The decision to return to the family farm is one of the most thought out and deliberate choices a person can make. Navigating through the logistics, weighing the pros and cons, and ultimately deciding the course for your life is a big undertaking. However, the future holds a few more obstacles to overcome being the new, young face joining a farm.
Even though I grew up on my family’s 250-cow dairy farm, I felt like the “new kid on the block” when I came home in 2015 to make it my full-time career. The long-time farm employees who once gave me rides in the tractor as a little girl would now be coming to me as a decision maker and manager. Within the first two years of being back, we’ve also decided to expand the dairy by building a new milking facility and growing our herd to 700 milking cows.
Based on my own personal experience as not only a young farmer, but as a young female farmer, here are a few tips to get you started on your future farming career:
Still a student
Congratulations! Your formal education is in the rearview. However, the learning process has only just begun upon returning to the farm. What you learn, how you learn and who you learn it from will differ drastically from the traditional classroom. I found that I learned nearly as much my first month on the farm from our employees than I had in four years at a university. You can learn a tremendous amount from long-term employees who know their jobs inside and out. Take time to learn their roles and appreciate how their contributions help the farm operate and succeed.
Respect is earned
Even if you return to the farm in a managerial or ownership role, your boots still need to get dirty. Immerse yourself in every aspect of the farm and put effort into learning all the jobs – even if you may not be directly involved with them in the future. In order to manage a business, you need to know the ins and outs of how it works. Working alongside each employee or family member helps you learn the business, and demonstrates your willingness to work hard and put in the hours. This is a big component of how you will earn the respect of your colleagues.
Balance is key
When you’re new to any company, a decent amount of time is spent “learning the ropes” and proving your dedication to the business. This means early mornings, late nights and an eagerness to help anyone – at any time. In order to maintain sanity, a work-life balance needs to be established from the very beginning. Make sure to take time to keep yourself healthy, find hobbies outside of the agriculture world and meet new people.
Family versus colleague
There is a distinct difference between the relationship you have with your family and your working relationship with family. The conversations you have on business-related topics should take on a different tone and professionalism than those you have around the kitchen table, especially when employees are present. It is important for members of your team to see you and a family member as work colleagues, regardless of your family ties.
Pave your own path
Your family or farm name may be known throughout your community, but it’s important to make your own relationships and take the time to network as an individual. You will be able to bring fresh, new insights and connect with an entirely new group of people that may be beneficial to your business. Join new organizations, fly solo at conferences and events, and become confident on your own two feet.
Keep these tips in mind as you take the leap into a challenging, but extremely rewarding career in agriculture and work each day to become a valued, respected member of your family farm.
The Dairy Strong Bloggers series is brought to you on behalf of the Dairy Strong Conference, Jan. 17-18, 2018, in Madison, Wisconsin. This event focuses on cutting-edge technology, cultural trends and the future of the dairy community. Learn more and register at the Dairy Strong website.
Zoey Brooks is a sixth-generation dairy and grain farmer from Waupaca, Wisconsin. She served as Wisconsin’s 67th Alice in Dairyland before returning to the farm to start her farming career.
- Chief Operating Officer
- Brooks Farms
- Waupaca, Wisconsin