Saturday, January 13, 2018

From the milk house to the courthouse?

"So, are you running?"

It's a question I've been asked with increasing regularity over the past few weeks in regard to the soon-to-be open position of Probate Judge in Lamar County. For those of you unfamiliar with my county's politics and interested enough to continue reading, our probate judge essentially serves as our county's CEO with duties that include overseeing all matters of probate (obviously), issuance of car tags, and serving as the chairman of the County Commission. Our current judge recently announced he would retire at the end of this month rather than serve out the final year of his six-year term. This leaves Gov. Ivey with the responsibility to appoint someone to fill the position until a candidate is elected in November.

I've playfully teased the idea of running for public office on social media before, from posting faux campaign images like the one above to sarcastically tweeting about my willingness to fill Jeff Session's former Senate seat if asked. If there's one political job I've ever been genuinely interested in, though, it's the one I'm now being asked about.

Two months ago, I received word of Judge Rogers's retirement along with an offer to have my name passed on to the governor's office for appointment consideration. Caught completely by surprise, my initial excitement at the prospect diminished over the course of a few days as I couldn't come to peace with it through prayer. I declined the opportunity to be considered, deciding that the potential opportunity to temporarily hold public office wasn't worth the guilt and regret I would feel if I were to walk away from the family farm.

So to answer the question at the top, my answer least for now..."no."

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we have already started taking steps to slowly transition out of the dairy business. I'm kicking around the idea that on-farm processing might be a viable way to sustain the dairy, but that is far from certain at this point. Honestly, I don't know what the future holds. Should I be looking at local politics as a better way forward for myself? I don't know. The best thing I can do is keep praying for the faith and courage to travel the path God intends for me to travel, which means I need to keep doing what I'm doing until He (and not my own ambition) leads me in another direction. Yeah, I'll have a serious case of the "what ifs" after Governor Ivey announces her appointment and again after November's election, but I think I'll be at peace about it.

On a final note, I am thankful for those of you who have expressed confidence in my ability to successfully handle that position. Your encouragement is greatly appreciated, and I'll be sure to let you know if something changes between now and the qualifying deadline.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Checking in with a long overdue farm update

Hello, folks, it’s been a while. I apologize for not posting to this blog over the past few months...sometimes I forget that not everyone follows along with the daily goings-on via Twitter. But now I'm back and happy to share a bit about what's been happening on the farm and where we see it going in the future.

The happiest news coming out of the summer is that we had a very good corn silage crop. We only planted corn on three-quarters of our available acreage this year, yet we harvested enough to fill all three of our silage pits. Without a doubt it was one of the best silage crops I can remember. We also rolled up over 550 bales (roughly 220 tons) of bermuda and crabgrass hay. That's a little short of our normal yield but should be more than enough to see us through the winter and early spring. 

Weather permitting, we will finally begin drilling oats into fields and pastures over the next few weeks. Some of the planted acreage will be used for spring grazing, but most will be harvested as baleage. It doesn't provide quite the kick of corn silage, but it's proven to be a better option on some of our marginal ground. Other farm chores on the docket include clipping pastures, seemingly endless equipment repairs, keeping hay rings filled, and of course milking cows twice a day.

Speaking of the cows, we currently have 167 in the active milking herd. That number should climb steadily over the next few months as more cows freshen than are dried off. The same could also be said of our cows’ milk production. It’s been slowly improving since the summer, but our nutritionist expects next week’s ration change to boost milk 4-6 pounds per cow. Let’s hope so!

And now…the bad news.

The dairy business is not very good right now, particularly in our part of the country. We've seen worse prices and margins a couple of times in the past ten years, but it appears we are now in a period of what could be called "persistent mediocrity."  The price we are receiving for our milk lets us pay the bills, but that’s about the best I can say about it. The dairy industry’s long-term outlook is bright, but I don’t know how many dairies in this part of the country will be around to see those better days. In Alabama alone we’ve lost nearly 100 dairies over the last fifteen years, and we have barely more than 30 operating today. There are many factors that have led us to this point, but at the end of the day it’s a matter of supply and demand: too many cows in this country producing more milk than we can sell for a good price in the marketplace.

I regularly pray that God will give us wisdom to make good choices about the direction of our farm, and recently we have made a big one: we are taking the first steps to transition from dairy to beef. Breeding our way into owning a commercial beef herd will take time, so there will be several million more pounds of milk produced on our farm over the next few years. And don't worry...I’ll continue to promote dairy just as hard as I possibly can until the last Holstein leaves our farm!

Over the past 65 some-odd years, dairy farming has provided a good living for my grandparents, my parents, and my own family. Breaking away from that legacy is scary, but I’m at peace with our decision. As much as I love what I do every day, I’ve come to believe this change gives our farm a better opportunity to be productive and profitable in the years to come. I’ll continue to pray for wisdom as we make decisions along the way, and I would certainly appreciate any prayers you could spare on our behalf every now and then.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Rocking into July

Move over fidget spinners, there's a new fad in town: rock hunting.

According to a Facebook Group called "205 Rocks!," people are painting rocks and hiding them in parks, near businesses, around churches, and in other public areas in our local communities. Once these rocks are found, they can be kept as souvenirs or re-hidden for someone else to find. These rocks come in all shapes and sizes and the artwork on them is just as varied.

my kids hid five special "prize" rocks in Lamar County
Activities like this offer golden opportunities for business promotion, and a few local businesses have hidden "prize" rocks that can be redeemed for anything from trinkets to t-shirts. My daughter decided we should get in on that act, so Saturday night she and her brother hid five black and white "Gilmer Dairy Farm" rocks between Vernon and Sulligent. My wife posted a photo of them on the 205 Rocks! group page with the instructions that anyone who found one could stop by our milking barn one afternoon and swap the rock for a prize package.

Two kids stopped by while we were milking on Sunday afternoon to claim their prize. Two more of the rocks have been found according to photos posted on the Facebook page, and the status of the fifth is still a mystery. I'm not sure how long the interest in rock hunting will last (or how many prize packages we will give away), but it is a neat little activity to help keep kids active this summer.

Happy hunting, and have a "dairy" good day!

my daughter holds the first rock redeemed for a dairy-themed prize package