Dairy farm = long hours, hard work--but its worth it
POWELL, Wyo. (AP)--If you want an 8 to 5 job, don't look for work on a dairy farm.
Work on the Willwood Dairy farm, owned and operated by the Roger Easum family, starts with the morning milking at 3:30 a.m., Sunday through Saturday and doesn't end until the afternoon milking is done sometime after 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.
"I have no concept of what people who work for eight hours a day do with the other 16 hours," Roger Easum said.
But then, he added, there are no snowmobiles or boats around here. There's no time to use them.
Between and after milkings, cows and calves are fed, manure is cleaned out of corrals, cows are bedded down with straw, milking equipment is cleaned and sterilized, and the general needs and management of the herd are seen to.
During the summer, work days get even longer, with cultivating, planting, irrigating, crop maintenance, harvesting and fixing equipment added to the list of chores. That extends the work day to 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m.
But Roger said there's nothing he or his sons, Jeff and Cody, would rather do.
"You either like it or you don't. If the boys didn't like it, they could do something else. They're pretty well versed in just about anything," he said.
Cody said the Willwood Dairy herd averages about 120 head of Holstein milk cows. That's the ideal size for the family operation, he added.
Besides the 130 milk cows, the Easums have about 250 heifers ranging in life stages from birth to approaching their first calving.
Each milk cow produces an average of 75 to 80 pounds of milk per day. At 8.6 pounds per gallon, that means each cow gives an average of just less than 10 gallons per day, Cody said.
Cody said it takes a new cow about a week to get used to being milked.
"We let them walk through (the milking barn) a time or two before they calve," he said. "Then it takes them a time or two (of being milked) before they decide they like it and know what's going on."
While milking is routine business, some cows stand out. They line up in similar order for each milking, with some vying for first place, while others lag.
"There's the favorites, then there's the ones you dread to milk cause they're kind of kicky," he said.
Each cow requires a large amount of food daily to be able to give her 10 gallons of milk. Her daily diet is calculated to provide the best nutrition for her health and milk production:
--4 pounds of cotton seed;
--18 pounds of ground, shelled corn;
--8 pounds of soybeans;
--6 pounds of sugar beet pulp in dried pellets;
--22 pounds of ground alfalfa; and
--22 pounds of corn silage.
All totaled, each milk cow eats about 80 pounds of food daily. That means a herd of 120 milk cows consumes nearly 5 tons of food each day, most of which is produced on the farm.
"That's a lot of food," Roger said.
It also produces a lot of manure, which must be hauled out of the corrals, he added.
In addition, the Easums use 1,000 large bales of straw each year to bed the cows and keep them comfortable and healthy.
Roger said some might consider a milk cows life pretty cushy. After all, she only has to eat, have a calf once a year or so, and get milked for five minutes twice per day.
But it's not as easy as it might sound, he said.
"It's hard on them," he said. "They're big animals, and you're asking a lot out of them. They have to keep themselves up. It's a big job for the cows."
By the time a cow is 8 years old, she's had six calves. Each calf weighs about 150 pounds, and the cow gains about 200 to 250 pounds during each pregnancy, he said.
Cody said the herd is genetically sound, and the dairy uses no hormones. Most cows are bred through artificial insemination, but a bull is on hand to offer services when the artificial method doesn't take.
Roger said it costs about $1,000 to raise a cow from birth until it freshens after calving. It costs $1,800 to $2,000 to replace a cow.
The current herd started with 32 cows back in 1980 when the Easums moved here from Colorado. Getting it to this point has taken many years of long, hard work.
"We're pretty busy," he said.
Roger said milking starts so early in the morning because that's the only way to get enough work hours in the day and still be able to spend some time with the family.
The long hours and hard work are worth what he gets in return, he said.
The big advantage to working on a farm is the fact that you work with your family, and your children and grandchildren surround you. Its a blessing to have them and work with them and be able to be with my grandkids. Its a big deal.
This is truly a family operation.