I’m from the little town of Black Rock in Northeast Arkansas. After high school graduation, I attended college at Southern Baptist College and the University of Central Arkansas studying to be a Home Economics teacher.
It was at UCA in the fall of 1973 that I met Danny during the last semester of my senior year. Danny really impressed my dad, Mike Spades, with his courteous way and the fact that he had a degree in Agriculture, was raised on a dairy farm, and had worked for a large Dairy Equipment company called Babson Brothers based in Chicago.
He also owned a Surge Dairy Equipment Dealership in Conway, and sold, installed, and serviced dairy equipment and supplies. He was only 26 years old. That would impress any dad, I think.
I graduated with a BSE in Home Economics and moved back to Black Rock hoping to find a teaching position. The three-hour drive from Conway to Black Rock didn’t keep Danny and me apart. A seven-month courtship ended in marriage on July 20, 1974.
During our first year of marriage we sold the Surge Dairy Equipment business and moved back to the family dairy farm near Bee Branch, going into partnership with Danny’s brother, Charles Wood, and his wife Judy.
It was a new way of life for me.
I knew little about any kind of farming much less dairy farming, but quickly fell in love with the lifestyle and beauty of country living. Also, we both agreed that we wanted to raise our family on the farm.
It was hard work, but rewarding. The cows had to be milked twice daily seven days a week, even holidays and birthdays. There were always cows that needed medical attention, calves being born, and field work in the spring, summer and fall. Winters were especially difficult because you had to go out in all kinds of harsh weather conditions to feed and milk the cows.
In the summers, Danny’s parents, Carlos and Eula Wood, grew the largest and most bountiful garden I’ve ever seen. I spent many happy hours in the kitchen of my mother-in-law Eula canning or freezing every kind of fresh vegetable you can name. Many times, our meal table consisted of nothing but food we had raised, including beef or pork, a variety of garden vegetables, and fresh milk. We even had our own chickens and more fresh eggs than we could eat. That’s about as organic as it gets.
It was nice being in the partnership with Danny’s brother because we could give each other time off for mini vacations and other outings. Also, many of our friends were dairy farmers so we had a lot in common and we naturally helped each other out. The church we attended and still attend, South Side Baptist, had so many dairy farmers that we voted to adjust the time for church to start later in the evenings so the farmers could work longer in the day. Baptists vote on everything you know.
In 1982, we bought the adjoining farm and went into the dairy business on our own. Danny and Charles continued to work together sharing equipment and labor. By this time, we had three small children, Matt, Betsy, and Tim.
We built our own completely automated dairy barn and bought a herd of Holstein cows. It was a huge monetary investment but we were excited. We expected that we would be able to make a good living and retire comfortably from the business in our old age. It seemed to us that at least one of our children would follow suit and become dairy farmers in their adult lives. That was not the case.
The 1980s were hard. To put it simply, many months we had more expenses than income. That just does not compute. The first year we were on our own there was a severe drought. We didn’t grow much feed that year and had to buy feed at inflated prices from other sources. That was tough. We prayed a lot and God sustained us. Somehow, we were always able to pay our bills and have the needs of our family met. I believe it would be even harder to farm without faith. So much depends on the weather and factors beyond our human means to control.
It began to become clear to us in the mid-1990s that we would not be able to continue milking cows for a living. This was due to low milk prices, high operating costs, and unfavorable government legislation that had a negative impact on all dairy farmers. Over a period of just a few years, many of our dairy farmer friends sold out of the business. They saw it coming.
The ball was in motion that has practically ended dairy farming in our area. I was ready to sell out a few years before Danny was, but he kept hoping things would turn around. I observed the toll it took on him physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was stressful and such hard work with little and sometimes no financial return.
In 1998, we sold out of the dairy business. The day our cows were loaded in cattle trailers headed for a New Mexico factory farm was a sad day for our family.
We had been dairy farming for 25 years. Danny and I were not even close to retirement age so we had to find new careers. He was blessed to have vast knowledge and experience in all aspects of dairying and went to work in several dairy-related jobs including employment at ADCA and eventually the Arkansas State Health Department as an environmental health specialist. He inspected dairy farms and milk plants in the state and loved it, though he continued to see his farmers go out of business one by one.
At the time we had three children in college. I also went back to college and obtained my master’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) and began the process of getting my teaching certificate renewed, which had long ago expired. I was blessed to be able to teach FACS and Career Orientation at Heber Springs Middle School, and later high school FACS at Clinton. My teaching career was only 14 years but it was a very fulfilling time in my life and I loved it.
Things could not have worked out better for us. We are both retired now and still enjoy life on our once very active dairy farm. Danny has converted the old dairy barn into his man cave and workshop. He loves all kinds of outdoor activities including running his chainsaw to cut down trees and make firewood for our wood stove. I love to play my guitar and fiddle and sing gospel music. Both of us are very active in our church and community. We enjoy our nine grandchildren immensely.
In spite of the difficulties, dairy farming was a good life. I’m so thankful we were able to raise our children on the farm. They developed a good work ethic and when they were old enough, were very involved in the daily chores of feeding the calves, milking, cleaning the barn, and field work.
Summer work was a family operation. Everyone helped with whatever needed to be done. We made sure they didn’t miss out on school activities including sports, music lessons, 4-H, etc., and we always stressed academics. They went to college and got their degrees. All three are married and have become successful young adults.
Farm life and work taught us all a lot.