Saturday, February 10, 2018

Updates and random thoughts

It's early Saturday evening, and I've just gotten in and cleaned up from the afternoon milking. The kids are watching television, my wife's taking a nap, the rain continues to make the recent drought a distant memory, and I'm here to share a few updates and random thoughts with y'all in between sips of a mug of milk stout. So without any further ado and with no particular order in mind...

Milking herd update: We broke the 200 cows-in-milk threshold this week for the first time in several months. How high we climb over the next six weeks will depend largely on how many cows we dry-off early or cull from the herd, and with no cow records in front of me at the moment I'll guess we'll top out around 215. The herd's milk production hasn't been as good as we'd like but should improve as we start feeding corn silage with a little higher grain content.

Is processing in our future?: While we are taking steps to establish a beef herd as an exit strategy, I'm finding myself more and more interested in the idea of processing and marketing our own milk. Over the next few months I hope to visit several small-to-midsize dairies in the Southeast that are doing just that and get a better feel for the opportunities and challenges. If I can make it pencil out without running myself slap to death, Gilmer Dairy Farm milk, cheese, butter, or ice cream may be coming to a store near you one of these days. We are a long way from that point, but it may be the last best option for staying in the dairy business.

Milk price update: Ummmmm, let's skip to the next one.

I'm not the agvocate I used to be: Back in the day, I used to blog and tweet a lot more about the larger issues connected to agriculture. I faithfully fought the good fight, addressing people's misconceptions of how their food is produced and explaining how a particular public policy could make or break an entire industry. I may have never been one of the ringleaders or most influential voices when it came to the heavy-lifting of agricultural advocacy, but I did what I could. And it about burned me out. Nowadays, I just enjoy sharing the day-to-day of life on my dairy farm without the pressure of trying to be an "agvocate." Yeah, I still talk about issues from time to time, but I pick my battles. Honestly, I think people might put more stock in my opinions because of that...kind of that whole "they won't care how much you know until they know how much you care" thing. By the way, "agvocate"...shorthand jargon for "agricultural advocate" a dumb, made-up word and I've been wanting to say that for years. Don't @ me.

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings: Lots of agricultural meetings are scheduled for the first three months of the year because no one's in the field and row croppers don't have anything better to do (again, don't @ me). Back in January I went to my first American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting since rolling off the Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee in 2011. I saw lots of old friends and loved being part of the policy adoption process again. This past week I had dairy meetings down in Montgomery, and I'll be going back to the capital on Monday to hear candidates for statewide office give their pitches as to why Alabama's farmers should support their election bids. Follow that up with a county Farmers Federation meeting the next night and I'll be about all meeting'ed-out for a while.

The highs and lows of basketball: As of this posting, my beloved Mississippi State University's women's basketball team is undefeated, ranked #2 in the country, closing in on a conference championship, and looking every bit a contender for a national championship. The men's team has rebounded from a slow Conference start and is finally showing some real hope for the future. My own kids' teams...well, that's a different story. Neither have won a game all year and they are about out of chances. Bring on baseball/softball season.

Alright folks, my stomach is telling me it's time to get up and throw some smoked venison sausage in the frying pan. Kudos if you made it this far, and I hope y'all have a "dairy" good weekend!


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.

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.