Benigno Cueto is a dairy farmer who works and lives in central Asturias. He has been working in farming for over thirty years and can’t picture himself doing anything else. He loves the outdoors and being in contact with nature and that pays off the hard work involved in his business.
His day starts at six o’clock in the morning. Around half six he goes to the stable, cleans, prepares the food for the cows and then takes the cattle to the milk station. When he first started he only had four or fives cows and he milked them by hand. Back then his cows weren’t a business, it was a hobby and a way of knowing where the milk the family was having came from while saving up some money. At some point his mum, who used to help, broke her arm and they decided to buy a milking machine to make things easier.
When the first milking session of the day ends, the cows have food –that he has previously arranged- and while they eat, he goes for breakfast. That would be around nine o’clock.
His cows are mainly grain-fed although they do get grass as well. His operation would probably fit into the industrial production category; however, his cows are spoilt. He cares about them and their quality of life and good proof of it is that he has forty-five cows and calls each of them by their name.
After breakfast he goes back to check on the cattle, gives them some more food, makes their dry grass beds –yes, the cows have “beds”- and then cleans the stables again. Around half eleven/midday he takes his cattle out to different fields, sometimes nearby, some others a bit further and they stay outside until around six o’clock, maybe a bit earlier in the winter. Around that time, he leads them inside the stables again, they eat –their feed includes grain and also silos store hay that cows absolutely adore- and then they are milked around seven o’clock. In the summer they go out again around half eight because they sleep outside. They stay inside at night only in the colder months, between November and May.
“At first calves were born and I kept keeping them, I enjoyed spending time with the cows… and then I had to build the stable, the first one twenty-one years ago, the second, thirteen”. He remembers the old days when cows used to live much longer than now. “You can’t get too attached because you know beforehand how the story ends, you know what will happen… The business is so tight that when I cow is not profitable you need to get rid of it. Not long ago I sold one that was twelve years old and I was very sad. Now they last an average of six or seven years”, he says.
Benigno isn’t hopeful to the future of his industry. “It doesn’t look good at all. Here in Asturias for example, it looks as if the farms will disappear when my generation retires. There are few people after us, many of us are single and the ones who have families, their children go somewhere else for work, not necessarily because they don’t like farming, but because it’s harder and harder to make a living out of it”, he explains. In some areas of the region people who are pre-retired have cattle and he says that it’s unfair not only because they do get many subsidies, but also because they have their pre-retirement salary and they can afford to pay more for renting pastures what increases the price for the rest as well, making it more difficult to survive. Furthermore, he thinks that the end of the EU milk quota isn’t helping either, especially in the case of small farms like his, but he is somehow hopeful that the situation will improve in the near future.
He admits that if he had to build now the stables he has, he probably wouldn’t be able to afford. “I wouldn’t recommend start a business like this to anyone these days” and he adds “it is very difficult for people like me and I have been doing it for a really long time, I think starting from scratch now would be impossible”.
Committing to a job where holidays are non-existent and where the working hours are never-ending is not for everyone. “If you are willing to work, in this sector you could work every hour of the day and there would be still plenty of things to do, money not so much, but loads of work to do, always”, says Benigno, and he adds “however I always try to save some time for myself, to relax a bit, maybe go for a bike ride or go out for lunch with some friends. And what’s the point if you don’t enjoy life?”.