Dairy farming; it’s a way of life

By Megan Gronau

“Cock-a-doodle-do!” The alarm sounds at 3:30 a.m. Time to wake up and brave the elements for the day ahead. Like most dairy farmers, Rachel Hefel, 19 of Epworth, IA rolls out of bed at this time. She puts on her boots and heads out the door to the barn to round up cattle for morning milking.

Rachel milks with her parents on their family farm. Both of her parents grew up farming and established their own farm in 1990. Rachel also is heavily involved with showing cattle all over the country from county fair shows to the World Dairy Expo and other big shows. Being a dairy farmer isn’t easy, when adding showing cattle into the mix, it ends up being a job only a hardworking and driven person can do. It takes the strongest love to accomplish what they do.

What is a normal day like for you?

I start my day by bottle-feeding the calves and currently I have 30 to feed. Then I go back into the parlor to help finish milking and clean up. All the outside calves and heifers are to be fed and watered, followed by the show heifers which have a separate pen. Next is to do “odds and ends” jobs around the farm like scraping yards, bedding pens, fixing machinery, etc. Once all the morning chores are complete, there is time to have a quick lunch before heading back outside for afternoon/evening chores. Milking starts back up at 3-3:30 p.m. once the cattle are all in the barn. Calves are bottle fed again and are given grain. Once everything is finished, it all gets cleaned up so it’s ready for the next day. Most nights we are done with everything around 7 p.m. Also depending on the time of year, I could be working show cattle by leading and washing them or I could be helping with field work.

Are you planning to continue your family’s legacy?

I’m hoping to continue my family’s legacy. I want to continue milking but also broaden my ability to raise and develop show cattle. 

How does showing cattle affect your life?

With showing I get to meet a lot of new people all over the world and make connections for future adventures. If/when I decide to sell some of my show cattle, gaining winning titles from big shows increases the cattle’s worth.

Are there any struggles or challenges in the Dairy Industry?

There are many challenges in the dairy industry today. The current milk price is low which causes a lot of small family farms to sell out. Last year’s harsh winter killed a lot of hay ground, making hay more expensive. Another challenge is the wet season, it alters planting and harvesting times which brings rise to additional challenges on the farm.

Do you enjoy doing it or is it more of an obligation?

I enjoy being a part of the farm and I see myself staying in the dairy industry for the rest of my life. Working in harsh conditions sometimes makes it less enjoyable, but the cattle are the number one priority 24 hours a day for 7 days a week and all 365 days a year. For farmers there are no days off.

Rachel Hefel poses with her Brown Swiss Aged Cow Ruby after winning Supreme Cow Champion at the Iowa State Fair in August.
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