Being as I am a contrary sort of fellow, I see the dairy as having a greater long term potential than my normal "day job", where I work for a software company that supports equipment dealerships around the country. The declines in world energy production will ultimately have a significant and negative impact on the equipment industry (among other things), eventually impacting my job as well.
With this in mind, I decided to sit down and run some numbers. At one time I figured we could realize an annual profit of about $4,000 per cow, which I still think is entirely possible if I weren't stuck on maintaining my ideals (grass-only feeding, calves remaining with their mothers, etc). While I didn't figure out a "per cow" profit this time around, I did calculate the hourly wage that I'm making. So long as I don't try to amortize any of our capital investments (farm, fencing, cows, hay equipment, etc), my optimistic Enron-style accounting says I'm raking in about $2/hr. Not too bad for a hobby, but not so great for a primary career choice.
So let's just say that the slight pay differential between life as a programmer and life as an idealistic dairy farmer makes it very difficult to choose the latter in lieu of the former. When the time comes that "dairy farmer" becomes the better (or only) option, I'm hoping that $2/hr might actually be a good wage, but at that point money might not have any value anyway. For now, I have a renewed love of programming.
Our hogs and lambs have all returned from the butcher in neat little packages that have taken up residence in the freezer.
I thought it would be difficult to eat an animal that I'd raised. I wanted separation. A firewall. I didn't want to have to reconcile the death of an intelligent creature with the food I would be eating. I didn't want to name any of the animals that were destined for the butcher, because I thought it would be easier to think of them as faceless objects or numbers. I didn't want to be eating a "pet".
I've changed my mind now. The fact is that I did love the animals we butchered, and I'm glad that I did. I watched the lambs being born, and helped them find their first milk. I loved watching them bounce around the pasture in the spring, playing the universal game of chase.
I remember the two very cute piglets in the back of the pickup on the hot day in July when they arrived, and how "Popcorn" immediately took a nice cool bath in the stock tank. I remember how much they relished the first field corn I picked and dropped in their pen, and how excited they were when I came to them with a bucket of surplus milk.
There's no shame in ending an animal's life to turn it into food. The true crime is to have no knowledge -- and thus no true appreciation -- for the life that becomes your food.