As Father’s Day approaches, we turn our attention to the unsung heroes of our daily lives – the dairy farmer dads. These remarkable men not only nurture their families with love and wisdom but also dedicate themselves to the tireless, often underappreciated work of dairy farming. From the early mornings to the late-night checks in the barn, they embody the spirit of hard work and perseverance.

Join us as we celebrate these extraordinary fathers, delving into their daily routines, their challenges, and the unique joys they find in balancing the roles of dedicated farmer and devoted dad.

We spoke with dairy farmers Matt Pavelski and Jody Neal to delve into their experiences both on and off the farm to gain insights into the joys they celebrate as farmer dads.

Meet Jody Neal of Orleans Poverty Hill Farm

Albion, NY

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Did you grow up in a farm family as well?

I grew up in Albion, N.Y., on Orleans Poverty Hill Farms. The farm was started by my grandfather Franklyn in 1956 and my dad Edward joined after high school in 1964. Our family was very active on the farm – all four of us children helped. I always worked more with the cattle.

You mentioned that you’ve always been into technology. What was it about tech that intrigued you as much as it has? What’s one of the first innovations that you worked on?

Growing up I can always remember my dad saying, “Work smarter not harder.”  I have always tried to find ways to make things more efficient and to make work on the farm easier or more enjoyable. Over the years I have tinkered with lots of ideas like remote control gates in the feed alley of the barn making feeders’ jobs easier. I also built a calf feeding cart and windrow merger that were good ideas in concept but were never really perfected. Some of my more successful projects are the feeding center we have and the group calf barn we designed.

Recently, you and two of your sons won 2nd place in the national agriculture innovation challenge at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting. Tell us about the system that you all developed that brought home this award.

Zachary, Jayden and I presented the Vortex from, a teat cleaning tool, at the Salt Lake City American Farm Bureau convention. It has been neat to see this project grow over the years and see where each of us has been able to use and develop personal skills. The original goal was to use Ozone water (water infused with ozone (O₃), a powerful disinfectant used to kill bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens) on the farm as a disinfectant. We ended up making our own application tool by using home 3D printers. Zachary originally bought the first printer and seeing the concept even convinced family and friends to “invest” in it with him. Jayden was intrigued after he got it and was determined to make it work; that was not an easy task with the older printers. Over time after lots of ideas, revisions and attempts, we realized we had a tool that could wash, dry and stimulate dairy cows for milking. We decided to try for a patent. That was a very rewarding day when we found out that it was issued. Jayden has always had more of the technical and engineering role in the project, I came at it from more the concept and animal side, and Zachary was always involved but really shines as we bring it to market, and we competed in the competition. He presented in Salt Lake City and continues to help develop our marketing strategy.

Are all four of your kids involved in robotics? What was one of the first tech projects that you worked on with your sons and what was so memorable about that experience?

Andrea and I have four children and although robotics was a big part of our family’s life for a while, it was not for all of them. Jayden was heavily involved in the technical side of robotics and Zachary was involved, but always leaned toward team leadership and strategy roles on the team.  I have two daughters – Kasey and Adelynn. Kasey is passionate about the farm and is very active in a lot of roles. She owns a horse and enjoys showing.  Adelynn is my little chef who loves animals and has been nicknamed “Chef in Boots” because she likes to come cook breakfast for the farm crew. Addy also has a love for fishing. Not just catching it, but then cooking it!

One of the first projects Jayden worked on was a homemade RFID tag reader to identify cows.  He found the parts he needed then programmed a microcontroller, with a few PVC parts and a soldering iron he had a tag reader for under $100.

If you could snap your fingers and bring an innovation to life, what would it be and why?

I don’t think I can narrow it to one thing. I like to move on to the next thing, and my sons have helped to keep me focused. A big one is to take the amount of data we are surrounded with on a farm and tie it together. Everyone seems to be working on it but from the cow side of the business it is crazy how much more comfortable and efficient we could get as we perfect this. Also watching robotics evolve gives me some ideas on future milking system layouts.

Meet Matt Pavelski of JoSan Farm

Susquehanna, PA

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Did you grow up in a farm family as well?

I grew up and worked on our family farm my entire life. I graduated from Penn State University in 2004, and this month marks my 10-year anniversary with my amazing wife, Glenda.

How old are your kids Barrett and Bowen? You mentioned that they play sports. What sports do they play, and do you coach any of their teams?

We have two energetic boys, Barrett (8) and Bowen (5), who are both in youth baseball and soccer leagues. Barrett’s now old enough to try out and earn a spot on our local U10 competitive soccer travel team, which we’re all excited about. Fortunately, we have some great parents that step up to help coach, so I haven’t had to coach their teams. I just get to enjoy watching!

What do your kids love the most about the farm? Between school and sports, they are already busy, but are they involved in helping at the farm as well?

We are fortunate enough to have a significant number of family members around, so we have never had to use day care for the boys. They’ve essentially been in the barn and playing in and around the cows from the time they could walk. This will be Barrett’s first year in 4-H so he’s excited and working with his calves daily. He enjoys the competitive nature of showing cows and has shown at our championship show and county fair for the last few years.

Bo is showing a calf as well but is more into riding tractors, fieldwork, and making hay. Anything that has to do with tractors and implements, our Bo will tell exactly how to run it.

How long have you been involved with your local 4-H program? What do you love the most about it?

I have been involved with 4-H my entire life. About 40 years ago, our county started a two-day ‘dairy camp’ where 4-H members from across the county can come and practice fitting and showmanship and participate in a mock show to practice for the real thing. Our farm provided animals for the dairy camp from the very beginning for kids to work with. As a member, I showed cows along with a few family friends who didn’t live on farms but leased animals from us to show in 4-H.

Once I aged out, we continued to lease calves and heifers for kids to show. Now, my nieces and nephews show as well, and as I mentioned before, Barrett is starting his first year in 4-H with dairy and beef projects. 4-H always provides a great work ethic and establishes a great sense of responsibility. It’s such a joy to watch my son now participating in that. We are also lucky to have great friends from across the county who share the same ideals, and every summer 4-H brings together a great sense of community, which I have been able to appreciate more as I’ve gotten older.

You mentioned that you host a 2nd grade field trip on the farm and have been doing so for over 35 years. What’s your favorite part about hosting these trips? What are some of the most memorable questions that you have been asked by students?

The annual 2nd grade field trip took place last month. Second grade is the perfect age because you feel like you’re having an adult conversation with them. The questions that they ask are anything from the normal, “How much to they weigh?” “Are they pregnant?” “How much milk do they make?” Some of the most fun questions we’re asked are, “How many teeth do they have?” “Do cows sneeze?” “Do they poop a lot?” It’s fun to see them so energetic and engaging on these field trips.