‘Farming is under fire’

Duarte case has potential to set dangerous precedent nationwide

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, June 2, 2017

Duarte9983OMAHA, Neb. — “Farming is under fire,” said John Duarte, a fourth-generation farmer with a family nursery business outside of Modesto, California as he recounted the timeline of his 4-year battle with the federal government over — of all things — plowing and planting wheat on agricultural land.

Duarte was a speaker during the Range Rights and Resource Symposium at Bellevue University near Omaha May 19-20. The two-day event was sponsored in part by Protect the Harvest and moderated by Loos Tales radio host and seventh generation farmer Trent Loos.

Duarte is working with the Pacific Legal Defense Fund and the American Farm Bureau is now involved. But it’s not enough. The problem is that the case needs a huge outcry by rural folk across the nation to get the attention it deserves from Congress and the Trump administration to stop this next penalty phase of the case in August.

This week, Mike Conaway (R-Tex), chairman of the House Ag Committee and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter of inquiry to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the Department of Justice’s role in the prosecution of the Duarte case. They want to know why the DOJ is still pursuing a Clean Water Act case against Duarte. If the penalty phase in August upholds the summary judgment in District Court a year ago, this case will set a chilling precedent that has the potential to make it a crime for a farmer to plow his own agricultural land without a permit.

Duarte started a GoFundMe site (https://www.gofundme.com/Duartestandsup) in part to raise funds for his defense and the defense of agriculture and in part to raise public awareness as the penalty phase of the trial heads to court in August.

At the core

The Obama Administration interpretation of Waters of the United States (WOTUS) is at the root of the Duarte case; however, EPA is not the agency Duarte is battling, but rather the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), perhaps because he dared to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights to due process under the Constitution when ACE ordered a cease-and-desist on agricultural land he had purchased on which he plowed and planted a wheat crop.

Indeed, the federal prosecution of Duarte threatens his multigenerational family business as well as his personal home, with over $2 million in legal expenses, and the government seeking nearly $3 million in fines and $15 to $30 million in required purchases of “private wetlands bank credits” to offset his ‘egregious’ act of creating “small mountain ranges,” which were in reality plow furrows that by the government’s own report measured 5-inches from the top of ‘deep ripping’ mound to the bottom of the furrow. Sounds like normal plowing that in reality did not destroy the vernal pools (spring mud puddle) in Duarte’s fields that the federal government deems Waters of the United States (WOTUS). This case clearly threatens American Agriculture to its core.

Private beneficiaries?

These private entities that would receive said wetlands bank credits that the government wants Duarte to pay ($15 to $30 million) are funds paid to private organizations like the Sierra Club that do wetlands restoration and habitat, which said organizations can then freely use this payment to donate to campaign funds of congressional and presidential candidates. This was explained by additional symposium panelists and is a piece of the issue that, alone, should furrow the brows of not just farmers and ranchers, but all Americans.

There is also the concern that other intentions are at play to devalue agricultural land that organizations have their sights set on for cheaper easement purchases if taken out of production.

And then there is the concern that this case puts an even bigger target on the backs of farmers taking land out of the CRP in the future.

The Duarte land involved in the lawsuit was not CRP land; however, the previous owner had not planted wheat there for six years prior to Duarte’s planting, instead leaving it go fallow and grazing cattle — an agricultural choice that reflected the price of wheat over that time, which Duarte showed clearly on a graph.

Furrowed brows

What is astounding is that after Duarte’s tillage, the vernal pools are still there. He had mapped them when he bought the land and can show that they are the same today.

What should raise hairs on the back of every farmer’s neck is that the San Francisco Bay Area California District Court judge agreed with the federal government last August by ruling, in effect, that “if you plow through any depression in America and if some dirt goes from the ‘upland’ to the wetland, you are liable for these penalties,” Duarte said.

The uplands, you ask? That would be the dryland top of the 5-inch high plow furrows (as measured by the government) that created what court documents refer to as “small mountain ranges,” “uplands,” and “drylands” creating debris that could fall into the WOTUS (vernal pool or spring muddle puddle in a poor drainage depression in a field).

Yes, these were plow furrows that ACE came out and measured to be 5-inches tall. In fact, when ACE came out for the measurements, they dug down 23 feet with an excavator – far more egregious than the plowing by Duarte.

They excavated and brought in a specialist to do “pebble distribution counts” to be sure the depressions still drained poorly to hold water in a wet season. These vernal pools, or mud puddles, evaporate, but until they do, they are a home to grassland fairy shrimp (aka sea monkeys) that live and die with the sudden appearance of water, leaving behind eggs for the next temporary rain fill.

