Women in Dairy: Joanna Lidback of Barton, VT

Mary Mackinson Faber is the fifth generation of her family to be involved in her family’s dairy farm in central Illinois, Mackinson Dairy Farm, which is home to a herd of Ayrshires. Mary enjoys being an “ag-vocate” and keeps a blog and facebook page dedicated to sharing the real story of dairy and agriculture. She has completed her second series of “Women in Ag” profiles, which she features in the month of November, and is allowing Cowsmo to share these profiles with you!To read more about Mackinson Dairy Farm, and Mary’s story, please visit her blog page and follow her on Facebook.

November 1st, 2015 Feature Joanna Lidback, Barton, VT:

Joanna Lidback, Barton, VT
Joanna Lidback, Barton, VT

I would like to introduce our first Women in Dairy feature, Joanna Lidback from Barton, Vermont!  Joanna and her husband run a 50-cow grass-based dairy operation in Northeast Vermont where you can surely find two little farm boys running around.  While Joanna did not grow up on a farm; Joanna and her siblings were still able to participate in 4-H with a dairy project.  Through cooperation, they had their cows housed on someone else’s farm but still did chores daily.

Besides being a busy Mom and wife, Joanna is active in Farm Bureau, is a 4-H volunteer and at their local church.  Joanna says that her love of cows led her not only to the farm today but also an off-farm career in agriculture where she has the opportunity to work with other farmers on their business and financial plans.  Recently, Joanna had the great privilege to speak in front of both the U.S. House Ag Committee and the Senate Ag Committee about the importance of biotechnology on farms on behalf of farmers from across the country (read more here). Joanna did an amazing job and she said that she was truly honored and humbled to be given such an opportunity.  As a fellow Mom, I am proud to stand-up with Joanna on behalf of safe, affordable food.

While I have never had the opportunity to meet Joanna in person (one day soon, hopefully), I am truly honored to call her a friend.

Joanna’s Story in her own words:

When did you start farming?

MMF-Blog-lidback-3My husband and I started farming together in 2009. I still lived in Connecticut and would come up any chance I could to help. We started with 18 milkers and now we are up to 56. Prior to joining my husband, I raised my own heifers and kept my cows on a friend’s farm.

My role on the dairy operation is to fill in the blanks – I do calf chores, barn chores, milk when I can. I also manage the record-keeping, pay the bills and keep track of other operational paperwork – like production and reproduction paperwork. My husband and I make joint decisions on major purchases and other major events on the farm.

Who is your favorite cow?

MMF-Blog-lidback-2My favorite breed of cow is Jersey. I make that quite clear as much as I can. In fact, I think I could be the poster child for the Jersey breed. I think you could say that about most Jersey breeders.

I don’t think I could pick just one favorite. There have been many favorites over the years. I’ll tell you about my last favorite. Her name was Rhiannon, we just lost her very suddenly and unexpectedly this summer. She was a great cow. I showed her as a heifer, and she was very stylish. When I selected the breeding sire to use on her dam (mother), I checked out the class winners at the Canadian Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I found a hot young bull that many Canadian breeders were using. His name is Minister. Rhiannon’s mother had already established herself as a great cow. She milked well and scored EX-91, my highest scored cow ever. The rest was history. Rhiannon was very special to me and in fact, I feel the tears coming as I write this.

What are 3 things you want consumers to know about the dairy products you produce?

  1. I’d like consumers to know how much farmers care about sustainability – for the preservation and conservation of their farms but also to be able to continue to provide a safe, nutritious food while minimizing the impact farming in general has on the environment.
  2. I’d like consumers to know how smart farmers are and how we have adapted to changes in the industry, environment, marketplace and our communities over time.
  3. I’d like consumers to know about the sense of community that exists in the dairy industry. If you’re in need, neighbors will gladly help you out. When you go somewhere, other dairy farmers will gladly greet you and probably jump right into some dairy discussion. And when it comes to speaking up if necessary, they will support you.

As a Mom what do you want to share with others about the dairy industry?

As a mom, I want folks to know that we drink the same milk that’s in the store. I have complete confidence in its safety and nutritional value. We drink whole milk – the fat found in whole milk has been shown to help with brain development in children. If my kids want to take over the farm someday, they’re going to need all the brains they can get!

What is your favorite dairy product?

My favorite dairy product has to be ice cream without a doubt. I enjoy many different flavors but have always had Friendly’s Butter Crunch at the top of my list.

What is the most rewarding part of production agriculture? Challenging?

The most rewarding and the most challenging is one in the same for me – taking care of the cows, from the simple daily task of feeding the girls to helping them when they are sick. When a cow calves or has her baby, it is a miracle to witness every time. Not everything always goes smoothly, however, and from time to time the cow or the calf needs help. Two springs ago I lost four Jersey heifer (girl) calves in a row. Three of the four were freakish accidents. The fourth was a difficult birth. All of the mama cows were fine, but to lose those calves, especially the last one was terrible. But you couldn’t skip a beat no matter how sad or depressed you were because the rest of the cows still needed you.

And then there are times when you have a calf that needs your help and attention that makes it. I had a calf born in April – out of the same cow that had a difficult calving the year before – that was on the brink of life. But this time, she made it and she’s a spritely, long-legged, red Jersey who is polled and very playful. There’s another cow in our barn that was the first calf I saved from a near-death experience. She’s been our highest milking Jersey from time to time. I don’t think about how I almost lost her on a daily basis but sometimes I remember and give her an extra scratch when I walk by.

I’m looking forward to when I can share all this with my boys and they can appreciate the cows the same way I do.

What is your role in the dairy industry?

I am a farm business consultant. To name a few areas I delve into – dairy business analysis, budgeting, business planning, estate planning, succession planning and more.

I have a unique set of skills where I am analytical and good with numbers, I like to write but I’m also outgoing and I love to work with people. This led me to my first job as a credit representative for a farm credit association and on to other position there. I went back to get my Masters in Business Administration and now I find myself in my current position.

What is the most rewarding part of being in the dairy industry? Challenging?

The most rewarding part of being in the dairy industry without a doubt is the great people I get to work with – and their families. The most challenging is telling people things they weren’t expecting or what they don’t want to hear, but I try to think about it as at least it’s coming from me and not somebody else.

What are other roles and/or opportunities available to those in the dairy industry?

There are so many roles and opportunities available in the dairy industry, from finance to veterinary work to hoof care to nutritionist to marketing specialist. The diversity of options available continues to grow as the industry innovates and expands into other markets.

What do you envision the future of the dairy industry looking like?

The future of dairying will carry much of the same values that surround it today. Care for the cows and the land. Hard working families making sure daily chores are completed. There may be more diversity in terms of technology used such as robotic milkers, or in terms of value added product such as micro-dairies (10 cows or less) making cheese, butter or something else. I’m excited to bear witness and hope someday my boys will want to continue their family’s legacy.