In the wide world of farming, there aren’t many who envy the dairyman — too confining, they say, too demanding; all those cows that have to be milked and looked after every day of the year … day after day after day.

An old dairyman once summed it thusly: “You’ve either got to be a masochist or you’ve got to be the rare exception who really loves it.”

Jay Paul Hoover is one of those rare exceptions.

And though he sold his dairy here in Noxubee County, Miss., in 2000 when his father back in Pennsylvania was facing health issues and he thought he would need to return north to take over the family business, he looks back on his 17 years as a dairyman with much fondness.

“There are a lot of negative impressions of dairying,” he says, “but I enjoyed it immensely. I liked working with the cows and delivering a quality product. It was hard work, and we went through some challenging times in the early years.

“My wife and I would sit down every two weeks and figure to the penny how we would allocate the next milk check — how much for food, how much for expenses, how much toward debt. We did without things, we often just barely scraped by. It was tough, particularly with young children. It’s the kind of situation that can break some families apart, but it brought us closer together, made us stronger.”

Jay, who grew up in Pennsylvania, from time to time would visit relatives in the South. On one of those visits, he met Shirlene, who is from Macon, Miss., a region of highly productive farmland in the prairie region of the state (in the late 1800s, Noxubee County was the largest cotton producing county in Mississippi), and in 1980 they were married.

“I had grown up in farming,” he says. “My father had a row crop and vegetable operation; in addition to all his other crops, at one time he grew 400 acres of snap beans — that’s a lot of beans. He later bought a dairy operation with the idea of converting that land to crops, but ended up continuing the dairy.

“Dairying wasn’t Dad’s first love; I, on the other hand, really enjoyed it, and after Shirlene and I married, a small, dairy operation near Macon came up for sale in 1983. I could assume the owner’s 5 percent loan and the FHA would finance the rest.

“I was young, but I knew dairying inside and out, and I had the confidence to take on the debt. Dad co-signed a note for money to buy cows and equipment, and I was officially a dairyman.

“There were some lean, tough years early on, but five years later we had made every payment on time and I was able to take Dad off my note — a happy occasion! To this day, I’m thankful to the FHA for its young farmer program that helped me get started, and to Dad and the bankers who believed in me.”