Don’t Bother Jumping

Let me tell you something that people told me for years: dairying is hard stuff. Tough, gritty, dirty, frustrating, backbreaking, heart wrenching – hard.  I think of all the voices that tried to convey this in their own ways; some diplomatic and halting, some frank and negative, some gentle but firm all forming a collective shout I ignored that is only now niggling its way into the background soundtrack of my life. It was convenient before to ignore their warnings or spin them into something else, shrugging them off as over-exaggerations from jaded farmers. It’s what we do when reality builds a wall around whatever we’re scheming and dreaming. But I hear them now, finally, some exhausted, some defiant, some bewildered, some angry – all of them experienced voices from the dairy world. All of them privy to the regulatory agencies, the dairy chemical companies, the animal health issues, the weather: every single thing that impacts the production of milk. But I will spare you the details. And I’m still undecided about how I will respond when someday I receive the inevitable query: “I want to open a dairy, I have a few questions…”

Here’s what I won’t say. I won’t say “DON’T” despite the many mornings I’ve fantasized about burning this place to the ground. I won’t say, “You may not be strong enough,” despite the hours I’ve spent dodging sharp hooves while giving countless teat infusions to treat mastitis (Google “teat infusion” if you’re not familiar with the term, then send me your sympathies). I won’t say, “You really don’t understand what you’re getting into,” despite the many paragraphs of scientific journals I’ve skimmed,  pages earmarked of federal regulation, the cheese culture I’ve learned to weigh on a wee scale while a batch of just-pasteurized milk quivers with anticipation in the vat, ready to turn into something else. I won’t say any of that.

What has shocked me the most is that the esoteric quality of this work demands such a heightened level of two things: 1) Tolerance and 2) Passion. You have to want the hell out of the work and you have to tolerate an enormous amount of shit (literal and figurative) to achieve anything. What I’m not saying here could fill volumes. What I am saying is that if you have both of these traits and feel them, deeply, you should go for it. You really should. The world needs more determined, frustrated, gritty, hard-working, dreamers.

So it’s fitting to realize, in this painful period of beginnings and mistakes and beginnings again and more mistakes, that I am surrounded by exactly those dreamers. The deeper I fall into the milky quagmire, the more hands I feel reaching out to soften the blows that are inevitable when just starting. Not only have my old faithful mentors stood by me during some very difficult situations, but new folks have offered to lend a hand, an ear, an anecdote. And the physical help has been endless. Strong, strong, strong women have knocked on my door and asked to lighten the load of cleaning, animal caring, cheese flipping, packaging, and on and on. Just as my sense of normalcy and comfort have retreated, my circle of support has expanded. It’s a worthwhile trade off.

I chat daily with two of these very strong women, virtual friends both early in their own dairy enterprises thousands of miles away. We’ve held hands across these many state lines that separate us, talk each other down, build each other up, remind one another that this is hard, especially when working our families into the equation. Especially when starting from scratch. Especially when the start feels more like a leap of faith and the faith feels flimsy sometimes. Not everyone would start the way we have: all in, both feet. But then, we’re the kind of gals who believe if you don’t jump in this way, painful as it can be, well – then there’s no point in jumping at all.



Dairy, Goats