Aspiring to be a Dairy Farmer

Working on a family dairy farm, I saw firsthand that dairy farmers are amazing caretakers of the cows that provide fresh wholesome milk for all to enjoy. Dairy farmers are also community volunteers, crop farmers, mechanics, accountants,  and family members.


When I think about a dairy farmer, I think about a person who is caring and loving, but is also able to dig in deep and fight for the things they care about so passionately. Taking care of their cows is the number one mission for dairy framers. I love the way they will work from sun up to sun down and are there at all hours of the night just to be sure that their animals are okay.


It truly takes a lot of heart to be a dairy farmer. They care so much and try so hard for something that does not always have a desirable outcome. When things get hard, they do everything that they can to make things work while their love and care for their cows never wavers. For example, they have barns to house their cattle and put in fans and curtains to keep the cows content in all weather conditions. Farmers are also dialed in closely on a cow’s diet to make sure she is getting the nutrients she needs to make wholesome milk. Out of all the things a farmer does, I think the most important is that they are literally always there for their cows no matter the time of day. If something goes wrong, the farmer is there to help.


There are a lot of things that go on in a day at the farm from fieldwork to feeding the cows to administration, but from my personal experiences of working on a family dairy farm, I learned that cows always come first, no matter what else is going on around the farm. Nothing makes me happier than working alongside people that have the same care and compassion as I do for these amazing animals.


Dairy farmers are extraordinary men and women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. So many people have assumptions about farmers, but I’m not sure we are really letting the words sink in. The life of a dairy farmer is not just a pastime. It is a timeless livelihood. One of the biggest misconceptions that I had before I started working at a farm is the amount of time and hard work it takes to be a dairy farmer. Now I know first-hand that it takes countless hours, blood, sweat and tears to make a farm run and operate smoothly.


When I was young I was never sure what I wanted to be “when I got older,” but now I know with both my love for cattle and having dairy farmers as role models whom I look up to, that one day I aspire to be just like them. I do not just aspire to one day have the same title as a dairy farmer, but I hope to have the same work ethic, knowledge and compassion for the work I do, no matter where I am employed.

Makin’ Hay While the Sun Shines

May through August is a very busy time for dairy farmers in the state of Michigan. Ask any dairy farmer what they like to do when the sun shines, and I bet they’ll tell you with a grin, “Make hay” and that’s just what dairy farmers do — they make hay to feed their cows.


A typical day of “making hay” on a dairy farm may look different depending on the size of the farm and management styles. No way is right or wrong, and all have one end goal in sight: Feed our dairy cows a nutritious and balanced diet so they produce high quality, wholesome milk that can be poured into a glass on someone’s dinner table, or made into cheese, butter, yogurt or ice cream.


Growing up on a dairy farm, I was very involved in making hay with my family. On our farm when we make hay, we do it two different ways. We either chop it or we make it into bales.


This is the process when we chop hay:


  1. Cutting hay is somewhat like cutting the grass in your yard.  We cut it with a haybine, which could almost be called a glorified lawnmower, and then let it dry for a short amount of time before we take the next steps.
  2. Merging hay is taking one or two rows and combining it into an even larger row called a windrow. This is one of my favorite jobs on the farm.
  3. After the hay is merged, my Dad will chop the hay with the chopper into little pieces. When the hay is chopped, is still has a good deal of moisture in it. It is similar to when humans canning our food. This process is amazing to me, and I still get goosebumps whenever I see the chopper pull into the field (farming nerd, I know).
  4. The chopped hay goes right from the chopper into trucks or wagons pulled by tractors. The trucks will then haul the chopped hay — or haylage — back to the farm where it will be dumped onto the cement pad and packed into the haylage pile. The haylage is packed tightly to remove the air and keep it fresh for us to feed our cows over the next year. Some farms also store haylage in giant bags, like big food-saver bags that we use in our kitchens.


The hay that isn’t chopped is made into dry hay, or bales. Baling dry hay is a comparison to humans dehydrating their food.To make hay bales, we:


  1. Cut the hay, the same way we cut it for making haylage.
  2. We ted the hay after we cut it. Tedding hay is spreading out the hay so it can lay flat on the ground to dry. This is one of my jobs when we make dry hay. This allows it to dry nicely before we rake it and then eventually bale it.


  1. After we ted the hay, we go to the field with different machinery and rake the hay after it’s had plenty of time to dry in the sun. After it is raked, two rows are often merged into windrows using a large rake.
  2. Finally, my dad goes into the field and bales the hay.


