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By Bev Berens

Just when it looks like the storm has let up with a little relief in early 2020 milk markets, another storm bears down, leaving Michigan dairy farmers to believe that short reprieve was just the eye of the storm — a small window of peace and security between the front and back ends of a deluge.

“We’re all in this together” is like nails on a chalkboard at this point, but the truth more than ever before, is that right now, dairy farmers need to support each other wholeheartedly. 

There is no reason to repeat the issues as they are more than obvious to anyone who has ever received a milk check. To support each other, two questions were posed to five dairy farmers from different demographics. Their answers are from the heart.

Question one: What one or two things do you find yourself doing or reflecting on to get through this unique time in history?

Ashley Kennedy: I often find myself going back to my basic comforts of movement or reading. Since I was a kid, I could lose myself in a good book and I have found myself doing that move often lately. I also find my yoga and running/walking habits to be a great way to clear my head.

Tara Good: Things have been very “business as usual” for us, because we are working around the clock. I do think I rely a lot on music to keep me uplifted; and we love what we do! My motto has always been Carpe Diem, or Seize the Day, and I truly try to find beauty in the simple things daily. I think many people forget to do this. It could be as simple as enjoying the sunset, the alfalfa field coming to life after a long cold winter or the birth of a beautiful heifer calf.

Joe Kulhawick: I have a job I love and am grateful that I can get up and go to work every day. I realize I am just passing through this world and trying to do the Lord’s work. This dumping milk to me is sinful and a bitter pill to swallow. I rely on my faith and the Bible, and even though we cannot go to church and worship together, I try to do daily devotions and look for wisdom and knowledge from above, because no one else has wisdom like that.

Mary Costigan: Undoubtedly my faith! Constant conversations with the good Lord throughout the entire day relaxes my anxiety about all the on-farm and off-farm things that are out of my control. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Those words in Isaiah 41:10 could not be truer in a time like this. How comforting to know that with all the upset in the world, that God is always with us! God has always upheld me with a strong supportive family, including my husband of almost 12 years, my precious and rowdy sons (Case 6, Brant 3, Kipp 10 months) and my Dad, Mom, brothers Jake and Dave and sister Sarah. 

Gerald Geurink: We don’t have any animals here anymore, it was just more than I could do at 80. I just take care of the things we have here at home, read, watch TV, church on the computer, read some more. That’s about it. Once in a while we sneak off and visit some relatives that are our age. 

Question two: What is one business tool or piece of advice that you incorporate to keep your business moving forward?

Ashley Kennedy: While going through struggles and stresses on the farm, I have found that taking time away, even for a bit, helps my frame of mind. Even when I know it is painful, know our numbers. I like to avoid doing things like that when it’s bad and usually I feel more in control when I know the truth, good or bad.

Tara Good: As far as business advice/strategy, I really think for us it is to just take one day at a time. Dairy farming has always been and will continue to be filled with challenges daily. Remember that everything happens for a reason. We focus on taking care of our herd to the best of our ability. From a cow management standpoint, we can sum it up by saying grass is king for us. A high forage diet positively impacts overall immunity and health of our cows.

Joe Kulhawick: The one thing we try to fall back on is to stay out of severe debt and out of the bank. Unfortunately, reserves will only last so long. We watch our labor budget close, and since we are healthy and able, we are working more and of course getting paid less. But we have our health and strength, and it helps keep us out of the bank. We diversified seven years ago into custom feed harvesting and selling feed. We also have a sweet corn plot. Diversification gives us something to fall back on and can be a real help.

Mary Costigan: I am afraid I cannot give too much surprising and helpful insight on this besides living frugally. Being raised by the master of frugality, it is in my blood to not spend frivolously. The fundamentals of my breeding program haven’t changed. I may be quicker to use Angus in a mating, but I am still seeking that perfect (to me) sized individual with functional feet and legs and beautiful udder with positive milk production and always positive fertility traits. We give probably too many chances to calves that don’t show promise because we cannot stand not giving them a chance. We trim out expenses where we can, but the animals and their comfort are still priority. In the background, my dad has been a miracle worker when it comes to enlisting in helpful programs and knowing where to put money that is going to benefit us the most in the short and long term. Has he been hard to convince over the years to spend money to make money? Absolutely, but ultimately that way of thinking is what is getting us through times like these.

Gerald Geurink: I’ve been through crisis, too. Back in the ‘70’s, I got divorced. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Then, about four years later, I got married again and it has been the best 35 years of my life. If you have cows, you just keep doing what you have to every day. Just keep slugging it out.

Reprinted with permission from Michigan Dairy Cattle News

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