Editor's Note: The following article was written by the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition as part of its "20 questions with..." series. Click here to read more dairy farmer profiles.
Dairy farmers are fairly ordinary people, but they are doing extraordinary things, and this featured farmer is no different. While she (yes – she) has a little different background and upbringing than most dairy farmers, there is no contesting her passion, enthusiasm and commitment to being a full-time farmer – and a mom – and a wife – and a volunteer – practically a “rock star”. Here she is – my friend, and now yours – Mrs. Kristin Cox!
1. Who are you?
My name is Kristin Cox. I am a dairy farmer and deep down inside I am a “Jersey girl” and I don’t mean the brown cow. I am 39 years old and have been married to my husband Slade for 17 years. We have four children – Abbie 15, Lydia 12, Merritt 9, and Everett 6. I grew up in Freehold, New Jersey, which is the hometown of Bruce Springsteen, so that song My Hometown really is about my hometown. I graduated from Cornell in 1996 and we started our dairy farm in 2001.
2. Why are you a dairy farmer?
After my husband was in a farm accident in May of 2013 and broke his neck, I spent a good bit of time “soul searching” for the answer to this question. First, I should say that Slade is doing fine and is mostly recovered. I am a farmer because of a man named Walter and my father. When I was a kid, I lived across the street from one of the only remaining cash crop farms in my community. Walter and his wife, Gloria, were like grandparents to me, and my father helped out on his farm often with me always tagging along. I have often said my parents should have known I would farm someday when I was 11 and planted my first crop of soybeans in my own garden in the backyard. I think I used my crop that year to feed my Barbie dolls. I have also always loved animals, so I went to Cornell University to study Animal Science. From there, I became a part of Cornell’s Dairy Fellows program, met my husband, and the rest is history.
3. How would you describe your farm?
I asked my 9-year old this question and his answer was “It’s crazy,” and I think he is probably right. We have 185 cows and 170 heifers at our farm. Last year, we purchased the farm at the other end of our road and we are currently milking in two places. We have about 430 acres and we live on a quiet back road where we know almost everyone who drives by. My nieces and nephews all know that it is always fun at Aunt Kristin’s and you never know what will be going on.
4. If your cows could talk, what would they say about you?
If my cows could talk they would say, “Oh my gosh! Is she still singing? I hope it’s not 80’s night again.” because I am always singing in the barn when no one else is there.
5. What is your favorite thing to do on the farm?
My absolute favorite thing to do on the farm is to deliver baby calves. There is just something about bringing a new life into this world that I just love.
6. Did you go to school to be a farmer?
Yes, although I had no idea I would become a farmer when I did. I went to Cornell University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in animal science.
7. What do you do for fun off the farm?
Right now most of my time off the farm is spent as a taxi driver for my kids and all of their activities. I also like to run. I am signed up for my first triathalon this summer! (Wish me luck!)
8. What personality trait makes you a better farmer?
I am a better farmer because of what we call “my cow radar.” I have an amazing ability to recognize a cow that is not feeling well, is getting ready to calve, or is even just upset for some reason. Some people would maybe call me a cow whisperer. It’s kind of a funny trait for a New Jersey girl to have, but I can’t deny it – I’ve got it!
9. Is your glass half full or half empty?
My glass is definitely half full. Many people have often commented that we are always so optimistic, but for us it’s hard not to be when we are doing what we love.
10. What challenges you most as a dairy farmer?
Well, on the farm this year the cold winter has sure been crazy. As farmers, we are out In the cold weather everyday, and I often say the colder it is, the longer my day will be. I am also personally challenged with the disconnect between farmers and consumers. I wish everyone knew how hard farmers work to produce high quality food and how well they take care of their animals. I know we do.
11. What is one thing that you are most proud of in regards to the farm?
We are very proud of our farm. It was truly a big risk when we started it in 2001 and we are proud that we have been able to grow our business and support our family entirely from our farm.
12. Do you do anything special for your cows or calves?
We do all kinds of special things for our cows and calves. This winter all our calves wore special calf coats to help keep them warm. We have a computer system where we keep track of each animal and everything that has ever happened with her. Our cows are all fed a specially formulated diet that our nutritionist makes. Being a cow nutritionist is a career most people don’t think of but we think it’s an important one.
13. What is one thing you recycle, reuse or repurpose on the farm?
Farms recycle all sorts of things. One thing we recycle on our farm is all the wash water from the milking equipment. It is all collected in a tank and then reused to wash down the milking parlor at the end of milking.
14. What do you wear when you go to the barn?
When I go to the barn in the winter I am wearing jeans, 2 or 3 sweatshirts, my Carhart bib overalls, a coat, hat, gloves, and my muck boots. It’s a lot of clothes, but my husband says I still look cute!
15. Where does your milk go?
Our farm belongs to a cooperative called Dairy Farmers of America. When you belong to a coop, the coop is in charge of selling your milk to a milk plant. Our milk usually goes to the Hood plant in Vernon, New York where they make cottage cheese and yogurt.
16. Do you have a nickname for your cows?
I have lots of cows with different nicknames. An example is Kiki, she is #766 but we call her Kiki because when she had her first calf she kicked the milker off a lot. She doesn’t kick anymore but the name stuck.
17. What is your favorite dairy product?
I’d have to say that it’s a toss up between yogurt and ice cream. Sometimes I make my own yogurt at home and it’s really good!
18. What is the last thing you do on a farm before calling it a day?
The last thing I do is check on the cows that are due to have a calf. We don’t have anyone working in the barn at night so we always check them to make sure no one is calving before we go in for the night.
19. Do you volunteer locally and where?
Yes, we both volunteer locally and sometimes our volunteer hours almost equal that of a full time job. I am the leader for 2 Girl Scout troops. We have a 4-H club. Slade has an Odyssey of the Mind team, coaches basketball, and is the chair of the planning board in our town.
20. What do you want everyone to know about you – the dairy farmer?
As farmers, we are caretakers. We pay careful attention to our animals, our land and our community. We love them all, and we know that when we take care of them, they take care of us.