Neil Moye and his brother David had been raising crops and livestock in Greene County, North Carolina for close to 30 years, but they hadn’t tried dairy farming. A couple of Jersey cows changed that.“We had a little two-stanchion barn and my boys did the milking with a bucket milker,” said Neil.“We did that for several years and as the boys started to get older, they continued their interest in dairy farming.”
After the boys were out of school, the family thought about developing a larger dairy operation. “In 2008, we thought about having a grazing dairy herd and putting in a milking parlor,” said Neil, explaining the start of Simply Natural Creamery in Ayden, NC. “We thought we’d start with about 100 cows and get up to 180 to 200. But the only way to justify a start-up dairy of that size would be to offer added-value products. We wanted to produce a very high quality product and provide a positive rural experience for customers.”
Neil knew that researching the options for a dairy farm set-up would be critical for success, so the family visited dairy farms in Pennsylvania, Virginia and western North Carolina to determine what kind of facilities would best suit their needs. After formulating a plan, the Moyes started construction on facilities in 2009.
The next step was to find good cattle.“We wanted to continue with Jerseys,” said Neil. “Jerseys withstand the heat well here in eastern North Carolina. Conception rate is also better, and they’re docile. We also knew that Jersey milk was twenty percent higher in butterfat, calcium and protein.”
To obtain heifers to start the herd, Neil worked with a dairy farmer in Asheboro who was milking about 200 Jerseys. “I bought every heifer calf born on his farm for about six months,” said Neil. “I picked up calves every week and raised them on bottles. We raised about 70 Jersey heifers here, then bred them. In the fall of 2011, they started calving and that’s when we started milking the first cows here.”
Rather than constructing a traditional free-stall barn, the Moyes chose the ultimate in cow comfort, a sand bedded pack barn with access to pasture. “Our cows are only on concrete for the length of time they are in to be milked,” said Neil. “They have the option of the sand-bedded barn, or they can walk to a 12-foot slab where they’re fed a TMR, or they can go to pasture.”
Cows have access to the sand bedded pack during the day when temperatures are highest. At night, they’re excluded from the pack barn but can stay outside on pasture or come up to eat at the feed ally. “We cultivate the sand every day,” said Neil. “We stir the manure in with the sand. The sand takes the moisture from the manure and the manure dries out. Then we come through twice a month with a tractor that has an attachment that goes about two to three inches into the sand, takes out the cow patties and rolls them up on a conveyer. All the loose sand sifts back down to the pack and the cow patties go into a trailer; then manure is spread on crop fields. Once a year, we push off the top six inches and put fresh sand back in.”
The Moyes are currently milking 140 Jerseys in a double-eight herringbone parlor that’s expandable to a double 12. “We shoot for about 180 milking at a time,” said Neil. “We have a lot of dry cows and we’re starting to calve again, so we’ll be back to the 180 mark soon.”
To continually improve herd quality, cattle are bred according to Select Sires’ computerized breeding system that determines the ideal mating for each cow. “They come out and look at each cow,” said Neil, describing the scoring system. “They look at legs, udder depth, teat placement and fore udder attachment to score each cow, then suggest mating with a bull that corrects any issues that cow has.”
The Moyes farm 2,500 acres; 300 of which comprise the home farm. While Neil keeps busy with the dairy and processing side of the operation, his brother David manages the crops that are used for a balanced TMR. Crops include corn silage and shelled corn, and sometimes sorghum sudangrass following corn silage as an insurance crop. “If we want to chop it we can,” said Neil. “Otherwise we mow and wrap it. We also have crimson clover and Marshall ryegrass for wrapped bales.”
One of two herd veterinarians does the nutritional work for the herd. “She comes every two weeks and looks at the cows,” said Neil. “We talk about dry matter intake and body scores, and she adjusts the rations according to DIM and body scores.” Most of the cows’ nutritional needs are met through the TMR, while pasture provides exercise, grazing choices and a good resting place.
Simply Natural products include a selection of processed milk products: whole milk, low fat milk, heavy cream, chocolate milk and ice cream; all processed and sold at the on-farm store. “We knew we were going to have a store, but we didn’t realize it was going to be as big a hit as it has been,” said Neil, noting that the store has been open for almost a year. Neil credits his wife Jackie and his sister-in-law Sheri for the concept and success of the retail store.
Neil and his family take pride in providing wholesome dairy products as well as a genuine farm experience for visitors. “All they hear are horror stories,” said Neil, describing the lack of accurate information about agriculture. “If people can visit a farm that is trying to do things right, they’ll have more appreciation for what farmers do.”