This is the final installment of the three-part series about dairy. This week's topic discusses local dairy farming. Part one compared raw milk with regular, pasteurized milk. Part two examined milk alternatives - soy, goat and almond milks.
The first cow arrived on American soil with the Jamestown settlers in 1611. For the next 240-odd years, nearly every family had its own cow, the "family cow," grazing in the yard, yielding the fresh, wholesome "complete food" that kept children healthy for their chores. In the mid-1800's the growth of towns and cities made keeping livestock impractical, and the railroad enabled the shipping of milk over distances. By 1900, the milking machine had been invented and farmers could milk more than six cows per hour.
Today, 99 percent of America's households purchase milk, with an average of 12.27 cents of every food dollar spent on dairy products. Research says (statistically) that each of us drinks about 400 glasses of milk and eats 48 pints of ice cream per year.
The Kemp family owns Lofty Meadow Farm in Belmont, producing 588 gallons of milk per day. From left, Josh Kemp, fourth generation farmer, holds Regina, one of their Holsteins; Whitney Graham, Josh’s fiance; Jared Kemp, fourth generation farmer; Melinda and Greg Kemp, third generation owners.
That's a tall order for cows (and farmers) to fill, but in the United States, 11 million cows will produce more than 14 billion gallons of milk this year. Ohio ranks 11th in U.S. dairy production behind industry giants California, Wisconsin, Idaho, New York and Pennsylvania. Even though this state doesn't have some of the large scale factory farms of other states, Ohio dairy is a $4.2 billion industry generating 605 million gallons of milk annually and employing more than 14,000 people.
The advertising industry has painted the idyllic picture of "happy cows" in peaceful, sunny pastures nibbling on lush, green grass. This is not what many of those California (and other states') dairy farms are like. Large-scale farms have thousands of animals, most of which spend their time in "loafing barns" where they eat mainly cheap corn feed and stand in manure. They are bred at two years old, usually slaughtered by five years old and milked mercilessly in-between.
The "happy cow" picture is more often found in Ohio where, according to Belmont dairy farmers Greg and Melinda Kemp, farms are smaller and family-run. Kemp is a third generation dairyman, and his son Josh plans to carry on the tradition on their Lofty Meadow Farm. The Kemps purchased the 250 acres from Greg's parents in 2006 and also rent 200 additional acres on Kemp's grandfather George's property. Kemp's father, Bob, still works with Greg.
Did you know?
Ohio is the number one producer of Swiss cheese in the United States, and people crave cheese more than any other food.
Ohio ranks 8th in the U.S. for ice cream production.
It takes 12 pounds of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream.
Most milk cows (93 percent) are Holsteins, followed by Jersey (5.5 percent) and Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Ayrshire (less than 1 percent each).
Cows drink about 35 gallons of water (a bathtub full) and eat around 40 pounds of food per day.
Cows have the ability to smell odors up to six miles away.
Monday through Sunday, Kemp's day begins at 4:30 a.m. Cows - currently 73 of their 150 Holstein herd - are milked from 5:30 - 8:30. Kemp and sons Josh and Jared have breakfast and head out to the fields to mow hay by 9:30. At 1 p.m. they stop for lunch, then head back out for the afternoon to rake and bale the hay.
The farm uses around 3,000 bales annually since the cows are given a mixed diet of grass pasture, hay and feed pellets containing grains and vitamins (approximately 33 percent of the diet). As a sweet treat, many farmers like the Kemps add a bit of baleage, or fermented hay. A portion of the round bales are wrapped in plastic, and moisture "pickles" the contents. "It's like candy to the cows," says Greg.
The evening milking begins at 4:30 and ends around 8 p.m. Every other day a United Dairy truck from Martins Ferry picks up the Grade A milk. Lofty Meadow produces on average 5,000 pounds of milk per day, or 588 gallons.
Large farms employ specialty personnel such as a herdsman, who oversees and manages all of the daily operations concerning the cows: milking and quality of the milk, breeding, health and vaccinations, right down to individual personality quirks of the cows. A nutritionist monitors how cows respond to particular diets and recommends adjustments to improve milk quality or production.
When cows are uncomfortable or ill, they become stressed (hence the "happy cow" campaign), and this shows up during milk production. A hoof trimmer is trained to examine and analyze cows' feet for signs of illness or infection and to trim the hooves, which are the cows' toenails. Trimming keeps them comfortable and less prone to injury. Some large farms also keep a large animal or livestock veterinarian on staff to address health issues right away, administer medications and deliver calves.
On smaller farms like the Kemps' those duties have to be performed as well and much of the time are taken on by family members working the farm. "I've watched the vet trim hooves so many times I usually just do that myself," Greg says. "Jared and Whitney take care of the calves, and Josh, Jared and I do the milking."
He says he's also learned that waiting until a cow is three years old instead of two (the industry norm) to breed is beneficial in the long run. "The mother is a little stronger, healthier, and the calves do better. They eventually produce better, too."
Keeping the cows, equipment and land in good shape is crucial to this heavily regulated business. "When we got into this," says Greg's wife Melinda, "we knew the cows would eat before we did. It's still that way." And feeding and milking a herd of cattle averaging 1,500 pounds each is no mean feat. This business and way of life is not without its issues.
One area dairyman has been frustrated by the lack of communication within the state inspection system. "It's the process," he says. "It took three inspections to get a clear indication of what their issue with my tank really was. If they would have made it clear after the first inspection or the second, then I could have fixed it right away." He adds that many farmers have to operate with heavy debt loads because of the nature of the business, and threats of a shut-down for a bad inspection strikes fear into their lives. Hearing the panic in his son's voice about the inspection has prompted him to pursue changes in that system.
Other farmers are frustrated about pricing. "Everyone else has a surcharge or fuel charge," adds one lifelong dairy farmer. "I'm paying for the milk company's fuel and the vet's fuel and surcharges for feed, but I can't get those costs back. The government sets our price for milk, not us. I have to pay more for my own fuel for tractors and equipment, but I get paid the same price for milk - my income doesn't go up."
Long-walling under one local farm created serious structural problems with the barns (which have since been rectified). This family, however, was more fortunate than many area farmers to still have a pond after the mining. "We think a spring changed its course when the land shifted, and now it goes into the pond," notes the owner. Other farmers have lost their water sources to the mines and have to use water tanks for their livestock.
Melinda points out that most family farmers like themselves genuinely care for their animals, and the Kemps have had cows that lived to be 15 or 16 years old. "We really do have happy cows," and she adds that her "little group" consists of five generations of producing Holsteins: Red, Reann, Reanna, Regina and Regan. Reann and Reanna were both Grand Champions at the fair - Reanna a four-time Grand Champion.
In the end, the hard work and long hours are offset by the passion. Greg says, "This is my livelihood. I've always done it, and I enjoy being my own boss. It's a great place to raise your children. It's just a way of life."
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.