Read excerpts from a panel discussion presented at the 2014 Women in Dairy Conference, held Nov. 5 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The panel featured Andrea Stoltzfus, Berlin, Pennsylvania; Betty Forgy, McVeytown, Pennsylvania; and Candice (Dotterer) White, Mill Hall, Pennsylvania. The discussion was moderated by Jeff Harding of Elanco. Learn more about the 2014 Women in Dairy Conference here.

HARDING: Thank you to all you ladies for being here today. I understand now what it's like when one or two ladies show up at the county Farm Bureau board meeting and you're the only one there. It's a little bit intimidating, frankly. So again, I commend you for being willing to do those things at home when you're the only lady or there's only a couple of ladies.

This session is hopefully going to be very interactive. It's going to be relatively brief introductions, and we're relying on you for questions. All of them are in a little bit different situations, but one similarity is that they all come from fairly large families. We all know that families can sometimes be challenging. So we're looking forward to this dialogue.

Q. Provide an introduction of yourself and farm.

WHITE: My grandfather started our farm back in 1951. He had 15 cows and 150 acres. He had six children; only two decided to stay on the farm – my father, Larry, and my uncle, John. We are now currently milking 800. We have 100 dry cows, and we're farming 3,500 acres. We're not quite ready to start the transition from the second generation to the third, but there has been talk about it. Along with my father and uncle, I also work with my sister, who is the accountant, and my cousin Lori, who does the feeding, and my cousin Doug, who does the crop work.


We each have our own unique area, and we don't really go into each other's territory. We don't step on each other's toes, and I think that's how it's going to work well for us going into the transition from the older generation. With them, my father did the cows and my uncle John did the crops. And it worked very well for them. I went and talked to my grandfather about the transitioning, and the thing that he said to me was, "Brothers are brothers. Wives are not sisters. And cousins are not brother and sister. The key is to all get along and communicate."

FORGY: Our dairy is located in Mifflin County. We have around 160 milking cows and 100 heifers. And we raise 30-40 dairy steers a year that we sell to a local buyer. We have a small poultry house that's 25 years old, and we run four to six flocks a year through that. We crop 440 acres. The family consists of my husband, Gary, and I, and our three sons, Eric, Ben and Darren.

I raise all the calves, and I milk in the morning. And I do the bookwork. My husband does take care of the farm account and pays most of the bills, so he's aware of what's going on. Eric milks and takes care of the animals and crops. He plants most of the corn and does most of the spraying. He also manages the poultry house for us and gets a percentage of that. Ben is the mechanic and helps out and owns some farm equipment. Darren is mostly an animal person, but he does help out with the crops.

Each one is different, and that's why it seems to work out well. Each of the wives help out as well.

All three boys came back to the farm after they attended college. Around 2009, my husband began to talk about starting up a partnership or LLC. So we went to an accountant, and he told us what we needed to do and advised that we have a partnership. He told us to just put the cattle and the machinery in it and not the land. So in 2010, we did that.

And I learned a lot from the speaker this morning about relationships. One of the hardest things is communication, and I think that's where women play a very important role. Men seem to think they can read others' minds, and they don't talk about anything. Then they come to Mom and try to get her to figure it out. It doesn't always work. We as women are better communicators. With the father-son [dynamic], they get along fine, but they don't talk things out like they should.

So our plan is that they will have ownership as part of a partnership someday. The cattle, machinery and some land will be part of the partnership. But each one will have their own farm that they will have to buy from us.

STOLTZFUS: I grew up in Massachusetts on a small family farm, where we milked one cow. I met my husband in Michigan while I was working for Holstein [Association], and we dated long distance for a year. Then we moved to Pennsylvania. The day after my wedding, we loaded up a cattle trailer with my belongings in the front of a trailer and a team of oxen in the back of the trailer. That was our first move.

My husband has three brothers, and they all farm together. At the time, they were farming with their dad also. Each of the boys had left the farm for a little bit and then returned to the farm to come into a partnership with my father-in-law. So now we had five families that we need to support. We needed a property that was big enough, so we moved everything over the course of a nine-month time from Berks County into Somerset County.

We purchased two farms in Somerset County and recently purchased a third. We farm between 1,500 and 1,600 acres, both owned and rented. We milk 600 cows, and we have about 700-800 head of young stock. I feed calves, and my husband does the nutrition work. One of his brothers is in charge of equipment and machinery. One is in charge of crop work, and one is in charge of all the repro work. So that's why they get along. If everybody has a gift or a talent, and you can harness them all together, it goes smoothly. It does not go smoothly every day. But that is why it has worked so successfully for so long.

We have two big sets of kids that are hopefully coming into the farm. So this is a transition time where we're thinking, "What's next?"

Everybody has a horror story and everybody has an awesome story. The secret I guess is to communicate what we want our future story to be and somehow make it happen.

2014 Women in Dairy Conference presentation

Q. What do you really appreciate about working as part of a family?

WHITE: I like being able to see my father on a daily basis. Even though he can drive me up a wall and sometimes I wish he wouldn't come see me, I really do appreciate him being there and giving me the opportunity I have to work in this industry. My grandparents just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, and I wrote them a nice card, saying that because of them and what they started and their dedication, they've given me the opportunity to live in this lifestyle. I'm very appreciative of that. I like to have family luncheons and everyone get together and B.S. and talk and laugh. And we can still have fights, but at the end of the day, we're still family.

