Kentucky Farmer Took Career Detour Before Dairy Success

In 1985, Jim Sidebottom traded beef cattle for 16 Holsteins. It was a challenging start.

Published on: Sep 19, 2012

Jim Sidebottom grew up on a diversified farming operation. Learning from his father, Loy, how to handle everything from cattle to tobacco, hogs to corn. Though he always maintained a farm, it wasn't always his main source of income.

Loy's farm wasn't big enough to support more than one family. Out of high school in 1967, Sidebottom, the man from Greensburg, Ky., was drafted in to the military and served in Europe. He married Ona in 1968 after they met at the Greensburg bicentennial celebration.

When they got back home from their "European honeymoon," Ona and Jim went into the carpet business and started their family. A decade passed, but he always farmed on the side. He couldn't help it.

Jim Sidebottom
Jim Sidebottom

"The (flooring) business was good, but my heart wasn't in it," Sidebottom said. "I'd find myself not able to wait and looking forward to getting off in the afternoon and jumping on the tractor or to the weekend when I could be on the farm."

Then, someone came along with a good offer to buy his carpet business. With that money, Sidebottom made the plunge back to where he was supposed to be: full-time on the farm.

In 1981, he bought 200 acres, some equipment and some beef cattle. He expanded into tobacco and corn. Then 1983's drought hit hard, and he had to rethink his operation. He and Ona ran the numbers and for them to stay in farming, they'd have to once again change, this time into a dairy.

In 1985, they traded the beef cattle for 16 Holsteins. That first milking was a challenge. The cows did little to cooperate. It was Ona's first time milking a cow, she was pregnant with Laura and by chance that first milking day was April 1, April Fool's Day.

But it worked out. More than the family expanded. The dairy did, too. They now have 200 head of replacement heifers and milks about 210 cows three times daily in a newly built milk barn, 20 cows at a time three times a day. The rolling herd average is 22,000 pounds of milk per year. The farm is roughly 500 acres, 400 acres owned and 100 acres rented. Saw dust beds are used to keep the cows comfortable and the facility clean. Country music plays to keep them calm. Artificial insemination is used and high-quality hay is fed. They hope to double the operation's size in a few years.

For 44 years, Ona has been his business partner. From the carpet business to now handling the dairy's record keeping and calves, they are business team. "We've worked together every day and we haven't killed each other, yet," Ona joked.

The Sidebottoms have three children. Stacy is now a partner with the dairy and is actively involved with local agricultural leadership.  Anna is marketing specialist with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Laura is a science teacher. Ona and Jim are also Kentucky Colonels, a famously honorary title.