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August 17th, 2009
12:05 PM ET

Sour times for dairy farms

If you went grocery shopping this weekend, you might've noticed you paid less for a gallon of milk. That's good for your family budget, but as our Deb Feyerick found out – it's hurting a lot of mom and pop dairy farmers out there.

Behind the scenes: A baby is born

By Stephen Samaniego

Our assignment was to shoot a story on the economic plight of the dairy farmer, but we got so much more than we bargained for. We were lucky enough to take part in the birth of a calf, while not rare for a farm with over 400 cows, it was a thrill for us nonetheless. We were taking a tour of the farm with owner Alan Bourbeau when we heard a loud groan come from the woods across the street. After we gave him looks of confusion, he explained to us that one of his heifers was in labor. So, we all jumped into the back of his truck and drove across the street to trek through cow patties to find the cow.

After navigating ankle deep "mud," we found a cow in labor laying on her side nestled between some trees. Alan was concerned with the area she was laying in because if she gave birth in that spot there was a high risk of the mother stepping on the calf after the birth. He approached the heifer with caution and was able to coax her into moving locations. Once Alan had her in a place he felt she and her calf would be safe, he backed off and she laid down. At this point the heifer had been in labor for a few hours and she had only been able to push out the front hooves of the calf. She was exhausted but Alan wanted to give her a few more minutes to see if she could birth the calf on her own. She gave it her all but she was out of energy. Alan's solution... pull the calf out himself.

Alan ran across the street and grabbed some birthing utensils which happened to be 4 foot long chains with handles at the end of them. He flanked the heifer and delicately wrapped the chains around the hooves of the pre-born calf trying not to hurt her or startle it's mother. Once they were secured, Alan started to pull with all his body weight and the mother let out a hair-raising moan but the calf would not budge. He then summoned our reporter Deb Feyerick to come help him. She cautiously approached the rear of the cow and Alan handed her one of the handles. Both of them pulled leaning into it but their efforts were futile so they recruited me.

At this point, everyone wanted to get that calf out, no one more than the mother cow herself. I grabbed one of the handles along with Deb and we pulled with every bit of strength we had as Alan helped the mother cow work out the calf. After about a minute of pulling we felt some movement and out popped the head! We were thrilled but we had about ¾ of the calf still to go. We continued to pull and pull and pull. After several minutes of giving it everything we had, the tension finally released, sending us onto our backs and the newborn calf into the world.

Although none of us lost a watch in the process, we named her Norma in an ode to City Slickers.

Filed under: Economy
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Stephanie

    your math may be good but when you have a 40- $50,000.00 feedbill and about $ 800.00 amonth for health insurance just for your own family, electric bills upwards of $1,000.00 amonth not counting vehicle payments or repairs. tractor repairs or payment s , land rent , house payment, clothes for you and your family , food for same, regular expenses for your children they cost just like yours labor (minimum wage it you are any competion for your competion) Usually their housing and utilities are also your responsibility. Insurance for all these vehicles, houses, tractors and such , equipment repairs almost daily, torn down fences, countless hours guarding your precious fertilizer that the druggies now steal to make their drugs not to mention the cost of the ferilizer, seed is also 3 times the price it was three yrs ago.. I agree with the others I think everyone should have to run a farm for a year then you can stand up and speak and it is not just dairy what are you going to do when your milk and meat come from china? when we are all gone it will be too late for us then maybe you will come and farm.

    September 10, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  2. Darlene

    Yes milk was sky high last year but what you don't know is that our feed prices were also sky high. When everyone was upset about how food prices had gone up so had the price paid for corn, hay and other grains that are fed to cows. I enjoyed the math that was done above but you forgot other expenses: paid employees, workman's comp, electricity, veternarian care(our cows get better medical attention than many people do)medicines, health insurance for employees, feed which alone can be 75 to 90% of expenses these days, supplies, repairs (milk barns break down too) gasoline, diesel and no days off. You don't just not milk cows on Saturday and Sunday. Yes alot of money comes in and then you sit down and pay your bills and it is all gone. All this hard work and love for your cows and no profit! What you pay in the grocery store is not what we get paid for our milk. I am getting 80 cents a gallon, is that what your paying in the grocery store right now! NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 4, 2009 at 9:44 pm |
  3. Polly Maylott