The type of hay determines if we’ll chop it or bale it.  Typically, we will chop alfalfa, to use as cow feed.  We will chop grass hay for heifer feed, and then bale the remainder of the grass hay or grass and alfalfa mixtures.  Whether we chop or bale the hay  also depends on whether it is first, second or third cutting. A “cutting” of hay is the number of times the farmer re-cuts the hay for the summer. In northern Michigan, we typically only get three cuttings from each field. In many parts of mid to southern Michigan, they average around four to five cuttings. The weather can also play a role in what we chop or bale. Because we need the hay to dry for long periods of time before we bale it, we will chop the hay if it gets rained on more than once.


As you can see, there are no wrong or right ways to make hay. Every farm is different. The important thing is that everyone has the best interest of providing their cows safe, nutritious food throughout the year. We are all aiming to make feed for our cattle that helps them produce high quality, wholesome milk!




Dairy Farms May Look Different, but They Share One Goal

All dairy farms, even though they may look vastly different, strive for the same common goals: Having healthy and happy animals, making safe milk, caring for the environment, providing food for everyone to enjoy and promoting a safe workplace for employees. One type of dairy farm is a rotational grazing dairy farm, which is the type I grew up on and am most familiar with.


Things on a rotational grazing dairy farm run differently than on other farms; each farm is unique like each family is unique. On our family farm we have around 200 acres of pasture, which is sectioned off into smaller areas for the cows to graze at different times during the day. The younger animals also spend as much time as possible on pasture. Every day I am lucky to see our cows right from our house windows.


When our cows come into the barn to be milked twice a day, they get a TMR (total mixed ration) which is a complete meal with all the nutrients they need to make milk, in addition to the grass they graze on all day. We also have barns with sand stalls where the cows can comfortably lay down. During the winter months, the younger animals are in barns and we feed them a TMR.


A grazing dairy farm has different tasks compared to farms that have their cows housed year-round in freestall barns. One type of farm isn’t better than the other — they are just different. Some days I spend more time on a quad, or four-wheeler, checking fence and cattle than I spend on my feet. Regular visits and calls from our neighbors are cause for alarm, as it usually means the cows are out again. At the end of each day, my family’s goals are the same as our dairy peers: To raise healthy cows who give us high-quality milk.

-Miriam Cook

Miriam Cook will be a senior in the fall of 2018 at Pewamo-Westphalia High School. She lives and works on her family’s grazing dairy farm year-round. Her passion for agriculture started with the family farm and has expanded through her involvement in 4-H and FFA. Not only does she have a strong passion for dairy, but she loves to work with her Nigerian dwarf goats, horses, steers, ducks and, at times, pigs. She hopes to continue to gain knowledge on all things agriculture through an agriculture degree in college. With her increased knowledge, she plans to continue to teach others and maybe one day come back to the family farm to help feed the population. Miriam is participating in the Michigan Dairy Ambassador program.

The Life of a Farmer’s Daughter at College: Bringing the Farm to School

I had the best childhood growing up on my family’s 600-head dairy farm in the thumb of Michigan. There were always people around and things to do. At any point in the day, I could go outside and find a number of my family members. However, I never truly realized the impact that the farm had on my life until I moved away for college two years ago. Once I was away, I missed the farm more than I ever imagined.

I am a business student at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. While I am lucky to drive by a few cornfields on my way to school, Mt. Pleasant is nothing like the farm. I am no longer surrounded by the cows or my family. I can no longer smell the aromas from the farm, like the feed we give our cows or the sawdust (or straw) they lie in. For the first two years of my college career, I jumped on every opportunity to go back to the farm while I looked for ways to bring the farm to school with me. My school does not have any agricultural majors and transferring to a school that did was not a practical option.


Half way through my sophomore year, I finally figured out how to incorporate the farm life into my studies. As a member of the Honors Program at CMU, I am required to complete a capstone research project graduate. While there are specific requirements for the project, we are given a lot of freedom to choose a topic that interests us.

For the last 10 months I have been working on my capstone project which researches the effects of social media marketing on the dairy industry. This allow me to remain involved in the dairy industry while I am away at school, share my dairy story with a new community and make a contribution to the industry that has made me who I am today.

My overall goal with this project is to determine current consumer perceptions of the dairy industry and how social media marketing affects those perceptions. I will use those findings to create a social media guidebook to help dairy producers create and build their own social media platforms to share stories and facts about the dairy industry to consumers. The project should be complete and guidebooks ready for distribution this time next year!

It has been so exciting to find a place for my passion while at CMU. I hope to educate those lead astray by anti-dairy social media campaigns and reassure those with questions that we take care of our cows and provide safe, wholesome dairy foods. I am extremely blessed to have spent my childhood growing up on a dairy farm and I want to share that experience and passion with as many people as I can. Everyone deserves to experience the dedication and care of the dairy community and I hope that my capstone project can help make that happen in some way.