“These heifers are some of the nicest I’ve ever raised,” said Dave Stanton of Walton, NY.
Stanton has been in dairying for 22 years and says he started out with nothing more than a 9N tractor and a manure spreader. Now he is milking 55 registered Holsteins.
“In 2015 we were milking 75. That was the largest it was. That was right after the milk price was up.”
Stanton says he should have sold cows and heifers off then, but didn’t. He continued to milk.
Now, with milk prices causing small farmers to take a second look at the dairy industry, Stanton is looking for new ways to supplement his dairy so he is able to hold on to his herd.
One idea he attributes to his daughter Sybil.
“Sybil wants me to get down to 30 or 40 cows and just keep all my high end cows — you know the milk industry is just so poor. She’s been trying to get me to get rid of most of my commercial cows.”
Last year he sold off 20 of his best stock and regrets it.
“He cherry picked them out of my herd,” Stanton explained. “Everybody says you sell the best and keep the rest, but right now I wish I hadn’t.”
Sybil, who recently received another degree in animal science, has successfully shown several of Stanton’s cows in Wisconsin. Her idea is to sell embryos out of the high-end cows and heifers.
Stanton says he has bought embryos in the past dealing specifically with Oak Field Corners Dairy, which is a division of Lamb Farms, Oakfield, NY.
Out of the nine embryos he bought he got six heifers and they are the pride of his herd.
Although he primarily uses A.I. for breeding he runs a bull with the cows for “clean up.” That bull he says is also from Lamb Dairy’s stock.
Stanton steps out into a pasture and calls out to heifers that are on the far side of the pasture, a good quarter mile off.
“This is something I love to see,” he comments. “Seeing these heifers come running to me when I holler to them! I feed them twice a day, that way I can keep an eye on them. If they break out I can bring them all back with a pail of grain.”
Stanton believes the dairy industry in New York State is in trouble and that many of the dairymen just won’t believe it. “Right now, I believe that every farmer is losing money every day.”
Stanton counts off seven farms that had once been established in the local vicinity, within a 5-mile radius.
“They were all farming when I went into business 22 years ago, now I am the only one left in the area.”
Stanton said he believes the smaller farms have been carrying the bigger farms on their scoring. “The bigger farms can’t afford your shavings and all of your dipping procedures and all of that stuff because of the milk price.”
Stanton says because his components are high (as of December 2016, components were Butter fat 4.02 Protein 3.09), and his Somatic Cell Count (SCC) is low at 64,000, he gets a premium for his milk of about $1.20/cwt.
“I produce between 4,000 and 8,000 pounds of milk at my high time, every two days.”
“I give no growth hormones and no BST.”
Stanton markets his milk to Garelick and has been with them for 4 years.
But still, Stanton says milk prices are forcing him to dry up his cows earlier than he would normally. “You’re losing money every time you throw that grain scoop to the cow, because the cow’s not making me any money on milk right now. This is what my wife and daughter Sybil are trying to tell me.”
Stanton says he is fortunate to have a second business, Stanton’s Excavating, that he falls back on to keep his dairy running.
“I have very good cows and a very good dairy, but when do I stop taking money from my other business to keep the dairy running? You can’t make money at $17 or $18 milk. Dairy farmers can’t sustain their farms on that kind of money.”
It’s due to Stanton having his second business that made it possible to renovate another barn for his cows. He worked along with his construction crew while they jack-hammered the barn out to move, and then install, new gutters, lengthened the beds and enlarged stalls to accommodate the size of his Holsteins.
“These guys work the excavating with me,” Stanton said. “If I didn’t have guys that could do this stuff, it wouldn’t be getting done. I don’t even want to guess what it would cost me.”
The newly remodeled, tie stall barn is about 35 feet longer, has all new mattresses, remodeled mangers and a raised pipeline.
“Last year some of my cows and heifers were laying in the gutter and some of the heifers would hit their backs on the pipeline,” Stanton explained. “My cows will be a lot more comfortable now!”
Stanton employs two or three people in his barn including Jennifer Wolcott and Ann Wainwright.
Stanton says his wife Rhonda “makes my life a lot easier! She helps every day. She is my right arm. We’ve been married 39 years.”
The couple have five children including Shannon, who works in Early Childhood Intervention programs; Jennifer, a middle school teacher in the Bronx; Gerry, a power line worker; Dave, who like his dad, works in excavating and construction and is also a CNY Beef Producer; and Sybil.
Stanton has nothing but good to say about bringing his family up on the farm.
“My kids all learned a great work ethic and compassion by being on the farm and working with the cows,” says Stanton. “When they went out looking for jobs, they always were hired right away.”
However, Stanton remains concerned about the disappearance of “family farms.”
“I wish someone would step in and save small family farms. It could already be too late now.”