The country’s small dairy farms are becoming extinct as more and more of them are having to shut down due to lower milk prices and rising costs of fuel and feed.
In Plainfield, Vermont, The McLaren brother’s farm had become the last holdout in a town that once was home to dozens of dairy farms. However, now even the McLaren Brothers, a third-generation dairy family, has had to auction off all its 200 cows and equipment and shutdown business. They become the 14th overall Vermont dairy farm to shut down just in the past year, in a state once known for its dairy farming.
“The day of the small farms, I think, is gone,” said Steve MacLaren, 54. “A lot of people are going to hold on as long as they can, but we decided not to. Why struggle on it any longer?”
Most of the small dairy farmers blame the fact they cannot make ends meet when the price of milk keeps dropping but the cost of running their operation continues to rise.
One of the things, that have risen in cost is feed, which the McLaren’s say they will now convert their 500 acre farm to, growing hay and silage on.
One McLaren brother is looking forward to the change in farming strategy and believes it will be an easier and more profitable way of making a living.
“No matter what, you’ve got a sick cow or a cow having a calf, you’ve gotta be around whether it’s 1:00 in the morning, or it’s whatever time, you’ve got to take care of them,” said Michael MacLaren, 48. “But if you’ve got a tractor break down, you can walk away from it. It’s just a long hard grind, and I decided I’d like a change.”
According to the last agricultural census conducted in 2007, though the amount of dairy cows themselves has not dropped, the number of dairy farms, they are raised on has. In 2002 there were around 92,000 farms compared to less than 70,000 in 2007.
Small farms containing between 100 and 199 cows fell from 11,000 to 9,000, and farms containing more than 1,000 cows grew from 1,300 to 1,600 in the same time period, with states like California and Texas becoming the dairy capitols that once belonged to Vermont and Wisconsin.
“It’s a dying business,” said Ron Wright, owner of Wrights Auction Service in Derby, VT., said of the small dairy farmer, who expects to twice as many auctions of dairy farm equipment this year than he did last year.