Duarte’s slides and maps demonstrated he did his due-diligence, mapping all the pools and swales on the property he had purchased and asking the plowing contractor to plow around them. Some he did, others he didn’t. But the bottom line is that none of those depressions or future mud puddles were destroyed. When they fill with water in a future wet season, the fairy shrimp will have a temporary home. Nothing has changed.

Duarte4747.jpgEven the ACE report acknowledged that, so they had to come up with a different ‘crime,’ that of compromising a Waters of the United States (WOTUS) by debris (dirt) falling from the ‘dryland uplands’ (plow furrow) into the WOTUS (dry future mud puddle).

How did the case against Duarte get to this point? Duarte recounted for the Land Rights attendees the sordid details that began in 2012, when he planted wheat in agricultural land he purchased in Tehama County, California.

He went to the county FSA office looking to buy agricultural land, and the land he purchased was identified as such. Its history included both wheat planting and grazing.

In 2012, the price of wheat was profitable unlike the years before it, so Duarte planted wheat in the fall. Four months later in February 2013, Duarte received letters from ACE to cease and desist operations in WOTUS.

Duarte answered this letter with an inquiry of the facts and received a second letter from the enforcement division of ACE.

Duarte filed in October 2013 a due-process lawsuit, exercising his Fifth Amendment Right.

In May of 2014 ACE filed a counterclaim, bringing the DOJ into the act. In August 2016, the District Court summary judgment went against Duarte, and upcoming in August 2017 will be the penalty phase of this case.

One of the findings in the case is that Duarte’s Fifth Amendment right to due process is not deemed to be “a practical expectation” in this case. He was told that the federal government would have to give up its sovereignty on this issue of WOTUS for Duarte’s Fifth Amendment rights to apply.

Meanwhile, “they are valuing the assets of my family’s company, and my personal home, because I was the chief executive of the family business at the time that the field was plowed,” said Duarte, adding that the DOJ prosecution team in this case “is part of the swamp” that needs to be drained.

But it’s not just about Duarte. It’s about every farmer out there with land that can be controlled and rights that can be taken by the administrative interpretation of the federal Clean Water Act, which Congress specifically said will not regulate normal farming. There is a land grab underway and plenty of alligators in the D.C. swamp.

If plowing is not an ordinary farming practice, what is?

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PHOTO CAPTION

Photo caption:

John Duarte and his family have an agricultural nursery business and are well respected for a variety of environmentally-friendly, forward-looking practices and generations of care for the land and water. But their family business, jobs in the community, and John’s personal home, and more, are all at risk because he plowed wheat without a permit on agricultural land he purchased. This precedent-setting case has already cost over $2 million in legal expenses. He continues to pay a mortgage on 450 acres of California farmland that a court has ordered him not to farm. The federal government is seeking $2.8 million in fines and another $15 to $30 million in required payments to ‘private entities’ for wetland bank credits when the case goes to the penalty phase in August. There’s just 60 days left to stop this train from defining a WOTUS impact that can be used against farmers, nationwide, in the future. Photos by Sherry Bunting

Photo caption #2

From Duarte’s slides, this picture may be familiar to farmers, a poor-draining area where water pools until it evaporates. The Duarte case sets precedent for this WOTUS to be used to not only control land, but also rake in funds that can in turn be used by private entities like the Sierra Club in the form of private wetland bank credits. These required payments by landowners to the private entities can then be donated by these private entities to election campaigns.

 

 

 

Road to recovery

KansasFire4.jpgBy Sherry Bunting April 7, 2017

If there is one thing to come down the road of recovery from a tragedy in agriculture, it is the sense of community that agriculturalists make business-as-usual. It is the matter-of-fact way in which people are prompted to help each other, and the humility with which help is offered that allows proud and self-reliant fellow farmers and ranchers to accept.

All know that livelihoods and legacies are on the line, pending the external forces that cannot be controlled, and that, in an instant, a storm, fire, or other natural disaster could change everything.

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While driving through Ashland and Englewood, Kansas on Saturday heading back to Pennsylvania from other work in the Midwest, the post-wildfire realities stretched for miles.

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Intermittent wheat pasture is credited with saving hundreds of lives.

It was a rain-soaked day, just what the land needs to recover. New life was springing forth, adding lushness to the intermittent wheat pastures that had provided refuge – credited with saving hundreds of human and animal lives as they interrupted the fires that spread rapidly through the dry grasslands and provided a safe haven for evacuees when roads were blocked during the fire.

