The Knevelbaard Family

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Shelby Knevelbaard is a member of the 2017 Young Cooperator Advisory Council. She and her husband Matthew farm in Tulare, Calif., for which she was elected district chairman through Dairy Farmers of America. They currently milk 600 Holsteins and have 50 acres of farm land for growing corn and wheat silage. The couple started the business in 2011, following Matthew’s family legacy of being in the dairy business for many generations. Matthew’s family came here from Holland, with Matthew being the fourth-generation to work in dairy. Shelby married into the family having come from a different background, one rooted in ministry and factory work.

What do you like the most – and the least – about working as a dairy farmer?

One of the greatest benefits of dairy farming is family. We live on our dairy, so we are always close to home. We get the opportunity to work as a couple to share the highs and lows of the business together, and as a couple we have grown significantly in that way. I’d have to say the downside is the amount of time. We never go on vacations and have to work every holiday, so being in the dairy business is a full-time investment for sure.

Describe how the work on the farm is shared or divided up in your family?

When Matthew and I bought our dairy, I was only 20 and he was 22. We had a unique opportunity because Matthew’s father was unable to be involved after a paralyzing accident. We started the business with just Matthew and me, with his grandfather there to lend an ear. Because of this, we haven’t been in a situation that required the work to be divided. The dairy has always been us. We’ve had times where we both milked cows along with raising two kids. Most of the work has been done by Matthew – everything from breeding, feeding, pulling calves, irrigating the field and doing every aspect of book work. He takes the lead and I do whatever I can to help.

How do you think your farm’s business plan will change 10 years from now?

In California, that’s a very hard question to answer. I’m not sure if anyone here knows where they will be in 10 years. Our goal is to have our dairy running at a point where we can take time to do things with our family. I don’t think our plan will change simply because right now, we strive to treat the employees we have like they are family, and to take things one day at a time. We look ahead, but trust that God will guide us along the way.

During those days when things aren’t going well, what do you do to keep a positive attitude?

Matthew and I made a rule a long time ago when we got married. We agreed that business would stay on the dairy and that when we walked through our doors and into the house, it would all be left outside. Dairy business is a rollercoaster and we’ve seen it tear a lot of families apart. The stress and the pressure can be overwhelming. When the day is done, we sit with our kids and watch a movie, play a board game or find some sort of adventure that gets our minds focused on what matters most: each other. Ultimately, we’re in the dairy business because it’s what we love and how we want to raise our kids. When things get tough, we remind ourselves of why we started and trust in God to keep us where he wants us to be.

What would you be doing if you were not a dairy farmer?

We would most likely be involved full time in ministry. When I’m not working on the dairy, I work as a worship director at an Assembly Of God Church that my family helped build. Matthew runs the sound and computers, along with Facebook Live for our church services, and we both volunteer with the youth group. Deep down, we just want to be where God sees best – whether that’s speaking in front of the church or speaking life into the people we meet every day in agriculture.

One of the things I love most about being involved in dairy and agriculture is the sense of family we all share. The relationships and loyalty from one farmer to another are so special and strong. We all just want to leave behind a business for our families and traditions that will hold strong in the days to come. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to be involved in such an amazing dairy community that I can truly call my family.