Managing a family farm business is not for the faint of heart. Matt and Kelli Welsh, along with their four children: Kendall (18), Breckin (16), Andie (14), and Gatlin (13), know this all too well. The Welsh family helps manage Savage-Leigh Dairy Farm in Knoxville, MD. The farm is owned and operated by Kelli’s parents, Wayne and Cindee Savage. Kelli’s brother and sister-in-law, Ryan and Ashley Savage also help to manage the dairy and crop farming operation.
Kelli and Matt met as teenagers while competing in dairy judging against one another. Matt, originally from Virginia, competed with his state’s team at regional and national competitions, while Kelli competed for Maryland. Both, unknowingly to each other, ended up in college at Virginia Tech where their relationship evolved from friendship to love. Ultimately Matt moved to Maryland to help Kelli on her family’s farm and the rest is history. Their typical day on the farm starts around 3:30 am and finishes around 6:30 pm. When asked what they love most about the family farm, Matt expressed his love for cows and being able to work across the street from his home. He indicated, “as crazy as it sounds, I always wanted to milk cows.” Kelli loves the outdoors and the flexibility of being able to run errands in the middle of a week day with less crowds. They both agree that flexibility can change in an instant, especially on a dairy farm with nearly 200 cows in their milking herd. “Every day on a dairy farm is different;” said Kelli and Matt. There is always an abundance of tasks to complete and the day is never boring.
Having a family with four teenagers involved in sports, FFA, and showing dairy cattle, adds another hectic element to their life. Kendall works each day before school through the high school work study program. The others each have their own responsibilities to complete after school from scraping or picking manure to feeding calves. They do this while also managing their extracurricular activities. Currently Andie and Gatlin are in the midst of basketball season. Frequently Andie’s games at the high school and Gatlin’s practices at the middle school overlap, requiring Kelli to run between the two. Weekends, while most teenagers would be sleeping in, the Welsh kids alternate waking early to feed calves. While Andie and Kendall both love feeding and spoiling the calves, Breckin’s favorite aspect of the farm is anything involving running equipment. He is often found in a skid loader scraping the barnyard. Gatlin likes that “his friends think it’s cool,” while also enjoying naming the beef calves.
One sacrifice the entire family noted was the struggle to vacation. As dairy farmers, they can’t just take the day off. Cows still must be fed and milked twice daily. Obtaining labor is a struggle in and of itself within agriculture, but even more difficult is finding that trusting labor allowing a vacation away from the farm for the entire family. Often times Kelli and Matt find themselves tag teaming events so that one of them can be on the farm. The Welshes have always instilled in their kids to follow their dreams. If their future involves the farm, great, but if not that’s perfectly fine. They never want their kids to feel pressured to work in the family business.
Dairy farming is a difficult life, but as Kelli and Matt state, they love what they do. However, volatility and uncertainty within the dairy industry has led the Welsh family to explore ways to diversify their operation. They hope to integrate and expand a direct to consumer market on their farm very soon. They recognize the shift with consumers wanting to know where their food originates and will be happy to provide the public with products sourced from their farm.