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Timely rains are softening the charred lands with emerging hints of green, red and gold, framing the wildfire zones as the Painter slowly re-fills this empty palette. Residents say that the rain has helped a lot, and the grasses will explode within the next two weeks in some areas. The hay being sent has been a godsend. And the move by the Trump administration to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – the three states which were most heavily impacted by ongoing wildfires – will help.

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But it is the Sandhills of southwest Kansas that catch your breath. The Starbuck fire — that claimed over 500,000 of the total 711,000 acres burned in Kansas the first week of March — had burned so hot, sinking down through the sandy soil like a sponge, that many wonder if the grasslands will come back more than spotty at best in areas where windswept sand dunes present a desert-like appearance. There are areas with nothing on top, leading to lingering concerns about feeding surviving cattle.

Firefighters noted this was unlike anything they had seen in their 20 to 30 years. They described driving 60 to 70 mph, and being outrun by the fast-moving fire, seeing it move right past them.

Only time will tell how some of the acres will respond to the timely rains.

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One thing is for certain, the help of fellow farmers and ranchers via donations of hay, fencing supplies, work crews, orphaned calf care, and fundraising — all of it represent blessings beyond measure.

As Ashland resident Rick Preisner put it: “Everyone here was shell-shocked at first. Everything changed in an instant. It was difficult to know where to start. Then the help came pouring in and it lifted this community up.”

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Ashland is ‘home’ for Roddy Strang with sister Rhonda at Gardiner Angus, where their father worked 26 years.

“No one here is saying no to the hay that’s been coming,” said Roddy Strang. “They know they will need feed for a while here.” Strang trains horses and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and children, but he grew up in Ashland around the Gardiner Angus Ranch, where his father worked for 26 years.

Not only did he fill his livestock trailer with 250 compact alfalfa bales and some fencing for the trip “home” to the annual Gardiner Angus production sale Saturday (April 1), he helped connect the dots for Lancaster County dairy farmer Aaron Hess of Hess Dairy in Mount Joy and his neighbor Arlyn Martin. Martin drove the 1500 miles last week with a load of 36 large square bales from Hess, along with 1800 fence posts and 91 rolls of barbed wire the men procured with funds they had raised and with many companies offering equipment and supplies free or with discounts.

They worked with Kevin Harrop, of Harrop Hay and Bale, Exton. Harrop grew up on a dairy farm and today runs a hay brokering and custom harvesting business in southeast Pennsylvania. Between Harrop and James Hicks of Meadow Springs Farm, they filled another truck with 42 large square bales. Harrop and Martin set out for Kansas early last week, delivered the hay and fencing to Ashland Cooperative Feed and Seed by Wednesday, and were home by Saturday.

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For Strang, the mission was personal. He stayed for the Gardiner Angus sale Saturday, where a few cows were purchased for the return trip to Virginia.

For those involved with the donations from southeast Pennsylvania — as for the numerous others organizing convoys over the past three weeks from Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, northwest Pennsylvania, and more — the mission to bring hay to fire-torn regions in four states was something they didn’t really think twice about. And it is something they don’t want recognition for.

The only fanfare being given to these hay donations is the sentiment of “God Bless America.” As Harrop explains it: “We saw it the Facebook posts, and we knew people out there, so we called to see what was going on and to figure out exactly what they would need,” he said in a phone call from the road last week.

Harrop put it best when he explained that people helping out do not want publicity or pats on the back for their own sakes, but they sure don’t mind if others share and publicize what they are doing for the sake of showing the world how farmers and ranchers network and move forward to get things done.

“In a small way, we just want to help keep this network going,” said Harrop. “The need is great in the wildfire zone. The mainstream media and the government are ignoring this. Farmers all over the country have responded.”

In fact, hundreds of trucks with hay and fencing and other needed supplies have poured into the affected areas of southwest Kansas, eastern Colorado and the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle region. While some areas are saying they have enough hay, for now, southwest Kansas is particularly hard hit in this regard, and people are thankful for the trucks that continue to come – 200 of them, in fact, last Saturday, alone. The list of states represented is too numerous to be sure to acknowledge them all. Relief organizers say they have received calls from over 20 states. Plans are also underway for moving 1000 large bales that have been donated in Greene and Washington counties, Pennsylvania in the near future.
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“That is their lives out there. That’s what they do, and it’s not like they have a lot to fall back on,” said Aaron Hess after securing a load of large bale hay from his dairy onto Arlyn Martin’s truck. “I was just seeing the posts on Facebook, so I called up the Ashland co-op and they put me in touch with the guy in charge. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Teams of volunteers have helped remove damaged fencing. Crews, tools and materials to re-fence perimeters are the priority now.

