The business of dairy farming and what that means for our “stock”

I don’t like to use the word “stock” when it comes to cows. The connotation is that they are simply economic units. Yes, we do rely on their milk for our living but, no, they are not simply the equivalent of black-and-white boxes in a grassy warehouse. We burn the midnight oil, holding down second jobs during tough times so the cows will never know a lean year.

A sick cow is more important than our own dinners.

Nor are male calves “low-value by-products” of dairying. Maybe for some but not for me. Absolutely not. Rather than shooting them (the economically rational path), our family chooses to make a loss rearing the bull calves for the first few days of their lives and then selling them to beef-farming locals.

In the same vein, I am not a “milk producer” but a farmer. Somehow, “producer” conjures up factories and production lines, while nothing could be further from the truth here. We nurture our animals and the land because we understand that nature is bigger than we are. Sounds trite and fluffy? Perhaps, but it’s the reality.

There is no financial reward for such an attitude and in the teeth of the economic crisis most dairy farmers have suffered in recent times, the pressure’s been on to make every conceivable saving but here’s how I look at it: if you’re not able to make a dollar out of farming this year, you should at least be able to feel good about the way you farm.

If farming this way is not viable, I would rather not be a farmer.

9 thoughts on “The business of dairy farming and what that means for our “stock”

  1. Hi Marian,
    I’ve been enjoying your posts. I lived on a farm as a child/teenager and struggle with the use of animals for food…. for myself. I recognise that for me to have this choice others get to choose for themselves as well. I have a genuine question about the calves – don’t both the cow and calf suffer when they are separated? Or from your direct experience, do they not seem to realise the relationship of partent and child? I have been using milk products but this question bothers me. Thanks C


    • Thanks CYB. It’s a very good question and probably the most common one I am asked.

      The answer is that some cows are quite maternal while others are not maternal at all and simply wander off.

      The maternal ones I feel sorry for: they are upset by the separation for up to about 48 hours.

      The calves seem to adapt extremely well pretty much straight away. We put them in with mates in a warm shed for about a week before they’re back in the sunshine.

      Although I feel sorry for the more maternal cows, I am still happy to separate them for the sake of the calf. You can find out why we rear calves away from the herd here:


  2. Hi Marian,

    It is interesting when forces from conservative economics begin driving the language we use. As a primary school teacher of many years we have gone from teaching kids, to students/ pupils, to clients. Somehow looking into the eyes of an excited kindergarten child and referring to them as ‘your client’ just doesn’t seem to fit.

    However, we have now been directed to refer to our kids as ‘stake holders’. It is a result of a mix of politics and economics that is increasingly driving the direction of education. So maybe you could start calling your cows ‘stake holders’??? Makes you sound more corporate!


  3. In today’s world farming has evolved hugely as a business, its really hard to stick to the traditions like Marian is doing and I wish him all the very best. We in India also have lot of farmers that do farming in the traditional way Dairy farming in India.


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