FORGY: I appreciate most that although we work together, we can still get together – usually around my table – and have a good time. One thing I always told the boys when they were growing up was, "You can get mad at each other, but you need to drop it then." That has helped tremendously with our relationships. Even when I get mad at them, I'm still able to talk to them, most of the time.

Another thing I told them was, "Your dad and I do what we think is right. Each child is different, and each situation that comes along is different. So I don't ever want to hear you say that we have not been fair." So far that has worked. It's great with the grandchildren and just together and have a good time. Sometimes you have to let the work go and just have family time.

STOLTZFUS: I'd say the biggest plus for me is having all that family within a three-mile radius. Most of us live on what I call "the compound," and there's another farm across town. I have six kids. The eldest is 14, and the youngest will be 6 next month. When they were little, I had a great need for childcare. And having my sisters-in-law and mother-in-law able to say, "Yes, I can watch them," was a blessing. My mother-in-law would come watch my kids first thing in the morning while I went to feed calves. I felt very blessed to have had that opportunity to do that.

I appreciate having my children surrounded by [the farming lifestyle] every day. Giving them a chance to care for animals and be compassionate about animals and the property we live on, you don't get that very often. We all as farm moms recognize that. It's a great place for them to grow up.

Q. How have the in-laws (either yourself as an in-law or the daughters/sons-in-law in your family) been incorporated into the structure of the ownership of the farm?

WHITE: Well, my husband's a truck driver, and he wants nothing to do with running the farm. He's happy with that, and I'm happy with that. It's just us girls, and the husbands do their own thing. Plus cousin Doug, who hasn't found a woman yet – if anyone's looking! But it's family-owned, and we don't really bring in the out-laws.

HARDING: Thank you, Candice. Always a pleasure.

STOLTZFUS: I'm not sure I can follow that. When I got married, I was no stranger to farm work. I had done much of it growing up. But I went from milking one cow to milking 60 cows. It wasn't expected for me to be in the barn, but I didn't really want to work anywhere else. I like milking the cows, but I like feeding the calves better. Each of the in-laws – each of the wives – has played a role in the farm, active or inactive, as employees have been available or the workload has been available.

Partnership-wise, our husbands are the partners in the business. They're the ones whose names are on all the papers. They're the ones responsible for making the day-to-day decisions. We [the wives] are of course active and interested in what they're going to do, but we are not part of Pennwood's partnership operation. Now as we move forward, that may change. Now that all of our children are older and we have grandchildren more interested in playing a bigger role than just being chore kids. But I can't say what will happen with those kids.

Q. How do you approach team meetings?

WHITE: With Larry and John, they meet every morning and have their "discussion of the world" and talk about what's going to happen over the day or what needs to be done. And if there's anything on my end with the dairy, my father will come up and relay that message to me. Normally when we have the team meeting [with consultants] that comes every couple of months, we sit down an hour before and have lunch together. We discuss any kind of topic that we're having. But with our team meetings, where we bring in the nutritionist and the veterinarian and all the family members, and Lisa Holden has been the facilitator, I feel like she has helped our family become better and stronger.

Our next team meeting comes the day before Thanksgiving. And we all have goals – three-year, five-year and 10-year. And we all have to come to this meeting and sit down and talk about our goals. Our family has never done that. It's kind of neat that we're all going to come together and start talking about what the future holds and what our plans are for it.

Q. How do you have the conversation with family members about whether or not they'll come back to the farm?

STOLTZFUS: You want kids to come back. You hope that they do. Of the five oldest kids [of the next generation], three of them have graduated college and two are currently still in college. Two have expressed not returning to the farm at all, and we've said, "That's fine." We still like them. We still want them to return to family functions. They don't complain about working on the farm, but they have said they do not wish to return as full-time farmers. Then there are three more that we don't know.

So I think the first step is to come right out and ask them, "Do you want to be a part of this farm? And if you do, how do you want to become part of the farm? Do you want to work as an employee? Do you want to go somewhere else and work five years, two years? Do you want to work both elsewhere and on the farm?" There are so many ways to address that, but you have to first ask them. Equal isn't always fair, and fair isn't always equal. But you need to ask. You can just plan and hope that everyone will return and live in a happy community. You need to say right out, "What do you want to do?"

FORGY: We felt the boys needed to leave the farm for a while, so that's why they went to college. And when they went, we said, "You may come back. But you don't have to come back." That's also why we made the stipulation that they had to work for us for five years [before entering the partnership]. Hopefully in the five years, it will be settled whether or not they want to stay.

Q. If you could do something differently in your business, what would it be?

FORGY: Five years ago, the boys were starting to graduate from college, and I thought I would be able to phase out. That has not happened. And I don't think it's going to be happening anytime soon. But I think that's where we as women play a way more important part in the dairy than what we realize. PD

PHOTO 1: The panel featured Andrea Stoltzfus, Berlin, Pennsylvania; Betty Forgy, McVeytown, Pennsylvania; and Candice (Dotterer) White, Mill Hall, Pennsylvania.

PHOTO 2: Jeff Harding of Elanco moderated the panel discussion. Photos by Emily Caldwell.