Strang notes that the recipients are amazed by the outpouring of people wanting to come out to the middle of nowhere and help. “It is emotional,” he admitted. “There are some good people in a bad way. They aren’t going to ask for the help, but we see the need and we know if it were us, they would help.”

Even in this time when agriculture is taking such a severe economic hit, people step up. That’s how agriculture rolls.

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(Above) “From the Ashes” artwork displayed Saturday by Joel Milford of Fowler, Kansas from a photo captured by Cole Gardiner as he found this cow and her newborn calf a day or two after the fire. Milford’s painting was auctioned Saturday during the Gardiner Angus production sale, raising $35,000 and prints are still being sold for $200 each to benefit the wildfire relief efforts of the Ashland Community Foundation. Nearly 100 prints have been sold thus far. To purchase a print for wildfire relief, contact Jan Endicott, at the Stockgrowers Bank in Ashland, Kansas at jan@stockgrowersbank.com or 620-635-4032. Prints are $200 plus $15 shipping and 6.5% Kansas state sales tax. 

How you can help

Wildfire relief organizers are indicating that the best way for distant donors to help is to provide monetary donations for transporting nearby hay and resources to the areas affected by the wildfires.

Supplies and funding for the volunteer care of orphaned calves is also requested. Follow the progress of 4-Hers and other volunteers caring for these calves at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas.

In addition, auctions are being organized to benefit wildfire funds. For example, a heifer donated by Oklahoma West Livestock Market was auctioned 105 times on March 8 to garner $115,449 with proceeds going to the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief Fund. Similar ideas are creating a ripple response throughout the agriculture community and can be replicated anywhere. Visit Livestock Marketing Association  for these auction notes and efforts.

Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize this idea to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the fire-ravaged areas of the High Plains through means of raising cash. For information about how to participate in this and to find a list of upcoming auctions, as well as how to set one up, contact Trent Loos at (515) 418-8185.

To give supplies and trucking or to donate funds to foundations for direct wildfire relief, contact the state-by-state resources below.

Kansas

Monetary donations: Ashland Community Foundation/Wildfire Relief Fund at www.ashlandcf.com or P.O. Box 276, Ashland, KS 67831. The Kansas Livestock Association/Wildfire Relief Fund at 6031 SW 37th St., Topeka, KS 66614.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Call Ashland Feed and Seed at (620) 635-2856. (Ashland Feed and Seed is also taking credit card orders over the phone for feed and milk replacer or other supplies for ranchers in the area.)

Texas

Monetary donations: Texas Department of Agriculture STAR Fund.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Ample hay has been received for two to three weeks, so call to see if and when more is needed. Fencing supplies are needed, which can go to the Agrilife supply points. Contacts are J.R. Sprague at (806) 202-5288 for Lipscomb, Mike Jeffcoat at (580) 467-0753 for Pampa, and Andy Holloway at (806) 823-9114 for Canadian.

For questions about donations or relief efforts, contact Texas A&M Extension at (806) 677-5628.

Colorado

Monetary donations: Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation Disaster Fund at 9177 E. Mineral Circle, Centennial, CO 80112 and visit http://coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund/

Hay, trucking and fencing: Contact Kent Kokes (970) 580-8108, John Michal (970) 522-2330, or Justin Price (970) 580-6315.

Oklahoma

Monetary donations: Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief at P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 or www.okcattlemen.org.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Contact Harper County Extension at (580) 735-2252 or Buffalo Feeders at (580) 727-5530.

Other states organizing deliveries

Several states outside of the wildfire area are organizing assistance and deliveries. Find those resources at http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High plains fires take lives, spark spirit

Convoys of trucks bringing hay to the areas affected by March wildfires have come from central Texas, southwest Oklahoma, central Kansas and from Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and now funds for fuel are being raised to bring 1000 round bales from western Pennsylvania to southwest Kansas… as farmers and ranchers across the country pull together in amazing ways to help their peers with forage for cattle after wildfires decimated grasslands and stored hay in the High Plains. Derrick Carlisle of Claysville, Pennsylvania reports that nearly 1000 round bales of hay have been donated from farms in Greene and Washington counties, and a trucking company has agreed to transport the hay to Ashland, Kansas “at fuel cost.” Now, funds are being raised quickly to buy fuel to transport the hay. Individuals and businesses wanting to help provide funds for fuel, should contact Washington County Cattlemen’s Association president Brian Hrutkay at 724-323-5815.

