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'There's Life After Dairy,' Says Topeka Farmer Ron Hostetler

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, November 9, 2018

Ron Hostetler of Topeka says he's doing just fine nearly two years after he sold the milking herd and got out of dairy farming for good. It's proof, he said, that "there is life after dairy."

Hostetler had been milking cows for 42 years when he and wife Colleen decided to liquidate their herd due to low prices and negative cash flow. Another factor in their decision was that the Hostetlers' barns needed to be replaced, but Ron and Colleen believed that a long-term investment wasn't the right thing to do so close to retirement.

"I run into people on the street, and they ask me today, 'Well, do you miss milking cows?' and I tell them, 'You know what? I miss my cows, but I don't miss the work and all the stuff that goes with it.'"

He even took time last January to travel on an overseas mission trip.

For about six months, he felt "antsy" every day around mid-afternoon, when his former routine demanded that he corral the cows for the 3 p.m. milking. But that feeling has dissipated and has been replaced by a less stressful feeling overall.

After selling their milking herd, the Hostetlers transitioned into another aspect of the dairy business—raising heifers on contract. The arrangement has worked well, providing a monthly check and allowing Ron to continue working on the farm.

Raising heifers is just one piece of the puzzle, however. Hostetler has stepped up the grain operation and is doing more custom planting and harvesting. As a semi-truck owner, he does some trucking on the side.

Also, he works the early morning shift at Emma Café, and plans to become a substitute school bus driver in the near future.

"Whatever it takes to pay the bills," he said, adding that he enjoys his new path.

Colleen has retired from her full-time job as a school teacher but now works as a substitute educator.

Ron said he and Colleen wrestled with the decision to exit the dairy business. They raised all of their own cattle, and Ron said it was difficult to let go of something that they had spent a lifetime building up.

"That's in the past," he said.

The longtime dairy farmer looks at the consolidation taking place in the industry and concludes that, for him, exiting the industry was the right thing to do. There was a time many years ago, he said, when he believed that you could stick with it through the downturns because eventually things would improve.

However, Hostetler said he is no longer certain that better times are ahead for the dairy industry.

"I hate to say it, but the small family dairy is going to disappear," he said.

The current downturn has lasted four years, and, while raising heifers has been good, Hostetler says the farmer he works with is hinting that he may cut back on that aspect of the operation and switch to fat cattle.

"He's losing money on his heifers, because of the dairy industry and where it is."

Looking to the future, Hostetler said he doesn't plan to retire anytime soon and continues to look for opportunities. He is thankful that he left the dairy business when he did, and he understands the difficult decisions which many current dairy farmers are facing.

Hostetler said if exiting the industry is what they choose to do, then he wants them to know that they will land on their feet.

"It's a tough deal right now, and my heart goes out to those dairymen," he said. "But the bright side of the whole thing is, there is life after dairy. There is life after milking cows."

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