was going through a tough time. (Read more: Dairy Farmer Shares His Loss With Dairy Community on Social Media)”
  8. Get off the farm
    “There are many many farmers out there who struggle and there should be no shame. Just because our ancestors thought that depression or mental illness was weakness doesn’t mean we should. It seems most of the farmers I know deal with stress by working harder or shutting down mentally and working by rote. My hubby does For me, it helps to do something off farm, not necessarily something time-consuming, but just away. Also, church does help- because it does give you a different perspective on life.” Shares Beth Foster from Fishersville, Virginia.
  9. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
    “I always look at it as a marathon rather than a sprint. I agree that there are days where everything seems to go wrong, but I realize if I’m going to be in it for the long haul then accept when things go wrong and move on. Losing a cow or having a calf DOA makes me mad at that moment but I have to realize that’s a part of the industry. Like others, I’m lucky to have a wife, children, and other family members to get my mind off of things but in the end, I realize the sun will come up tomorrow and bring a new set of challenges. But they’re challenges I accept as part of dairy farming.” Comments David Brand from Waterloo, Indiana.
  10. Let GO and Move On
    “Years ago, a lot of years ago, I realized that stressing or being pissed about things I cannot change was just not worth it. You need to learn how to let go of emotions and move on, quick. It’s not easy.” Comments Cindy Gallagher Bahr from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

No doubt, many dairy farm families are going through some difficult times right now and are challenged by their financial situation. We can talk or read about low milk prices and the economy to the point of extreme stress or create even more anxiety for ourselves.  Keeping friends close, expressing gratitude and channeling anxiety and stress in healthy ways will go a long way to having a positive influence on your relationships and will help you deal with the difficult economic situation you and your family may be facing. (Read more: THINKING ABOUT ENDING IT ALL… and DOING NOTHING CAN BE FATAL TO YOUR FARM)



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Introducing The Milk House – Dairy Breeder Networking on Facebook

From ringside at World Dairy Expo to farm tours and herd visits around the world, dairy people like to network with fellow breeders and members of the dairy genetics industry. That is why we have created The Milk House on Facebook. Breeders and industry professionals can talk about their favorite daughter from a special family, people can search for an internship or a (new) job next door or in another country, herd managers can get references on special milking equipment or herd management devices and how they work in different herd sizes, breeders can talk details on breeding strategies and which sires they use and why and owners can network with well managed high performing herds around the world. It can all be done on The Milk House.

This is your chance to network with other dairymen, technicians, clippers or any other person, which is why we have the same interests and passions, and do it all on Facebook the site more breeders in the world visit on a daily basis. The Milk House is Free to everyone, all you need is a Facebook account. So you can easily use your Facebook account without having to create a whole new profile and visit a whole bunch of different sites each day to network with other Dairy Breeder’s around the world. This is your opportunity to ask questions from breeder’s and industry professionals around the world, as well as learn more about different dairy events that are happening. This is also your opportunity to share your genetics and promote your herd to breeders around the world. Don’t miss this great opportunity to grow your breeder network.

Click here to Join


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