To help with the ongoing relief efforts for ranchers affected by the wildfires, visit http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx to see various contacts for ways to help listed by the states affected as well as coordinated efforts in other states like Kentucky and Minnesota that are planning deliveries.

 Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize a rebuilding effort through means of raising cash. Various auctions are already set and the idea can be replicated. For information about how to participate in this, contact Trent Loos at 515.418.8185 or check out his Rural Route radio
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“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion.”

Recap reprinted from Farmshine, March 17, 2017

ASHLAND, Kan. — High Plains ranchers are always on guard for the combination of March winds and wildfires. When the two conspire together, the result can rapidly turn devastating and deadly. That was the situation last week in southwest Kansas, the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle and eastern Colorado.

All told, the wildfires on March 6 consumed around 1.7 million acres of grassland, 33 homes, over 200 farm structures, an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 adult cows along with untold numbers of calves, horses and wildlife. In Texas and Oklahoma, over 5000 hogs perished in separate facilities.

Tragically, some of the affected ranching families in the Panhandle suffered the ultimate loss of loved ones. Seven people lost their lives, at least five while trying to herd cattle to safety before becoming trapped in the rapidly moving fire when the high winds changed direction.

The livestock losses are particularly heavy in southwest Kansas, where a local veterinarian estimates 3000 to 6000 beef cattle have perished; however, an accurate assessment is still weeks away. In the Panhandle, Texas A&M Agrilife extension reports preliminary loss estimates of 2500 adult cows, plus additional calves.

Two consecutive years of above average moisture provided the good grass growth that ended up fueling multiple fires in early March. The previous 60 days had turned it tinder-dry, together with the high winds of up to 60-70 mph, creating the perfect storm. The rapidly moving ‘Starbuck’ fire in northeast Oklahoma and southwest Kansas will go down as the largest and most devastating single fire in Kansas state history. In the Panhandle, the March 6 fire is being called the third worst in Texas history.

While there are some dairies in these areas, extension agents and veterinarians report that no dairy cattle were impacted. But dairy producers and calf ranch operators are among the ag community throughout the region, and beyond, responding to the immediate needs of the region’s ranchers.

Occurring at a vulnerable time, the fires have orphaned many newborn calves. In fact, one purebred Angus operation in Ashland, Kansas described the confluence of emotion – simultaneously dealing with the grisly task of locating and putting-down hundreds of adult cows while gathering to the corrals over 100 survivors for further monitoring and evaluation – 30 of them having their calves in the days immediately following the fire.

Many of the ranchers have lost much of their stored hay supply, and the region’s unburned grasslands are a good 60 days away from greenup — provided they get rain. Surviving cattle are being pulled onto wheat pasture and into corrals — making the immediate priority that of acquiring the hay necessary to feed a good 15,000 surviving livestock in southwest Kansas and over 10,000 in the Panhandle.

With fences to build and repair, feed to secure, cows still calving and long term plans and decisions to make, there’s no time to bottle and bucket feed calves two and three times a day, particularly those ranchers who have also lost their homes.

OrphanCalves01(K-State)County 4-H clubs put the word out early, that youth members would take-in bucket calves to help the ranchers who have so many other things to do in the recovery. (Follow them on Facebook at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas)

Veterinarians are reaching out to colleagues in the hard-hit areas. Dr. Randy Spare at Ashland Veterinary Center has been organizing some of the needs. He received a call late last week from Dr. Tera Barnhardt.

The 2014 K-State graduate operates a solo bovine practice for dairies and feedlots two hours north of Ashland. While doing preg checks at Deerfield Calf Feeders — where dairy replacement heifers are raised near Johnson, Kansas – Dr. Barnhardt and the general manager Cary Wimmer came up with the idea of offering temporary homes and care in the calf ranch hutches for orphaned calves from Ashland.

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Many ag companies have donated milk replacer, feed, pharmaceuticals and other animal care products — and along with hay donations from other ranches — have come personal items for the families who have lost their homes and belongings.

“Our hearts go out to the ranchers,” said Dr. Barnhardt. “I’m just glad we could help connect some dots and take something off their plate.”

