The 2018 Wilson County Fair will honor dairy farms and families as it celebrates “Year of Milk” as the agriculture commodity and making more mAGic memories.
A life of early mornings, long days of hard work and braving the elements day in and day out 365 days a year may not sound appealing to everyone, but for Wilson County’s dairy farmers, this is the lifestyle they have happily chosen.
Looking out over the farm, raising children and grandchildren to experience morning and afternoon milking, bottle feeding baby calves, harvesting crops, baling hay – the many chores involved with stewardship of the land and cattle bring families closer together.
“Watching three little boys grow up and have the whole farm experience – playing in the creek, showing calves, seeing the natural life and death experience and growing up to be good people” are the mAGic Memories for Roy Major, patriarch of Major Dairy Farm, where he and wife, Diane, raised sons Josh, Seth and Jared. Grandchildren Carter and Addison experience the same mAGic. Major Dairy Farm was established in 1979.
“It’s a good way of life,” said Larry Eastes with Eastes Dairy Farm. “A dairy farm is a good place to raise a family, to get to be with them every day and see them grow.”
Eastes’ farm will reach century farm status in 2019 – with 100 years of continuous dairy operation. Established by his grandparents, Ernest and Allie Driver, the farm was then operated by his parents, John D. and Ernestine Eastes, before Larry Estes took the reins. His son, Kirk, helps daily on the farm, while daughter, Lora Eastes Stutts, is a fifth-grade teacher in Watertown. Both live on the farm with their own families, and Larry Estes’ grandchildren are growing up steeped in farm life just as their parents were.
Brothers Jeffrey, Justin and Jason Turner grew up milking cows, and Jeffrey and Justin Turner decided to open their own dairy on the family farm, milking their first Holsteins on Dec. 9, 2015. Their parents, Tommy and Jackie Turner, got out of the dairy business in the early 2000s, but Jeffrey Turner has fond memories of going to the barn with his dad to milk, or when he was too small to help, waiting for his dad to come in from milking so the family could sit down together for the evening meal. It’s all about family. And even though Jason Turner isn’t a partner in the new dairy, he helps out, too.
Holsteins are the predominant dairy breed in Wilson County, and the Turners have 100-percent Holsteins; the Eastes family have about 80 percent Holstein plus Jersey and a few Brown Swiss; and Major Dairy Farm has 95 percent registered Holstein, plus a few Brown Swiss, Ayrshire and Jerseys – from acquiring additional breeds for the youngsters to show through 4-H. Eastes milks about 80 cows a day, the Turners about 100 cows, and the Majors average 200-220 cows. That translates to tons of milk in a year, 8 million to 8.5 million pounds of milk annually, combined.
While dairy farming is a beloved way of life, it’s one that is more challenging than ever before. Volatile markets and only one buyer for the area leave the hard-working families at the mercy of whatever price they are given. Margins are slim to negative. Giant corporate dairy farms that load out full tankers of milk daily are tough for the family farms to compete against. Prohibitively high land costs make expansion nearly impossible. But the dairy farmers are accustomed to adversity and do their best to survive and thrive.
Roy Major said he hopes to see market corrections bring some stability in the future so his farm can continue to provide the dairy farming opportunity for his grandchildren. The Eastes family already has diversified by building up their herd of beef cattle. Larry Eastes’ dream is to at least keep operating the dairy through the 100-year anniversary in 2019, but without market changes, they may transition completely to beef. As the youngest dairy farm in Wilson County, the Turner Dairy Farm would like to expand and is exploring options to eliminate the market volatility they face.
Through it all, they pull together as strong families rooted to the land and cattle they care so deeply for, making more mAGic memories as the days pass.