by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
“Despite what the industry throws at you every day, you need to keep your head up and keep plowing forward no matter what the situation is,” said Jeremy Michalak, second-generation dairy farmer of Michalak Dairy near Fort Plain, NY.
Michalak has always had a love for farming, despite the long hours and hard work.
“My husband has been farming since he was a little kid,” said Jeremy’s wife Jessica. “His parents moved here from Massachusetts in 1986 and bought this farm.”
Jeremy took over the farm in 2009 and his father, who stayed on at the time to help out, retired shortly after.
Jessica, who worked at a local hospital, says she began working on the farm in 2015 to fill in when one of the farm workers left on short notice during the summer cropping season.
“It wasn’t a good time with field work going on,” recalls Jessica. “That’s when I jumped in and started doing morning and night time chores of feeding calves and heifers, while still working part time at the hospital.”
She brought the couple’s two young children with her to the farm daily and they soon developed a love for the dairy farm life.
“There was a lot going on at the time and the girls were brought up to the farm with me — and have been helping out ever since.”
At the time Emma was three and Addison was seven.
Jessica says the girls would sing songs to the cows and carry on conversations with them — and would even brush them. Before long they were asking to help feed them.
“Addison grew a love for cows since day one,” Jessica remarked. “We’re second generation dairy farmers and have hopes of Addison being the third generation to farm.”
2015 proved be a year of trials for the young family who were trying to get a foothold in the local dairy industry and become established.
“Probably the biggest obstacle we ever faced was in 2015,” acknowledges Jessica. “We were overcrowded in the milk cow barn which was hurting our production. So I started paper work with the bank to build an addition off the milk barn with an 88 additional stalls, and to purchase 40 more milk cows.”
Jessica says the underwriter at the bank gave them the go-ahead to proceed with the building.
“The building crew, which was an Amish crew, only had a few days to get the project done as they were booked out. It was going to take a couple weeks to close on the loan and the Amish were fine with it, since they didn’t need the money for 30 days. After asking the bank four different times to make sure the loan was really okay — and he said, ‘yes you’re fine,’ the project went under way. Well, we all know how fast the Amish move. It was a couple weeks later Jeremy received a call from the underwriter stating the higher ups had denied the whole loan. Our hearts sank — we now had a huge bill with no money… how could building a barn and adding in 40 milk cows be denied for a loan?!”
The underwriter insisted that the building and added cows didn’t establish the cash-flow needed to qualify for the loan, so the couple applied for a farm loan elsewhere.
“We turned to FSA for help, which was a major process in paper work. Then, in January we had an oddball phone call come in. It was the President and CEO of the mortgage company. He had heard how upset we were and offered to email us the paper work and do a conference call to see why things didn’t cash flow. Come to find out the underwriter added in the money needed to build the barn and buy the 40 additional milk cows, but had never accounted for the milk production of the 40 cows, which would cover the cost of the new barn.”
To complicate matters even more, the FSA thought they had found another problem.
“At this time we were hooked up with FSA,” says Jessica. “And they told us we had built the new barn on ‘wet land’ and originally denied us help on a loan.”
After finally getting things straightened out and in order, a year later the loan finally went through.
“So,” Jessica advises, “if something doesn’t make sense and your gut is telling you something; take the time to investigate and look into it. Not everyone is perfect and even the bank makes mistakes.”
The farm began a 3XD milking schedule in 2016 and were honored to receive a “Super Milk award” from Agrimark the same year.
“That was the first time the farm has ever received the award since it’s been in business — and that was 1986.”
In 2017, as the farm’s herd numbers grew larger and things became even busier, Jessica made the hard decision to quit her job at the hospital completely and work full-time with her husband on the farm.
“Since then I’ve been on the farm full-time helping with chores, maintaining cow records, helping with herd health and doing book work,” she said.
Currently the farm has about 420 cows and is milking around 225.
“In 2015 we were milking 130 cows and on every-day milk pick up. In January 2017, we blew the milk tank over and went to twice-a-day milk pick up.”
Monthly production usually runs about 490,000 pounds, with butter fat at 3.95 and protein at 3.06.
The majority of the herd are Holsteins.
The farm, which has about 300 acres of land and rents another 600, produces corn silage, snaplage, baleage and dry hay.
“This year we have 350 acres of corn planted, with the remaining acres in haylage and for hay ground.”
Michalak’s have some advice for young folks getting into farming.
“You’re always going to have your bad days where nothing seems to go right, but every day is a new day. You have to keep your head up high and keep moving forward. Milk price isn’t good and there’s some things you can cut back on. But don’t ever put your cows on the back burner. Sand bedding reduces mastitis problems and good feed increases milk and your components. If you take care of the cows, they will take care of you.”