Robert H. Durham Jr., a 59-year-old veterinarian at Durham Veterinary Clinic, might as well have milk in his blood. For three generations, the Durham family has looked after the cows of Greensboro, Georgia. But as the nation’s dairy industry enters its fourth-year of declining milk prices, farm work has begun to dry up for the family business.
“It wasn’t too many years ago that I had 40, 45 dairies I was working on a regular basis and maybe 20 more that called on me periodically and I was probably working half the dairies in the tri-county area. And now I’m down to 20 maybe less and by the end of this year it may be 10,” said Durham.
Durham attributes the decline in dairy farms in Greene County and the surrounding area to a market over saturated with dairy cows.
“It doesn’t take a very high percentage number increase in cow numbers to increase milk production numbers and a five percent increase in milk can drive milk prices down 20 percent,” Durham said.
Another factor Durham cites for the decrease in dairy farms is a lack of interest in dairy farming by younger generations.
“The work is so regular and demanding that a lot of people didn’t want to be confined to the farm like the dairy requires … now it’s more business and less family involved and its more even corporate, one family owns a tremendous sized dairy,” Durham said.
For his own practice, this means Durham is going to be working with significantly more cats and dogs. When Durham entered the family practice in 1988, they serviced small animals one day a week. Now dogs and cats come through the doors every day but Sunday, with Saturday opening exclusively for small animals.
From my stand point, I’m ok right now. When I lose the next half of what I’ve got I may rethink it but we have been able to increase small animal every year. It seems to be balancing it right now,” Durham said.
But for Durham it has always been about more than the animals he serves. “Obviously I like animals, but I enjoy meeting a lot of people,” Durham said. “If you don’t enjoy people, you’re in the wrong business. It’s as simple as that.”
For Durham, his fondness for people and their pets may be his only hope as the dairy industry continues to decline.
Savannah Cole is a senior majoring in journalism in Grady College Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.