Some of the orphaned Angus calves now at Deerfield are from the Giles Ranch, Ashland, where three family members lost their homes and where they had significant cow losses. At Deerfield, as with the 4-Hers who have volunteered calf care, these baby calves will get the individual care and supervision they need while their owners deal with the recovery process.

“All aspects of this industry are coming together,” said Barnhardt. “It has been impressive. Even the workers at the calf ranch are inspired and proud to take care of these babies.”

As the immediate hustle to triage cattle and secure feed and care for survivors shifts to a longer term plan for coordinating the ongoing relief efforts, those close to the situation are encouraging people who want to help to consider monetary donations needed to cover trucking costs to get donated hay and materials to the affected ranches.

“We don’t want to turn down hay because some of our ranchers are just coming to grips with what their losses are and what their needs will be,” said Dr. Spare. The biggest issue with hay donations right now is the trucking bottleneck. In the short term, the tangibles have been necessary because it takes time for the various foundations to pool monetary donations and get resources to the ranchers.

“Farmers have called from as far away as Vermont and Wisconsin wanting to donate hay, and right now we have 800 bales available nearby in Waco, Texas if we could find the trucking,” said Spare.

Convoys of trucks — semiloads and pickups hauling flatbed trailers — brought an estimated 3000 round bales to the fire-affected regions over the weekend. With more hay available in central Texas and nearby Nebraska, the biggest need at the moment is more trucks or funds to help pay the fuel costs to transport the donated hay.

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(above) Convoys of trucks with hay headed to the wildfire-affected areas over the weekend. This one was organized by Mike and Conner Franetovich of southwest Oklahoma carrying 260 round bales to the ranchers in northwest Oklahoma. Photo by LaQuita Massee/Images By LQ

“When the hay trucks rolled in, it was like the cavalry arrived,” said Greg Gardiner of Gardiner Angus, Ashland. The well-known Angus breeder lost over 500 adult cows, mainly donor cows and spring calvers. They have over 1500 survivors but lost all of their hay — over 5000 round bales and their horse hay as well.

Greg’s brother Mark and his wife Eva lost their home, three of their horses and their dogs to the fire, despite their efforts to free them as the fire changed direction. He was behind them with the horse trailer when the black smoke descended making it impossible to see. He spent a half hour not knowing if they made it out.

“This thing is of biblical proportions, but it all seems small to me. My brother is alive,” said Gardiner. He described the landscape that burned from one end of the ranch to the other as an “apocalyptic wasteland” that will eventually come back stronger with enough rain.

“We’re praying for rain,” said Spare, describing dirty skies as the wind lifts the gray sand over charred soils.

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While prayers are most coveted, those who want to help are urged to contact organizers in the various affected states (see below) to see what the needs are as community leaders develop an ongoing relief plan.

“We are still contacting ranchers,” said Spare. “Some are saying they don’t need hay and feel embarrassed to take it, but the grass is all gone, and we are 60 days from good grass (in unburned areas) if it rains, so we are trying to help people understand as they make their plans, that they will need to have something to feed.”

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Make no mistake, this will be a long recovery for ranchers who have lost 50 to 90% of their herds and multiple years of income, as well as their stockpiled forage and grasslands.

“I told CNN that we as ranchers are stewards of the grasslands, and that the only way we have something to sell for an income is to sell grass through the cows that are eating it. We are working to take care of that and start all over again,” said Dr. Spare, who had significant losses among his own cow herd and was relieved when his son showed up in the driveway Tuesday morning, taking time away from vet school before spring exams to take care of the home front while he worked with other ranchers and their cattle.

As the reality sinks in…

“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion, from the people who come alongside with prayers and help,” said Spare. “Many don’t know how they’ll get through this, but we know we will get through it.”

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Thanking the Milkshake Man for his heart of gold

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Waiting in the wings so as not to spoil the surprise, Dave Smith’s family was on hand to celebrate the ‘milkshake man’s passion, dedication and commitment to Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers and the next generation, which earned him the unanimous appreciation of his peers in the form a special Golden Milkshake award. Not only have the milkshake sales helped get fresh milk into the hands less fortunate but also helped the Dairymen’s Assn give $1 million in grants over the last 15 years for programs geared for the next generation of dairy farmers. Dave and wife Sharon are flanked by son Joel (left) and daughter Erin and her husband Aaron Wachter. 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 17, 2017

LANCASTER, Pa. — Leaders of the Center for Dairy Excellence (CDE), Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) pulled off a surprise honorary service award during the 2017 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit here at the Lancaster Marriott last Wednesday evening, February 8.

