When I was getting ready for my college graduation, I never would have guessed the journey my life would take. I guess everyone says that, but it really is true in this case.
When graduation day was looming, I had a panic attack and decided I was going to get my master’s degree. Why go into the real world when it sounded so much easier to continue with classes? Putting this into perspective, I had a history of continuing with school rather than moving into the brave new world.
Getting a bachelor’s degree after graduating from a dairy shortcourse program was the best decision I could have made, but I continued with school for the wrong reasons. At the time I made that decision because I was afraid of what was out there in the “real world.”
I will forever be thankful to my mother who told me, “No, you will absolutely not be getting your master’s degree right now.” She told me I could go back to college after I worked for a while. After taking a calm, rational moment to think about it, I realized my mom was right.
There was something about making that decision that scared me. I still wasn’t sure which career path I wanted to take, which was frightening to me. I had an inkling that farming was where I would end up, but I was not totally convinced.
After graduation, I jumped right into an internship and two sales jobs, one in nutrition and the other in reproduction. My jobs took me through two years’ time after graduation. Shortly after I started working in sales, I knew going back to the family farm was what I wanted.
It wasn’t hard to figure it out. When you’re envious of all of the farmers you work with, you know you’re on the wrong track. I was envious that they could work directly with the cows every day. They also were their own bosses, which was something I saw as an important trait in a long-term career.
In all honesty, there is only one thing I miss about being in sales – having regular time off. Even though I liked weekends off, dairy farming was the career choice for me.
On April 1, 2011, I transitioned back onto the family farm as a full-time employee. I began training as the full-time herdswoman and, since then, have taken over the daily care and management of the cows. I finally know I’m where I’m supposed to be.
To me this is the biggest success – finally being at a job where I feel fulfilled. Getting to work with my parents on a daily basis is the ultimate opportunity. Being able to carry on the family’s business and heritage is an honor for me. It sounds idealistic, but there is something exciting about saying I am one of many generations of dairy farmers in my family.
It has been almost a year since I’ve returned to the farm, but the transition between my parents and I is a constant evolution. I am the oldest child and my parents are still very young, which adds a relatively unique challenge.
The generational transfer of a farm is challenging enough; imagine adding more hurdles to work around. My coming home to the farm wasn’t met with all joy and excitement. Although my parents were excited about having the farm carry on, it complicated things from their end.
If none of their children were going to come home to the farm, they were going to sell the cows. Their goal has always been to quit milking cows by the time they were 50 years old.
The balancing act of bringing me into the farm, as well as keeping my parents’ goal of retiring from the day-to-day work with the cows, has been a test. Thankfully, my parents want to give me a chance to succeed in the business, and I want to give them the freedom they’ve always wanted.
Honestly, having my parents around to help when needed is a lifesaver. Having the extra time to learn from my parents and take some of the stress off of them has been a lucky thing for all of us.
Although we have had late nights sitting around the kitchen table crunching numbers, trying to make this transition happen, in the end it will be worth it – like when I can raise a fourth generation on this farm.
A lot of people say my two years working out in the industry was a waste of time when I knew I was going to come home to the farm. However, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I would encourage anyone thinking about going back to the family farm to get industry experience.
Get as much as you can. You will be amazed at what you will learn about farming by being in sales or service. The more farms you set foot on will give you an advantage when it comes your turn as a farm manager. I brought back a better understanding of reproduction, nutrition, facilities and evaluating my own management.
In addition, you will be amazed at the wonderful and dynamic people you will meet.
When I think about how far I have come since arriving at Michigan State University as a student, it’s amazing. I never would have dreamed my hard work and passion would take me across the world a couple of times.
I never would have imagined I would move to California at 19 years old and support myself while working on a 2,000-cow dairy, such as I did at Fernjo Farms. Never would I have imagined all of the people I have met and gotten to know.
Although I feel like the same person, I know more things and I have changed greatly. The transition from working in the industry to being an active part of my family’s dairy has given me a great deal of personal satisfaction. The days are long and the time off is scarce, but there is no place I would rather be.
Working with parents as supportive as mine has been a blessing. In turbulent and challenging times like these, support is more important than anything else in the dairy industry. PD
Ashley R. Messing
- Messing Dairy
- Bad Axe, Michigan