Farmers On Dairy Tour Struck By Similarities

Eastern Kansas 'small' dairy farmers surprised by how many of the managers of 'big' dairies come from their ranks.

Published on: May 8, 2012

Kansas dairy farmers from the predominately "small dairy" side of the state in eastern Kansas spent three days at the end of March touring some of the large dairy operations that have opened in western Kansas.

The six dairies visited ranged in size from 2,100 to almost 10,000 cows. The slideshow and stories below offer a look at the farmers who took part in the tour and what they thought.

Case wishes he had toured long time ago

Galen Case toured six western Kansas dairies with members of the Kansas Dairy Association, including his son, Randy. He says he wishes he had done that 15 years ago when the big dairies first came to Kansas.

"They make it look so easy," he said. "But they clearly have good management and a commitment to the industry."

Galen and Randy Case, who farm near McPherson, milk about 200 cows and farm about 2,000 acres of land.

Lots of cows, good ideas
Norman Meng, who operates a family dairy near Troy with his son, Jared says he has never seen so many cows in one place as in the large dairies of western Kansas.

He said he was impressed with the hands-on attitude of Plymell Dairy owner Boyd Sigafoose and with the efforts of every one of the big dairies to give back to the community,

Meng said he can imagine expanding this operation but not to the size of the dairies he visited.

"Oh, no," he said laughing, "A lot more headaches. But our facilities do need improvement and I got some good ideas."

Fosters enjoy chance to see big dairies, share ideas
Lynda Foster said she toured what were then considered big dairies when she was in college in the 1970s. And her son, David, had a chance to visit some of the current large farms as part of his college experience.

"This trip was especially good for us because Gary has never had a chance to see these operations and I hadn't seen anything this size," she said. "I was really impressed."

Gary said while he understands the value of having specialists in the operation, each devoted to one aspect of the farm, such as maternity or feeding, he enjoys the variety of doing a little bit of everything. And he likes being self-directed.

"I don't see myself as primarily a people manager," he said.

Lynda said she was surprised that most of the dairy managers started in small operations not much different that hers.

"I like the idea that if you have a dream to expand, it's possible," she said.

She said she also enjoyed the chance to interact with her peers on the bus ride and share ideas with them.

"We don't get a chance to visit all that often," she said. "It's nice to have time to really talk to people."

The Fosters farm with their son, David, his wife Addi and their three grandkids near Fort Scott.

Clubine, Strickler impressed with tour
Harry Clubine has worked for Strickler Farms at Iola for 27 years, the last 15 as farm manager.

He joined the tour with Strickler owner, Steve Strickler and said he thought the experience was great.

"I don't get the chance to get away from the farm that much," he said. "I handle all the day-to-day on the farm. Steve signs the checks, picks the bulls and does all the genetic work."

What impressed him most, he said, was the cleanliness of the dairy operations.

"Those drylots were well-groomed. The cows were clean and was just impressive."

Steve Strickler said he was impressed with the good, professional, young managers he met at the dairy operations, and with the fact that many of them started in small operations.

"I liked the out-of-the-box thinking of this bright young people," he said.

Campbell just likes visiting other dairies
Carroll Campbell says his favorite thing in the whole world is visiting other dairies.

"My wife just doesn't understand it," he says. "When we're on a trip and we pass a dairy, I always want to stop and look around. I like to see what other people are doing. She can't get why I don't want to get away from dairying once in a while."

Campbell's passion made his recent tour with other members of the Kansas Dairy Association, including his son Nathan, delightful Campbell said.

The Campbells milk between 230 and 250 cows on their family dairy near Winfield.

"We're all doing the same thing," he said. "We're taking care of cows, managing people and selling milk to the same market. During my career, there has been tremendous consolidation. The big dairies produce 60% of all the milk in Kansas."

What he found comforting he said, is that the people who manage those dairies share his values.

"They care about cows; they know if cows are happy, the produce milk," he said. "Dairying hasn't changed all that much."

He said he was also impressed with the excellent water management systems he saw.

The Campbell operation, in addition to Carroll and Nathan, includes Carroll's wife, xx,  Nathan's wife, Amy, as well  his daughter Dana and her husband Scott Lowe. The Lowes have added beef cattle to the business.

"We are expanding and when I have time to think about all of it, I'm sure I learned something we can use on this trip," he said.

Lane says take-home message was benefit of cooperation
For Dave Lane of Lane Holsteins at Colwich, the most significant message of the Kansas Dairy Association tour to western Kansas involved the benefits that the large dairy owners and managers have gained by partnerships.

"I look at those guys and what I see is that they found other people to work with who were willing to get involved in an enterprise that would benefit everybody and share the investment and risk to put it into operation."

Lane said he thinks there might be a lesson there for smaller dairy farmers and their neighbors.

 "I've always thought we should find ways to forge partnerships so we can act like we are larger than we really are, for instance to own equipment we need but cannot justify ourselves. They just do it on a much grander scale."

Overall, Lane said, he thinks that the best dairies depend on the people managing them, not the size of the facilities or the number of cows.

"You can have the best facilities in the world and if you don't take care of them, in the end you lose," he said. "You can have minimal facilities and if you take care of your cows and manage correctly, you succeed."

Paulys thinking of expansion, found some ideas
Jim Pauly has three sons, all of whom are interested in becoming part of a family dairy operation on the farm near Viola.

"Todd and I went on the tour and we found it pretty interesting," Jim Pauly said. "Our facility was built in 1973 and its time for an upgrade. And if we are going to have four owner/operators then we are going to need to grow."

He's think more like between 300 and 600 cows, rather than thousands, however.

"I have wanted to get that big," Pauly said. "I know we are going to have to grow to make room for everyone, but we have a pretty good-sized farming operation too."

Pauly said he enjoyed the experience and the chance to get a look at how other people are doing things.

"I thought the rotary parlor was interesting, but it concerned me some that the cows are milked for a limited time and then they are off whether they were milked out or not."

Miller enjoyed seeing how other people milk cows

Orville Miller and his dairy partner Rick McHenry made the Kansas Dairy Association tour just to get a look at how other people go about producing milk.

Miller and McHenry run Miller Dairy near Hutchinson.

Miller says the trip was definitely worth his time and he enjoyed visiting with the western Kansas "big" dairymen and learning more about how they manage operations from 10 times to 50 times the size of his 180-cow herd.

"I have never been into a numbers game," he said. "I enjoy taking care of the cows. My goal is to do a really good job with what I do. But it is always interesting to explore what someone else does."

He said he was impressed with the forward-thinking attitude of the McCarty family and their willingness to commit to making it work.

"I also really liked the time on the bus, getting to talk to other dairy farmers whose operations are more like mine and just socialize. We don't have that much time to just visit in the day-to-day routine. Rick and I both really enjoyed that."

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