Dave Smith, known practically everywhere as ‘the milkshake man’ was presented a special Golden Milkshake award for his dedication and commitment to Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.

Not only has Dave been the driving force behind the ubiquitous Pennsylvania Dairymen’s milkshake sales, and more recently fried mozzarella cubes, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and other venues, he was instrumental in the launch of the Fill a Glass with Hope campaign — facilitating dairy relationships with Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and Feeding Pennsylvania to raise money to put fresh milk in food banks across the state.

dave-smith6637A surprised and humbled Dave Smith was speechless at first, but quickly took the podium to say:

“You dairy farmers are truly the reason for the success of the milkshakes.

“This is your product. You work hard to make a quality product. Consumers want what you have.”

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Dave (left) was lauded by his peers Don Risser (second left), president of the CDE Foundation, Doug Harbach (right), president of PDMP and Reid Hoover (second right), president of the Pa. Dairymen’s Association for his continual focus on improving the state’s dairy industry for future generations through promotion and combining this with avenues for getting dairy into the hands of those less fortunate.

In addition to serving as the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association executive director since 1995 and serving on the board for six additional years, Dave has been active in leadership with Young Farmer’s, 4-H dairy club and 4-H dairy judging as well as being an active member of Lebanon County Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Guernsey Breeders’ Association.

“Dave has given tirelessly to our organization and its mission for the past 22 years,” said Hoover, who credited his oversight with the Association’s success in selling milkshakes and dairy foods at the Farm Show. “Dave is continually looking ahead to find new markets for fluid milk and to put milk in the hands of those who need it most.”

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Dave shows the mozzarella blocks bought and cut into cubes for Farm Show fried cheese cubes. In 2014, Dave estimated the Dairymen’s Assn moved 3 tons of mozzarella in 8 days in this delicious Farm Show treat that is only growing in popularity at Farm Show since then.

Through expansion and new product introduction, gross sales have been increased approximately 500% in 15 years, allowing for $1 million in grants to be distributed to dairy and agriculture programs focusing on next generation development.

“We appreciate Dave’s active promotion and advocacy for dairy youth,” said Risser. “We are incredibly grateful for his efforts that bring success to these programs.”

Recently, Dave has been working out the details for the Calving Corner, a cow birthing center that will be part of the 2018 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

The fourth generation of his dairy farm family, Dave grew up raising and caring for the Guernsey herd in Annville, received his B.S. in Dairy Science from Virginia Tech and co-managed the farm with his father for a number of years, including the former dairy store where Ja-Mar Dairy’s milk was processed, bagged and sold until the late 1980s.

Today, the milk cows are gone, but Dave and his son Joel raise 140 head of cattle and farm 400 acres of ground.

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Fire extinguished. Help, hope ignited.

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2013 Photo: Chuck and Vanessa Worden

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, Jan. 20, 2017

CASSVILLE, N.Y. — On Saturday evening, January 14, the entire Worden family was together at the dining room table celebrating Chuck and Vanessa’s birthdays, including daughter Lindsey who was home visiting from Vermont.

By daybreak Sunday, the family was facing an uncertain future, but was lifted forward by friends and neighbors showing up when news spread quickly of the fire at Wormont Dairy, Cassville, New York.

“I had just walked through the cows and done a little clipping that night, so proud of how the whole herd looked and how well they were responding to the changes we had been making in the ration and fresh cow protocols,” Lindsey Worden reflected. “Less than four hours later, I was calling 911.”

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Photo from Kate Worden

Wayne and Mark Worden, who live off the farm but nearby, were throwing on clothes to come down and join their father Chuck and brother Eric in rescuing calves and heifers penned in the box stall barn adjoining their parlor/holding area and office, which was totally engulfed in flames.

Their mother Vanessa had gotten up in the middle of the night and saw the flames from the window.

“Just as Eric was carrying out the last calf, the fire trucks arrived and the barn was totally filled with smoke and starting to catch fire as well,” Lindsey reported. “Volunteer firefighters, friends and neighbors were pouring in. We managed to wrangle all the baby calves and young heifers into a bay of our machine shed, and got the older show heifers into our heifer freestall, while dad and the boys were helping the firefighters.”

Amazingly, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction of its usual course – sparing the main freestall barn and Wormont Dairy’s 270 milking cows from damage.

By 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning, “It was quiet,” Lindsey shares. “At daybreak we met to try and figure out a game plan for how to get 275 cows milked on a farm with no milking equipment.”

