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Why I Farm

Beck's Why I Farm Roadtrip: Virginia Farmer, Coley Drinkwater

Published on Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Coley Drinkwater is a world traveler, entrepreneur and dairy farmer. Every morning her alarm goes off at 3:19 a.m. to start another day working alongside her family at Richlands Dairy Farm. This isn’t how she always pictured her life, but she loves it.


  

"I went to school for human nutrition, food and exercise because we weren’t encouraged to come back to the farm. I was thinking about doing occupational therapy when I graduated, but I would have to go on full-time for another two and a half years for occupational therapy. I was like, ‘I just want a break from school.’ I’d always wanted to travel the world, so I thought, ‘If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it now while I don’t have any real responsibilities to anyone.’ I worked as a waitress and saved my tips for a year and a half, and then bought a plane ticket and went around the world. It was just awesome. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I got home in early August and they were getting ready to start chopping corn. My dad needed help and I was broke. I already knew how to do what we were doing so he wasn’t going to have to train anybody. I needed the money and I could live for free at my parents’ house, so I started working for him. Then I was like, ‘I always enjoyed the farm. I don’t know if I really want to go back to school.’ I took that time to decide, ‘Is this what I want to do? Is this where my heart is? Or is this going to be the kick in the butt I need to go to grad school.’ I’ve been here ever since. I just fell in love with it.”

 


There’s no other way to explain it. Coley loves being with their cows and calves. “It’s very satisfying work. One thing my husband sometimes complains about is that he doesn’t see the end results of his work. I do. When you raise a calf to a cow, you see the difference you’ve made. That’s very rewarding. I like the challenge of it. You should always be learning and figuring out how to improve. We’re constantly doing that here.”


Technology helps everyone on the family care for their land and keep the cows happy. “We have a manure management plan which is basically a fancy way of saying, ‘this is what we do with our poop.’ We take soil samples, send them off to the lab to be analyzed, and we get the results back. This is all regulated by the government. There’s an agent that comes out and we show him our soil sample results. We tell him how much manure we’d like to put on this field, he looks at it to make sure the soil can handle it, and they approve it. We don’t want to put manure on a field that it can’t absorb because it will just run off. We’re being good stewards and using our resources responsibly.” 


In addition to their manure management plan, each cow wears a device similar to a Fitbit to track their activity and identify them as they come into the parlor to be milked. This helps Coley and the other milkers detect unusual behavior that may signal a cow is feeling sick.



Milking 365 days a year takes a special kind of commitment. “If you’re going to be a dairy farmer, you’re dedicating to milking, feeding, taking care of, and cleaning up after your cows. We don’t shut down for Christmas, Thanksgiving, your birthday, or when it snows outside and the schools shut down. We come in, we plow the roads, and we do what we have to do to continue operating the farm. We milk two times a day. I’m usually here a little after 4:00 a.m. By the time we get the milkers hooked up and ready to go, the cows are here, it’s about 4:30 a.m. They milk again in the afternoon at 4:30 p.m.”


The cows live a comfortable life. “When they come out of the milking parlor, someone’s made them food, someone’s made their bed.” On top of clean stalls and a custom diet, the cows have large fans, shade and a sprinkler system to keep them cool. 




“If you were a smart cow, you would be one of the first 20 cows through the parlor, because we can milk 10 on each side. You might work for 30 minutes a day. If you were a cow that always wanted to be one of the last ones through, you might work for two, two and a half hours today and most of that would just be your commute, just standing there waiting to be milked. I don’t think that’s too shabby. My day is usually done by 12 p.m., which isn’t bad. My dad, sister-in-law and my brother get here about 6-7:00 a.m. They are done when their day is done. If we’re harvesting, it’s not uncommon to work a 12 to 18-hour work day. If my brother is planting, he’ll plant until 2 or 3:00 a.m. in the morning. From about 4:00 a.m. in the morning to 9:00 p.m. at night, this farm is actively working. There’s always something going on.”


Soon, even more excitement is coming to the farm. “For 10 years now, I’ve wanted to open a creamery to process our own milk so we can sell our own fluid milk and ice cream. I’ve finally talked my father and brother into it. My goal is this time next year; we’ll be serving our own ice cream at Family Farm Day.”  This new adventure is exciting, but also expensive. A Go Fund Me Page has been started to help Richland’s Dairy achieve their goal.


“I farm because I feel called to. I love the challenge, it’s where my heart is, and I love working with my family. Farming gives my life purpose. When I fulfill that purpose I feel like I am my truest self and, most of the time, my best version of me. I think that to do anything other than farm would feel like a dishonest life. I am fortunate that my purpose is also my passion. Farm life is hard, oh so hard, but it also has many blessings such as working with family, eating homemade snacks at Grandma’s, and watching my niece grow up.” 


That’s why Coley Drinkwater farms.

 

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