Love of farming can often be like the love between two people. It can be beautiful, but is oftentimes messy. You share the joy of births but also the sorrow of loss. You celebrate your successes, but you also struggle through the hardships. Some days in farming though, depending on weather, finances, equipment breakdowns, and endless other variables, the struggles can seem to outweigh the successes.
Fortunately, when you have someone as devoted as you are, you have faith that you will be able to clear the multitude of hurdles placed in your path and eventually make a life and a foundation on which future generations will build.
“You don’t farm unless you love it,” says dairy farmer Sam Webber, 25, of Farmington. “You’d be crazy to otherwise.”
His wife Lauren, 22, has the same sentiment. “What other profession do you know of, where you go to work every single day?” she asks. Growing up on a dairy farm in Farmington, she was well-acquainted with the hard work and dedication required to run a farm.
“I always said I was not going to marry a farmer,” she says. “No way, not gonna do it.” She laughs and adds, “My mother said the same thing, and then she married a dairy farmer from Maine.” Lauren’s mother was raised on a dairy farm in New York.
Dairy farming brought Sam and Lauren together, though it took a while. She was just 15 when he came up to her parents’ farm one day to check on a cow that he was keeping there. “My cow had just calved,” he says.
Lauren was doing the feeding that day. “He asked me how Flossie was,” she remembers. “I said, ‘You mean Moses?’ Dad hadn’t known what the cow’s name was, so he just took to calling her Moses. Sam and I argued about what the cow’s name really was.”
It would be almost five years before they actually started their romance. He came into the restaurant where she worked one day. As fate would have it, that evening she went with her father to another farm – the farm where Sam happened to be working – and things progressed from there.
Growing up in New Vineyard, Sam’s family raised beef cows, but he saw more potential in dairy and has worked to build his herd and a farm since high school. “I used my graduation money to buy a tedder [a piece of equipment used for haying],” he says. He labored on other area farms through high school and after graduation, collecting knowledge and experience before starting his own operation.
Lauren’s family, the Baileys, milk about 65 cows on an organic farm not far from where she and Sam farm. Before she had her first baby, Lauren would help her parents milk in the morning before heading off to her day job. Now she has two young daughters – Ezamai, 16 months, and Ezailia, 3 months – to bundle up before heading to the barn to help Sam milk at 6 a.m. “I like to work out in the morning, so I get up at about 3. Then I get the girls up at 5:30 to come down here.” Sam helps feed cows and clean the barns up to the Bailey farm during the day.
“I know I have a job every day,” he says of the draw of farming life. “I’m not going to get laid off.”
Sam and Lauren currently milk about 30 cows, though they usually average 43. While they are currently classified as conventional, the couple is transitioning to organic. That means they are getting paid the lower price of conventional milk, while paying the higher price of organic feed. Their cows must be on organic feed for one year, and they must use organic practices on their hay and corn fields for three years before they can be certified organic.
The Webbers pay $600 per ton of grain, which lasts about one week. “One-third of my milk check goes to grain,” Sam says. “Every so often I have to sell my worst cow to get feed for the others. You’ve got to have good feed for you cows. Dairy cows have got to be comfy, and they have good grain to give milk.” Because he was selling off cows to pay for the feed, and he ran into a three-month period when he wasn’t having calves, Sam’s milking numbers went from 48 cows to as low as 25, which meant his milk check was decreasing, while many of his expenses weren’t.
He does not own the farm and barn, where he currently houses and milks his cows. He pays rent and pours money and time and labor into repairing the aging buildings so that his cows are more comfortable and protected from the elements. The Webbers also pay rent on their home, and Sam hays more than 200 acres and grows his own corn, meaning he has bills for equipment and the repairs that come with that equipment.
“I’m in debt up to my ears,” he says. Always looking for the bright side, he adds, “But if I wasn’t spending money on my farm, I’d be spending it on something stupid.”
“Try finding a farm with any land,” Sam says. The farm he currently works has limited open farm land available with it.
“A housing development is going in across the road,” Lauren adds. “We’re going to be hurting when there are no farms left.”
Which is another reason for the Webbers to persevere. As history has a way of repeating itself, there is a good chance their daughters will be farmers. “It’s good to have women farmers. They have that motherly instinct,” Lauren says while feeding calves one morning. Ezamai has already taken an interest. “She moos at them all the time. She has no fear of the cows,” Lauren says, adding that it makes her nervous at times.
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1/2 cup brewed coffee (optional, but it always helps to bring out the chocolate flavor)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla