Dairy farmer Joanna Lidback, her husband and her three children are up before the Vermont sunrise, commencing another day at the Farm at Wheeler Mountain. After Lidback sends her two boys to school and drops her daughter off at daycare, she hikes down to the barn, which is less than a mile away from their house. Lidback is greeted by the soft mooing of the brown Jerseys and the black and white Holsteins, and she feeds them before heading back home to her job as a consultant for other dairy farmers.
Balancing her duties as a mother, farmer and consultant during the COVID-19 pandemic proved challenging at times for Lidback, especially because she did not have any hired help on the farm at the beginning of lockdown. However, Lidback’s greatest motivation has been her children and being able to watch them grow and take hold of different tasks on the farm.
“They were playing while I was milking the cows, and I came in and I spotted them sitting down and having a snack. They were just getting along so well and I just wanted to go and hug them all, but couldn’t because I was milking,” said Lidback. “It’s been hard, but being able to spend it with them has been the biggest reward.”
The farm’s motto is: giving the best care to our cows, farming sustainably with future generations in mind. Lidback prioritizes sustainability on the farm by practicing rotational grazing, which consists of letting the cows graze in one area for a few days and then moving them to another pasture to allow the grass to grow again.
Another priority on Lidback’s farm is the wellbeing of her cows. According to Lidback, it is well known in the dairy industry that “if you take care of the cows, they’ll take care of you.” Some of the ways that Lidback takes additional care of her cows is by hiring a nutritionist to balance their diet and by feeding them natural supplements.
“Farmers spend a lot of time thinking about cow comfort,” said Lidback. “There’s a whole section in dairy magazines about cow comfort. We spend time measuring the lying down time of the cow and knowing what optimal lying down time is for her to support her wellbeing and to support her making the milk that she can.”
The cows are also a lively source of joy for Lidback. One of Lidback’s favorite memories was when a cow had gotten away from the herd and found her way to an order of powdered grain that had arrived too early and was left on the ground of the three-sided shed for the time being.
“It was almost as if she knew that we had this pile of grain that we never have on the ground,” said Lidback. “She’s a black and white cow—a Holstein and a Jersey cross—so she’s got pretty unique features, but she’s mostly black with some white on her head. Well, with all the grain dust, she just looked so funny like a kid who had gotten into the cookie jar!”
Lidback has been a dairy farmer for 12 years with 80 cows on her farm, but she is also a consultant for 10 other farmers and a mother to 3 children. Her different perspectives allow her to better understand others, both as a producer and consumer.
“My hope is that we are able to share our passion, our compassion for our cows, our love of the land and our values,” said Lidback. “At the end of the day, our values as dairy farmers are the same as consumers. I think consumers want what’s best for the cows ultimately and I think dairy farmers want the same.”