Some synonyms for tenacity are: perseverance, diligence, stubbornness, spunk, grit, guts, courage, moxie, doggedness and resolve. Any of these are good descriptors of dairy farmers, in my opinion.  Some antonyms are: idleness, cowardice, weakness, slackness, indifference and fear. These words do not sound like dairy farmers at all. Tenacity comes from the Latin “tenacitas” or “the act of holding fast.” I can think of no better description of what dairy farmers are doing right now, as we head into another year of low milk prices, which would be the fourth full year since the last year of really high prices. This is, of course, part of farming, and is not unique to the dairy sector. Still, after over 35 years of veterinary practice I am more in awe of the ability of dairy farmers to hold fast than ever. As enterprises grow, so do the losses or gains. It also seems like the length of the price cycle is getting longer, too. This means periods of losses that are longer and deeper.
    Who in heck wants to do this? Diana Fischer in her blog,, talks about why farmers choose this profession.
    “Working a field in the sweltering, blistering heat of summer. Plowing a path to the barn in the life-sucking, aching cold wind of a winter blizzard. Well, at this point, he’s committed. He has lives depending on him gaining access to the barn no matter how much snow has fallen.”
    Who knows why anyone really chooses an occupation, but we should all be able to recognize when someone chooses a noble profession that requires so much tenacity. We should be proud and thankful for someone whose main job is providing food for all the rest of us in the face of pretty stiff odds. Most of us are just not willing to take the risks to be farmers. Not enough moxie.  
    Recently, it has been pretty cold. Weathermen and newscasters remind us not to go outside, or if we do, to be sure to cover our mouths and noses, and to not exert ourselves out there. I suspect almost every one of these folks have never been on a dairy farm, because it would be hard to farm with these restrictions. What I see is farmers working more and working harder. Waterers need thawing, tractors and slid loaders need starting or jumping, doors need to be thawed, frozen manure needs to be somehow pried off the alleys, employees need rides to work because cars do not start, and cows need to be moved extra-cautiously on frozen surfaces. I see down cows in cold barns that require lots of care and attention on days when farmers just do not have the time. Calves get frostbitten feet and ears that need to be cared for. Snow needs to be moved so the milk truck can get in the yard. In fact, almost everything on a dairy farm is harder and slower on cold days. Not go outside? Are you kidding? Cows do not listen to weathermen or newscasters.  
    I feel sorry for myself when I have my semi-frozen arm up some cow’s rear, and I have to pull it out and wait for another cow, or when my feet start to tingle or fingers go numb. But then I get into my warm car and drive off somewhere else, perhaps back to a warm office, while the farmer is still out there with the cows in below zero temps. He or she will be out there tonight, too, when I am on a warm couch watching a show on Netflix.
    I think I get why farmers want to be farmers. I do not think it is because they like long periods of low milk prices. I wish we could all prevent times like this from happening, but of course we cannot. What we can do is to appreciate what our farmers do, and to thank them for it. We can also tell others about what farmers do and what challenges they face. It is truly a special profession. So, here is a big thank you, from at least one old crusty cow vet. Know that we notice. You are fantastic. You have tenacity and dedication, endurance, stamina, steadfastness, backbone, drive, immovability, pluck, purposefulness and resolution. And, thank God that you do, or the rest of us would be in a real pickle. Because of you, the rest of us can have apathy, cowardice, indifference, irresolution, weakness, idleness, indolence, laziness or lethargy, and still get a hot meal at the end of a cold day and not go outside, too.
    Jim Bennett is a dairy veterinarian at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minn. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at with comments or questions.