by Sally Colby
There’s a dairy farm in eastern New York that proves careful cow selection and paying close attention to genetics over the years is worthwhile.
Jeff and Jan King, along with their parents Edgar and Carolyn, own and operate Kings Ransom Farm, which has been in the family for 115 years. Jeff and Jan are the fourth generation to operate the farm in Schuylerville, NY.
Jeff explained the family farms about 2,500 acres; 1,000 of which is owned acreage. The farm’s field crop plan focuses on growing for a balanced TMR. Crops include BMR corn, alfalfa/grass mixture for haylage and 150 to 200 acres of soybeans sold as a cash crop.
The Kings are currently milking about 1,000 cows in a new parlor that’s the result of intensive planning and teamwork.
“It’s a double 20 parabone parlor,” said Jeff, explaining the parlor as a cross between a parallel and a herringbone. “It was just remodeled this past July. We expanded from a double 12 herringbone. It allowed us to add more stalls fairly inexpensively and we didn’t change our concrete pit at all. Instead of the cows standing herringbone style, they’re turned quite a bit more, almost straight, but still angled. The plan allowed us to use the same building and same components.”
The hybrid parlor was a sensible solution, but required considerable planning because the entire system was changed out in one day. “We stopped milking at about 7 a.m.,” said Jeff. “We had been milking 3x day in the double 12. We had a crew and a plan, and totally removed all the old stalls, installed the new stalls, a completely new milk line and pulsation. We were milking by 8 that evening. It was pretty sweet at the end of the day when we were milking cows in the new parlor.” Jeff recalled there were times he and the crew looked around the room that just a short time ago had been full of stalls, pipelines, air lines and everything else that goes with a parlor. “At one point there was nothing there,” said Jeff. “We looked around and thought, ‘we’re going to be milking cows here in about eight hours.’”
The King family is active in marketing registered Holsteins and spends significant time ensuring that they maintain the best possible genetics in the herd. “We use almost 100 percent genomic young sires,” said Jeff. “We breed a small percentage, about 10 percent of the herd, for higher type, and 90 percent a combination of high GTPI and merit. We use embryo transfer and in-vitro fertilization extensively. Our goal is to sell bulls to A.I.”
Jeff says embryos are sold to breeders around the world. “We also sell some high end females,” he said. “We also sell a lot of high-quality young fresh cows, about 300 every year, to other breeders. Most are first and second calf heifers. We’ve developed a real good repeat market. People have been real happy with the cattle they’ve gotten from us.”
Every animal born on the farm is genomically tested. Jeff says some of the bull studs supply King’s Ransom Farm with semen from their highest bulls for progeny testing. “We mate them to our females,” he explained, “and those bull studs have the opportunity to purchase or lease any bulls we develop from semen they provided to us for their programs. We strive for the absolute best genetics possible. We don’t use just one bull stud — we don’t have set parameters because there are new young bulls available every month. Quite often, the newest one might be a little better than the one we used the month before.”
Jeff says the genetic progress the herd has made in a relatively short time has been incredible, and he’s continually impressed by the quality of cattle in the barns.
In addition to their commitment to producing genomically superior animals, the King family has capitalized on another component of the dairy business: milk processing, which the family operates under the name King Brothers Dairy. “We live near Saratoga Springs and a nice population center, so we decided to start retailing our product to our neighbors,” said Jeff. “We started a number of years ago with another farmer who was bottling for us, and as our business grew, we built our own plant and started bottling in April of 2016.”
The family looked at some plants to get ideas, but Jeff says a bottling plant isn’t as easy to plan as a new freestall facility simply because there aren’t that many small-scale plants to visit.
King Brothers Dairy started home delivery about eight years ago after having numerous neighbors request it. Jeff explained that another farmer had been bottling milk in glass bottles for the Kings, then slowly that business built from just milk to other dairy products and meats including sausage and bacon; along with home-baked pies, maple syrup and honey. Specialty products such as eggnog during the winter holidays are popular among customers.
After the home delivery aspect was developed, the Kings, started working with small stores and restaurants, and once they started bottling on their own, they had more control of packaging and branding. Their milk is now in several restaurants and small stores, delis and larger supermarkets.
Both Kings Ransom Farm and King Brothers Dairy are active on social media, and use it effectively to share information with customers. The Kings Ransom Facebook page is geared toward breeders and features outstanding cows and their latest sale consignments. The King Brothers Dairy Facebook page is aimed at consumers, who can check to see if the dairy store is open during inclement weather or look for specials and new products. A recent stop by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at Kings Ransom Farm and King Brothers Dairy was captured in photographs and shared on Facebook.
“We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, and there are plenty more mistakes to be made said Jeff. “But we’ve never been afraid to try new things.”