Letting the next generation of dairy farmers, her children, someday take over Stargo Dairy Farm in Malone, New York, is something Marsha Gokey looks forward to. She and her husband, Steve, have been farming for nearly 30 years.
Talk of retirement and becoming snowbirds, spending winters in Florida, is why the Gokeys have been slowly relinquishing their farm duties to their children. “I’m hoping that we’re doing our job to let them take the reins and make decisions. And that way, if they’re not sure, at least we’re here to help them,” says Marsha Gokey.
The Gokeys have eight children – four boys and four girls. Four of the children plan to stay on the farm, including April, their fifth child and third daughter.
“Growing up on the farm, I realized that I really do like this, and I don’t see myself doing anything else,” says April. “I like the flexibility and the ability to work with my family and being able to go to work every day doing what I love.”
April inherited her mom’s love of caring for calves and worked her way up to being the farm’s calf manager. “I care for all of the newborns, from birth to three months old. I also work with the heifers, the females that have yet to give birth. That includes feeding them, cleaning the barn, making sure they have fresh bedding, and receiving any medical care they may need.”
And April isn’t shy about making business decisions, with mom and dad’s approval, of course. She’s improved the farm’s animal record keeping system and updated the procedures and protocols in caring for newborn calves, the future of the herd. “It’s nice to see that she’s taken over and really has taken the grips of the business,” says Marsha.
“I kind of have my hands in a lot of different pieces of the farm. But I really like that because if I’m going to be owner someday, it makes me more comfortable having all that different experience and kind of an overview of everything that’s going on, on a day-to-day basis.,” says April.
In addition to working with the calves, April is learning about the financial side of the business. As an assistant office manager, April helps handle finances and payroll. “That’s a huge responsibility,” says April. She also helps with human resources and employee management.
Even with her associate degree in Dairy Production and Management and a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business, April realizes there’s more to learn. “She doesn’t hesitate to ask me ‘Mom, how did you learn this? And why do we do this?’”
The farm is an amazing place to learn, and that’s exactly what Marsha did. “When Steve and I first started, we had about 80 cows and a part-time employee to help Steve with the milking. We learned as we went along and as the business grew. We expanded slowly and so that made it a little easier, but I didn’t go to college, and I just figured it out,” says Marsha.
April says “it’s really cool” having her mom as a teacher and mentor. “For me to see all this knowledge she has and just to know that she taught herself all of these skills is reassuring to me that I can do it too.”
Marsha gives April and the other children leeway and guidance, as needed. “We don’t want to be one of those farmers that has a son or daughter in their 40’s not knowing any of the business operations of the farm. That’s why we’re grooming our kids at an early age, letting April and her siblings slowly start taking over now and making decisions.” says Marsha.
And Marsha’s plan seems to be working.
“Each child has their own specialty on the farm. With one liking to work with the cows, another liking the mechanics, April doing the book work and caring for calves, and the other taking care of the field work, they’ve got all the business parts of the farm covered and it should be a really successful farm for the next generation.”
Ania Stilwell is a digital marketing specialist with American Dairy Association North East. Her blogs focus on farm life, animal care, and sustainability. Prior to joining the dairy industry in 2013, Stilwell served 17 years in communications, mostly as a broadcast news producer at the ABC-affiliate television station in Syracuse, New York, and managed communication, marketing and public relations at not-for-profit organizations in the Finger Lakes and Central New York regions, including a local food bank. She lives in New York with her husband.