    Go girl!! Nicole, I say let them try and farm for a week – I don't think they would last that long. They really don't know what is involved in running a farm. I have a brother-in-law that gave up dairy farming because it didn't make any money. Like you say, you have to feed the cows, pay for help, etc. I'm with you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 22, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  4. Nicole Bourbeau

    My comment is directed torward D. Porter. You may want to do a little more research. When you take into account how much the equipment cost and the cost to maintain and repair it as well as paying for gas for all the tractors, feed the cattle and pay your workers it doesn't leave much revenue at all with the milk prices the way they are now.

    August 21, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  5. michael armstrong sr.

    It was'nt more then a few months ago that milk was almost six dollars a gallon and people were left with a choice a gallon of milk or a gallon of gas if any one is to blame its the oil companys and enviromentelist and food and grain distributors for not equalizing the price of food with the price of fuel with transportation cost.

    August 18, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  6. linda pike

    When the milk prices went thru the roof serveral years ago (2.99-5.000 a gallon) the price increase did not go to the dairy farmer..... while still living in Ohio at that time, I knew several local farmers that were as irate as we the general public over the cost increases-- due to the fact that the farmer did not receive this increase-- actually their rates to sell had dropped--- like everything else broken in this country of greed the increase went to the distributer and grocer-- 1 friend actually closed up the milk production that her family had had for 3 generations in disgust- another fought tooth n nail for fairer price -– again corporate greed the american way

    August 18, 2009 at 5:56 am |
  7. Polly Maylott

    If it wasn't for the farmers sticking with it, there would be no milk in the stores. So don't give them a hard time. It costs a lot of money to raise cows, feed them, etc. With this season with so much rain there isn't much hay this year, so they are going to have to buy hay from some place else. They work long hours, and work hard every day. You will lwish someday when there are no farmers that are raising milking cows that Obama helped the farmers out instead of these auto makers. At least the money would go to a hard working person and not some executive sitting in an office and collecting his salary. Do you realize how much equipment they need to run a dairy farm????
    Why don't you spend a day working on a farm and see if you don't think afterwards that they deserve more than the auto makers!!!

    August 17, 2009 at 8:08 pm |
  8. Bob

    I think you find out that the "Pay Czar" is at the root of the drop in the price of milk to the farmers...he has the authority to make binding decisions and use a "clawback" provision to go after compensation from any company getting money from the US Treasury........this drop in milk income will likely cause the farmers to turn the cattle into steak diners......and I suspect its part of the Cap & Trade policy to cut methane gas & CO2 emmissions in the atmosphere....since cattle are susposed to be the number one culprit........less cattle, less gas......and fewer meadow to them helping with the birth, I suspect this is part of thenew proposed Health Care initiatives wasy of cutting your own deliverys.....what do you expect in a state with the only socialist senator.

    August 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  9. D. Porter

    Can someone explain to me how milk be anywhere from 2.99 – 5.00 a gallon. Why such a large spread? And no is not the organic milk either.

    Since milk is a commodity it has a supply and demand – when milk was $19.00 per 100 pounds now it as $11.00 per 100 pounds. They were making very good money, now they are not. 100 pounds of milk is about 11.5 gallons of milk. Most cows make about 7 gallons a day.

    So if this man has more than 400 cows @ 7 gallons a piece = that is 2800 gallons of milk. Now a gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds. That is 24080 pounds of milk a day . So at $19.00 per 100 pounds for lets say 300 days on average of milk production that is 1,372,560 dollars a year – @ $11 dollars it is 794,640 a year.

    Yes it is a drop in revenue – but like everyone else you need to budget – so when milk was at $19 did he pay off bills and save or did he go hog wild?

    It amazes me CONSTANTLY that people scream FREE MARKET FREE MARKET – Yet have no problem when the Government bails them out with a subsidy. You cant have it both ways people...

    Maybe it is time for some steak dinners instead of making milk – get enough farmers on board an your commodity price will raise.

    August 17, 2009 at 2:05 pm |