Shelly Dickinson isn’t sure what her great-grandfather would think of a woman running the family farm, but she knows she’s qualified. Since coming back to the farm after college and a few years of working off-farm jobs, Shelly has worked every job on the farm - from the bottom up.
“I begged my dad to let me come back to the farm,” Shelly says. “He put me in the lowest position on the dairy and I worked my way up.”
Shelly’s dad, Mike Dickinson, was a nationwide leader in the industry and a former chairman of the board for Western Dairy Association. He was an early innovator and loved to travel the world to learn about dairy and other farmers’ methods. Everyone in dairy knew Mike well and misses his leadership.
“I think his sense of humor is what I like remembering about him best,” said Shelly. “We really clicked and have the same sense of humor. He was hard, but he taught me a lot and making me work my way up on the farm, well, I think it made me a better dairy owner because I’ve been in everybody’s shoes and I know what’s fair to ask of everyone.”
Growing up on the family dairy was fun for Shelly, who remembers it being in the middle of nowhere. Going to Fort Collins was an amazing trip for her as a young child. She remembers being free to roam the property, swim in lakes, ride bikes and horses and just have fun.
“We didn’t like dairying much back then because it was chores,” says Shelly.
Today, Shelly’s children still have 150 acres to run around and play, but the farm is now in the middle of town in Loveland, Colorado.
“Probably 15 or 20 percent of my time now is spent explaining to neighbors, visitors and callers what it is we do here on the farm,” Shelly explains. “I wish people were more connected with agriculture, but I’m glad to educate them when I can.”
And the Dickinson family is well-suited to explaining dairy farming – the family started farming this land in 1917, almost 100 years ago. Shelly is the fourth generation to dairy and her children will be the fifth. They have gone from milking just a few cows to over 2,500 in that time.
“I would like to have at least one of the kids want to keep dairying,” she said. “I'm hopeful it’ll be in this location. But even if they don’t dairy, which I realize is a difficult life economically, I know they learned hard work by growing up here – they get to see and learn so much about life.”