Located in Burlington, Michigan, the Prichard family farm is where cows roam the pasture, children play, and family bonds are made.
Wayne Prichard purchased the farm in 1978 to pursue his dream of dairy farming. Today, Heath, son of Wayne and Linda, owns and operates the farm with his father. Although their farmstead in Burlington has only seen two generations of farmers from the Prichard family, Wayne’s father was also a dairy farmer. And today, two of Wayne’s brothers and his nephew own and operate the farm that Wayne and his siblings grew up on. You could say that farming runs in their blood.
Growing up on the farm, Heath had many responsibilities. He was in charge of feeding the calves as well as helping with fieldwork. Heath said, “I was always with my dad, so I learned by watching everything he did. He didn’t just put me on the tractor and expect me to know how to drive. For many years prior, I learned by watching him drive the tractor.” Heath’s best memories growing up on the farm are closely tied to working with his father and playing with friends on all land a farm has to offer. Wayne remembers one of his best memories with his son was when they built a toy rocket together; he remembers it as “picture perfect.”
When asked, Heath said he knew at the young age of 14 that he wanted to be a farmer, just like his father. But before he could take over the family farm, Wayne insisted that Heath attend college and explore other options. Heath got his associates degree in general studies while continuing to farm alongside his father. After college, Heath started farming full-time.
Today, Heath and his wife, Nancy, live on the farm while Wayne and Linda live just two doors down. This allows Wayne to be close enough to still farm with his son, and Linda close enough to spend lots of time with their granddaughters, Lilly and Nicole.
To Linda, farming was a new adventure, but that didn’t stop her from getting her hands dirty. Throughout their life together, Linda worked side-by-side with Wayne on the farm. As for Nancy, she grew up on a beef farm, so although dairy farming was new to her, she already knew the hard work that went into operating any farm.
Seven days a week the alarm clock goes off and Heath is in the barn by 6am to milk their 70 Holstein cows. For the Prichards, milking is a 3-hour process that is done again at 6pm every day. Along with caring for dairy cows, the Prichards own 200 acres of land and rent 600 acres. On the land they grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. Heath spends the majority of his time milking and caring for the cows, while Wayne enjoys being on the tractor doing the fieldwork. But that doesn’t mean that either is free from a specific task; working together to get the day’s work done is critical for a smoothly operating farm.
Wayne notices some differences between the farm now and when he first started farming on the property. The barn has been updated, they have nicer equipment and they built a parlor in 1978. Heath and Wayne both laughed when they said that the biggest difference was switching from making small square bales to large round bales because it's a lot less labor intensive.
When Heath was asked what he enjoys most about farming, his response was being able to care for animals, working side-by-side with his family, and being able to work for himself. When it comes to the most satisfying part of farming, Heath said, “I enjoy harvesting a good crop and seeing all my hard work come full circle, and playing with the girls on the farm – you can tell they enjoy it and that makes me feel good.”
When Nancy was asked what she loves about living on the farm, she responded, “being able to have picnics with friends and family, caring for the animals with the girls, and being able to be at home with my family and work together as a team. If something needs to be done, you step up and do it.” Along with helping out on the farm as needed, Nancy is gifted with a green thumb. She grows peaches, pears, apricots, plums, strawberries and raspberries in their orchard, along with keeping up with a garden. Nancy shares what she loves most about the orchard and garden is that, “you can grow your own food and be out in nature. We can teach our children how to be self-reliant.”
Lilly and Nicole love to help their mother in the orchard and eat the fruit sometimes as fast as it’s picked. You can also find the two girls happily feeding the calves, going for rides on the gator utility vehicle, and tagging along on tractor and combine rides, which usually results in two sleeping little girls.
Although farming is a great life that some are lucky enough to enjoy, the reality is that many family farms are going out of business.
When Heath was in grade school, there were 14 family farms on the land nearby. But now, all of those farms are gone. Being that small-scale farming doesn’t always provide a consistent source of income, most of those farms ended up selling out. Financially, for upcoming generations, owning and operating a family farm continues to become more and more difficult. Now, 3 large farms sit on the land that used to be occupied by those 14 family farms – one of those farms being a 20,000-acre grain and beef farmer.
“My biggest fear isn’t price, it’s the market,” says Heath. “As long as large farms can milk 1,500 cows, it’s easier for processors to pick up milk from those big farms versus running around picking up small farms. Unfortunately, I think that’s where things are headed.”
Ultimately, buyers (the ones making the dairy products) are the ones making the decision about whom they want to buy milk from, and unfortunately some buyers think that small farms are a burden. Their action screams “get big or get out” loudly. The reality is that picking up milk from very large farms that have a few thousand cows is cheaper for buyers than picking up milk from fifty small farms. And in more recent times, the choice of some buyers has been leaving family farmers with nowhere to sell their milk.
Family farms support good stewardship of the land, humane animal practices, the well being of local communities and the future of food. Just like the Prichard farm, a family farm is a tradition, a livelihood, and a way of life that is passed down for generations.
Heath’s advice for anybody looking to get into farming, “work with an organization that supports family farms, like National Farmers.”