A few months ago, I stepped into my boss’s office for my annual review. I sat down and listened as my boss gave me a lot of positive feedback and a couple of things to work on. He offered me a raise, gave me a generous bonus, and after all of that, I told him I had decided to return to my family’s dairy farm.
It wasn’t that I was unhappy. I enjoyed what I was doing, and felt like after three years of being a dairy nutritionist, I had a great start that could flourish into a wonderful, long-term career.
I remember feeling sick to my stomach as I told my boss and the rest of our team. I felt as if I was giving up everything. I had to say goodbye to my customers, many of whom had become close friends. I gave up my company vehicle, credit card, cell phone and laptop. I gave up my weekends off and other benefits including health and dental insurance. Meanwhile, my husband, Robb, and I put our first home on the market so we could move closer to my family farm.
Six weeks later (after transitioning all my accounts to other members of our team), my husband and I moved a truckload of our belongings to our new rented duplex and I started working on my family’s dairy farm the very next morning.
No, I’m not crazy
You may be asking, why? Why would I give up a job I loved for longer hours without benefits? I must be crazy, right?
To be honest, a few people told me I was crazy. However, despite the negativity and giving up all the perks that came with my former job, I decided to take a chance and follow my dreams.
I never realized how lucky I was to have a family farm until I was working away from the farm. Most of my life it had been something I took for granted. I began talking to my boyfriend (now my husband) about my passion to farm. Fortunately, we both share that passion as he also grew up on a dairy farm. He was very supportive and encouraged me to follow my dreams. After much consideration, I shared my intentions with my parents, Peter and Cindy McFarland (current owners of our family farm).
They were shocked, but very excited! We started succession planning one year prior to me returning home with some outside help. The plan is to be an employee for a year to make sure it is definitely what I want to do and then start buying into the dairy.
A few good reasons
One of the many reasons I decided to return to my family farm is my love for animals. I’m extremely passionate about dairy cattle, and as early as I can remember, I was in the barn. I went wherever my mom went. I remember helping my grandma feed calves, and to this day, I am in awe every time a calf is born and love working with the babies.
Another reason I’ve decided to return to the farm is our long-standing family history of farming.
My family’s farm, McFarlandale Dairy in Watertown, Wisconsin, has been in our family for 164 years. I represent the sixth generation to be involved. I’m extremely proud of my father and grandfather for the hard work and sacrifice to make the farm what it is today, along with the generations that came before them. However, I must credit the whole family, as it is truly a family affair.
I didn’t want a ‘job’
For me, the farm isn’t just another job. It’s a lifestyle. There are no weekends or holidays, and it’s hard work, but I believe the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. I have the opportunity to work alongside my parents, and hope to raise my own children on the farm someday.
There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment after a hard day’s work or seeing a newborn calf hit the ground. It’s kind of crazy, but the hours don’t seem so bad when you truly enjoy what you are doing and you’re chasing your own dreams, not someone else’s. For me, it’s the dream of owning the farm someday and having the independence of being my own boss and a business owner.
I know it’s not going to be easy – farming is much different today than when my parents and grandparents started. The market is more volatile; the margins are smaller; and it’s more competitive than ever. Technology continues to evolve in all aspects of our business, and it takes a great team to thrive.
But as a millennial, I am quick to adopt new technology and love working as a team. Through my previous employer, I learned about dairy nutrition, management and much more. The connections I made will continue to help me in my future. It is with great confidence that I have returned to my family’s dairy farm and will give it everything I have so that it will continue for generations to come.
The Dairy Strong Bloggers series is brought to you on behalf of the Dairy Strong Conference, Jan. 18-19 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.
Christine Bender dairy farms with her parents and grandparents in Watertown, Wisconsin.
PHOTO: Left to right: Christine Bender and her parents, Cindy and Peter McFarland, farm in Watertown, Wisconsin. Photo provided by Christine Bender.