This Guy Quit His Desk Job to Be a Dairy Farmer and Life Is Great Now
David Jones understands how complicated perspective can be. A passionate hobbyist photographer, he can often be found snapping photos of his day-to-day work life at Jones Farms. But only a few years ago, he would have never have pictured himself working devotedly back at his childhood home.
“I told everyone who would listen when I was in school that I didn’t want to be a dairy farmer, I didn’t want to work that hard,” he says. “I guess when you grow up in the same spot and are on the same piece of dirt your entire life, when you’re called away from it, you kinda want to get back to it.”
Jones may have had aspirations beyond the field, but not out of it. Graduating in 2012, he started working in marketing for a dairy company. The smaller business size meant that he did a lot of different jobs -- writing, designing, and photographing -- which excited him. But he also felt trapped in the office, even when he wasn’t there.
“The company I was working with had so many emails coming in all the time and I could never shut it off… it’s kinda anxiety-inducing.”
Plainly a change was needed.
Back on the homestead
Jones was no novice. He remembered the work is hard and the hours rough (he estimates he’s laboring 60 hours a week, often in the middle of the night). But he now feels a satisfaction that was missing before. There’s a definitive progress, he says, in what he’s accomplished that day, whether it’s a full milk tank, a fence that didn’t exist that morning, or the cow triplets he helped deliver. “It’s a very visual representation” of his toil that gives him meaningful satisfaction.
He’s also been able to express the creativity he enjoyed at his marketing gig. When he first came back, he was running a freelance consulting company for a few clients. While that work has shrunk as his farm duties grow, he’s ended up as the farm’s media manager. He enjoys shooting photography around the property, and he uses his camera to give Jones Farms a jovial face on Instagram.
While some farmers go the informative route with tours and tutorials on YouTube, he's content to characterize farm life as fun but messy under the handle @WinesandBovines. His Australian shepherd Bourbon is a frequent subject and a recent post shows him toasting red wine with his robot colleague Ethel.
Where DM means dairy management
“There’s some wonderful dairy farmers out there doing great work with education, and they have a passion for it,” he says. “I don’t mind some of that from time to time, but I find it kind of bogs me down a little bit. For me, social media is fun. I take a picture and I write something silly, and I can walk away from it. My goal is just ‘I can give you a glimpse into my life, I hope it’s entertaining.’"
His posts are goofy and colorful, which he knows contradicts the eternal image of the stoic farmer. But his followers on social media love his cheeky view of a messy job. Perhaps his casual take on dairy life makes it appealing to those pondering their next move who hadn’t considered farming as an option.
It’s certainly easy to see the appeal of rustic life when it looks as beautiful as Jones shoots it… complete with a gorgeous sheepdog and an appreciation of fine spirits after a hard day’s work.
21st century farming…
Social media is far from the only technology transforming the pasture. Jones is keenly enjoying how his industry is changing. One of the biggest additions his farm has seen of late is biometric tracking collars for each heifer -- “Fitbits for cows," as it were. The collars measure steps, letting Jones Farms know if a cow is pacing a lot (and possibly in heat), or maybe walking less than usual and might need his attention.
Zeroing in on meaningful data increases production while making sure human involvement yields meaningful -- and measurable -- results. Which is good, because as Jones notes, “It takes a lot of people to run our dairy. From the cow’s perspective, it’s really a cool thing -- the cow has their own nutritionist, and someone who looks after their health every day. I certainly wouldn’t mind someone preparing my own meals.”
Just as your fitness tracker is creating performance logs for you, so too are the cows logging personal bests.
“We have milk weights by quarter for the cows (one for each teat),” says Jones. “Because no two quarters are alike, they’re separate compartments.” The farm records the milk weight of each individual udder, meaning there’s less work for more product -- and less stress on the cows, which creates an easier work environment for both farmers and bovines.
He admits, “I’m a nerd about this stuff,” but biometrics produce results that even excite the layman. Everybody benefits from an environmental perspective.
“In 1950 there were 25 million dairy cows in the US,” he explains. “Today in the US there are 9 million. We’re making 60% more milk with that many less animals. And our greenhouse gases are at an all-time low. Of the total greenhouse gases in California, 4% is attributable to dairy farms, which is amazing considering how many dairy farms there are in the state. We use every drop of water on the farm way more than once -- recycling it for cooling, cleaning, and other secondary uses.”
… 20th century realities
These technological leaps are great improvements for the farm, but they have to be considered against everything else that needs to be maintained or updated. Repair of old buildings, training for staff -- the family has to make a lot of tough calls in prioritizing how and where they take strides into new technology. Failing to prioritize can render all of those updates ineffectual if the production chain halts. Jones wants to make the farm as comfortable and appealing a work environment as possible, and represent that to the world.
“My grandpa wanted it to be around for generations,” he says. “I get reminded all the time that third generation is usually where one comes in and screws it up, so… no pressure.”
He’s keenly aware that some of the benefits from moving forward into the future don’t just affect the farm but potential dairy workers swayed by a new vision of the dairy as a modern business. By snapping an appealing picture of the industry’s strides into modern technology, he hopes people will want to find themselves a part of that progress.
And if they find it agrees with them, in a few decades, they may enjoy the benefit that makes it all worthwhile for David Jones. For him, the highlight of returning home is simple: “I have such a privilege to work with my family every day.”
And that’s a benefit that no amount of technology can replace.
To see more stories of people who have devoted their lives to dairy, head to UndeniablyDairy.org/devoted.