- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

CARPIO, N.D. — Garnet Bloms calls the cows she milks “Girlie,” and she calls herself the “Cow Lady.”

“I’m just an old great-grandma who milks cows,” said Mrs. Bloms, 73, who has milked thousands of cows in the past 52 years on her farm in northwestern North Dakota. “That’s what an old farm wife is supposed to do.”

But the Cow Lady is part of a vanishing tradition. Small, family-run dairy farms are disappearing in North Dakota as the aging farmers who started them retire or die. These small farms increasingly are being replaced by large commercial operations instead of being taken over by family members.

“Ten years ago, there were 33 of us around here,” said Mrs. Bloms’ son, Bruce, who took over the farm after his father, Henry, died in 1999. “There’s only 11 of us left.”

In September alone, two of the Bloms’ neighbors closed their dairies.

Statewide statistics echo Mr. Bloms’ observations. In 1991, North Dakota had 2,100 dairy farms, but today there are 438, said J.W. Schroeder, a North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy specialist in Fargo.

“In the last 12 years, we have lost 5 [percent] to 15 percent per year,” Mr. Schroeder said.

The average age of a dairy farmer in North Dakota is 60. “Our industry is at retirement age,” Mr. Schroeder said.

The replacement of family farms with commercial operations began in North Dakota 10 years ago, he added, and the state is now home to eight “megadairies” with more than 500 milk cows apiece, Mr. Schroeder said.

Although Mrs. Bloms says low milk prices have forced some of the small farms out of business, a larger trend is at work. Few younger families are willing to be tied to an operation seven days a week.

The Bloms opened their dairy in 1951 as newlyweds. They had no electricity, running water or tractor. But they stuck it out, and together she and her husband built a thriving business. The dairy went from three-legged stools to a near fully mechanized operation, able to run 61 cows through the milking parlor in just a few hours.

“It took us 23 years before we could leave and take a trip,” Mrs. Bloms said. “People don’t want to work that hard anymore.”

Bloms Dairy is nestled in the hills north of Lake Darling. The dairy’s freshly painted red and white fences and barns could grace a picture book.

“We raised five kids out here, put them to work, gave them a set of muscles and sent them off,” Mrs. Bloms said.

Her son, who also raises beef cattle and crops, says he wants to get out of the dairy business in four years, when he turns 55. He hopes his son will take over.

Mrs. Bloms also would like to see her grandson carry on the family tradition “to keep the ball rolling.” She still milks cows twice a day, several times a week, sharing the duties with her son and his family.

“Until my health says I can’t, I want to stay right here and milk,” Mrs. Bloms said. “Every morning I wake up and I thank the Lord that I have another day to milk cows.”

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