New dairy parlor up and running in Shop Springs
"All the really good ideas I've ever had came to me while I was milking a cow." --American artist Grant Wood.
Brothers Justin and Jeffrey Turner have bought into the notion that milking a cow is a right smart idea in itself, even in these days of economic uncertainty.
Their new Grade A dairy in Shop Springs bumps the number of milk producers in Wilson County up from two to three, reversing a downward trend that's been going on since 1953 when there were 2,573 farms here with at least one milk cow.
"We decided in the fall of 2007 that we wanted to milk cows. On December of 2015 we milked the first one," says Justin, 35. "I knew I needed to do it or forget about it. We don't know how it will go, but at least we have a chance to make it work.
"Sometimes I just stand there and look at it and can't believe it's sitting here," he said about the spanking new 40-by-128-foot milking parlor sitting on the same spot where his father and mother, Tommy and Jackie Turner, milked cows from 1979 to 1999.
WILSON COUNTY DAIRY STATS
1953: 2,573 farms with at least one milk cow; 17,302 dairy cattle
1964: 791 farms; 8,518 dairy cattle
1974: 247 farms; 3,461 dairy cattle
1982: 56 farms; 501 dairy cattle
1987: 32 farms; 552 dairy cattle
2014: Two dairy farms; 500 dairy cattle
2016: Three dairy farms; 625 dairy cattle
"When we talked to Dad about pushing the old barn down, he wasn't excited," said Jeffrey, 26, "but he's always been supportive."
Milk twice daily, every day
During the early minutes of sunrise the Turner family's 140-acre farm slumbers in the long shadow cast westward by the timbered ridge that peaks at Jennings Knob.
The brothers, graduates of Lebanon High School, rise to tackle their chores in the 5:45 a.m. winter darkness. When they return to their herd for the second milking at 6 p.m., the skies will be black again.
But the precious fluid flowing from the udders of their 26 registered Holsteins will be as white as, well, milk, which for dairy farmers translates into the color green.
The duo behind this modern, technologically-advanced dairy is pleased as can be to point to a framed check, dated Dec. 23, 2015, on their office wall, proof of their first share of milk money from Purity Dairy in Nashville.
Their black-and-white Holsteins produce on average about 80 pounds (about nine gallons) of milk a day per cow, thus the herd pumps out 2,000 pounds every 24 hours. The same milkman who picks up their milk also hauls the milk from the farms of Larry Eastes and Roy Major, the other two dairymen in the county.
Growing up on milk (farms)
The Turner brothers are the fourth generation of their family who were raised on this piece of good earth. Both are bachelors, but Jeffrey is engaged to a young woman who grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan (they met at a Future Farmers of America national leadership conference). He works a day job as an independent dairy nutritionist and travels frequently serving farmers who operate dairies in Illinois and Alabama.
Justin stays rooted on the farm where he has worked since his youth. He row crops corn and soybeans and raises 40 beef cattle with his brother Jason, 33, who, along with cousin Tyler Hobson and neighbor Chuck Udulutch, lend a hand with the dairy chores.
Udulutch, who assisted his father five decades ago with a dairy herd of 80 in a stanchion (stall) barn, notes, "There's not much manual labor to it anymore."
The siblings' great-grandfather milked Jerseys here in the 1950s and '60s, but the two have no memory of a time when milking was done by hand and the milk was stored in a five-gallon can and kept cool in a spring.
When the young men were teenagers they labored for Roy Major, whom they give credit for being a strong influence in their decision to become dairymen.
Building on their family's property
For now the brothers share their grandparents' old house on the farm, while their parents live in the brick house beside the new dairy.
"Before we started I told them, 'We're building this thing 150 feet from your back door,' and Mom never said one thing about it," recalled Justin.
The two looked at 20 to 30 dairy barns to get the best ideas of how to build their own.
"We considered renovating the old barn but realized it would cost much more," said Jeffrey.
Justin adds, "We decided to build new dairy and used a mix of new and used equipment and pieced it together."
The thrifty farmers bought used equipment from the University of Auburn and the University of New Hampshire.
The dairy features a large milk barn with a double-eight, rapid-exit parlor, which means the Turners can milk 16 cows at a time. After milking, the cattle are released at the same time.
Wilson County's first subway system?
This is also a subway milking parlor, likely the first of its kind in the county. Instead of the milk swooshing through tubes across the barn floor, it flows downward through silicon hoses into a well-lit tunnel beneath the barn.
As the milk enters the subway, which resembles a long, concrete storm cellar, the pulsating action of the milk in the tubes creates a sound similar to that of a herd of galloping horses.
The subway parlor was an expensive option, but, says Jeffrey, "We did it to keep the equipment clean, and it makes it easier to service the equipment and increase its longevity."
Other structures on the farm include an open-air 76-by-168-feet loafing shed where the cattle feed and rest on a compost bedding pack that is tilled twice a day, a four-bay commodity barn, a hay barn and calf barn.
"Everything we built, we built with cow comfort in mind," Jeffrey said. "Keep 'em dry and comfortable in winter and cool in summer."
Happy cows, happy farmers
One of the big deals at the Turner dairy is an automatic detacher or control box that scans the collars on each cow and tallies the weight of the milk each cow produces, if it was above or below the cow's average output and the length of time. (The average milking time per creature is five minutes.) The box relays the data to their office computer.
"This is just another tool to help take care of the cows," said Justin. "Later this year we'll have an app so we can read the data on our iPhones."
Off to a good start along the milky way, he says, "We expect to be at full capacity by spring time with 90 milk cows."
Milk and blood
Jeffrey notes, "It gets in your blood. Justin started row cropping 12 years ago and raises steers. I came along, and both of us had a passion to farm. Dairy farming is not something everybody's going to do. It's more stable compared to row cropping because of the availability of land."
The two agree that neither would have chosen to go this route alone.
"He's the better cow man," Justin says of Jeffrey. "He picked the cows out. As for the jobs on the farm, both of us can do anything in case one of us is gone a few days."
Both men, like most farmers, are hard workers and enjoy being in the open air and around their animals. But they confess they may not be as hard-driven as their father, a life-long farmer.
"Our dad went seven years without missing a milking twice a day," Justin said. "We don't want to break his record. We hope it stands."
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.