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Dairy farm no longer milking it

A.D. Shrum and his first cousin Gerald Williams have both spent all of their 65 years living on a dairy farm. Soon, however, the two owners of S.S.W. Farm plan to sell their milk cows and retire from the business.
For most of their lives, the men have had to work from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. By closing the dairy, they hope to switch things up and “put the seven first and four last – go fishing when we want to,” Shrum said.
Shrum’s father, Woodrow, now 89, first opened the farm in 1942 with just five cows. There, the Shrum extended family grew up and the number of cows increased. It was a childhood full of chores, but Shrum and Williams remember it fondly.
“It was a whole lot of hard work, but it was probably twice the life,” Shrum said. “Kids now, they know movies and stuff like that. They don’t know what really goes on in life.”
Back then the farm, which is located near the Catawba County line, was isolated.
“It was two cars a week come by, and I knew exactly who they were,” Shrum said.
Now, N.C. 321 cuts through the Shrum’s old farmland and Lincoln County Industrial Park can be seen from their houses.
The men are looking forward to retirement and so is William’s brother Ronnie, who is an employee on the farm.
“You ever get up at 4 in the morning seven days a week?” he asked.
The men will still be doing farm work. They plan to sell their more than 100 dairy cows, but are keeping the “young stuff,” or younger cows. When they grow older, those cows will also be sold, and the main focus of the farm will shift to growing feed.
The men have spent their lives with cows, but learned early on not to get attached to them – even if they do say cows are a lot like humans.
“They have different temperaments, different personalities,” Williams said.
“Some will kick you right quick,” Shrum added.
And while some of the cows can be ornery, giving up their dairy farm may be difficult for the men.
“I just feel like it’s a part of history gone, and it’s something we don’t want to do, but it’s something you feel compelled to do,” said Shrum’s wife, Hilda. “They’re worn out.”
Williams and Shrum became part owners of the farm in the mid-60s. Over the years, they’ve done their share of milking cows, feeding cows and hauling cow manure.
The farm has also been a site for school children from both Catawba and Lincoln counties to explore. Shrum’s father has scrapbooks full of thank-you letters from area kids.
There are no longer hundreds of children going through the farm each year, but there is a few that still get to enjoy the property.
“The grandkids all like walking around the farm to see what’s happening,” Shrum said.
There are also a good number of curious cats roaming the area. People have made a habit of dropping off their unwanted animals on the farm’s land.
With the dairy on its way out, milk to feed those cats will become scarce.
“We’re just going to have to buy some milk and take it down,” said Shrum’s wife.
That’s just one of the many ways the family’s life will soon be different. Williams knows he’ll miss the work, but says, “It’s time for a change anyway.”
by Sarah Grano

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