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Photo provided by Lindsey Worden

Not one person or animal was harmed, and the family was so thankful, but reality was sinking in. Now what?

“It was amazing,” said Vanessa. “There are no words for the way people just showed up and lifted us up.”

Chuck said a neighbor started the ball rolling to place the cows, and people came with trucks and trailers lining the farm lane. “I didn’t make one call, people just came,” he said.

As Wayne and Mark noted, “It was humbling.”

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Photo provided by Lindsey Worden

Before long, with the help of some awesome neighbors, the Wordens had figured out two farms that could take the majority of their milking cows (heifers and dry cows are staying), and a short while later, cattle trailers started showing up, as did more friends and neighbors to help get them loaded.

“At one point, we had at least 10 cattle trailers lined up out the driveway, and we got animals relocated more efficiently than I would have ever imagined possible,” Lindsey reflects. “We are so thankful to the friends and first responders who showed up at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning to help get our immediate emergency under control.”

Friends and neighbors came from near and far – bringing trailers, helping to get cattle loaded and moved, helping to get scared cows milked off site.

“People brought enough food to feed an army for a week,” said Vanessa.

“At 7 a.m., my first thought is that we were probably just have to sell everything, but then as neighbors showed up, and connections were made, and trucks started moving cows, you start to feel how hope can change the whole outlook,” said Vanessa. “By 3:00 p.m., our friends and neighbors had given us hope that we can do this. I was actually happy yesterday. There is no way I could be sad after all that everyone has done, after all the hope they have given us.”

Each member of the family has so much gratitude for the dairies that opened their barns and took in cows. The 270 cows were moved to three locations by 3 p.m. Sunday.

“What an incredibly humbling day,” Wayne shared Sunday evening. “There are no words to describe the support we received and are still receiving with the cows. Thank you is not enough to say about what we were all able to accomplish today. What an incredible community the dairy industry is.”

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2013 photo Wayne, Mark, Eric and Chuck Worden

Electricians worked all day Sunday to restore power – light, heat and water. “And companies worked with us quickly to help us with things like restoring our DairyComp records on a new computer, getting basic medical and breeding supplies and all those little things that we need to keep the wheels on the bus this week,” Lindsey observes. “It is a really strange feeling to literally have none of those everyday supplies like calf bottles, navel dip, ear tags, IV kits, etc.

Everyone who reached out with suggestions for help or just kind words, prayers and encouragement, by call, text message, email, and facebook, or dropping by in person. We are so very grateful.”

Eric shared how “truly overwhelmed” he was by the amount of support received from farmers across the state following the fire. “Thank you for making the day go easier,” he said. “This is a tough blow for my family, but we will come back stronger than ever.”

Adds Lindsey, “By some miracle, not a single animal was lost, not even our lone barn cat!”

While there is no question, “we’ve got a tough road to hoe to get back on our feet over the next several months,” said Lindsey, “with some luck and the attitude everyone in the family has maintained over the last two days, I have no question we will come out on the other side.”

“Words cannot express how thankful we are,” Vanessa said. “The way people reached out to us in those early hours gave us hope. Hope is an important thing. It’s what we give each other, and it is amazing.”

As the family meets with insurance adjusters, lenders, builders, equipment specialists and others to chart a course for moving forward, the ready support of others in the darkest hour serves as a continual reminder of what the dairy community is made of – people who keep putting one foot in front of the other and helping their fellow producers get through times like this.

Even more importantly, the family notes that this dairy community is quick to give each other hope — that they’re not alone when confronted with a life-changing event — that when it seems everything is coming to a halt, it is the hope brought by others that carries everyone forward.

Crews from six fire departments responded to the fire at Wormont in the wee hours of Sunday morning, January 15, with others on standby.

Cleanup continues as the family pulls together to make decisions for the future – a future that they say reinforces how special the dairy industry is and how humbled they are to be part of it.

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Aug. 2016 Eric, Lindsey and Chuck at county fair

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2013 photo Wormont Dairy

Dec. 16 emergency herd dispersal follows tornado’s destruction; Tenn. recovering from wildfires/tornadoes

 

 

ATHENS, Tenn. — While the Governor of Tennessee seeks a presidential disaster declaration for five counties hit by fire and storm November 30th, communities continue to work through the daunting task of cleanup, assessments, recovery and rebuilding.

The Southeast drought that had persisted from summer through fall fueled fires across six states, most notably Tennessee’s Great Smokey Mountains.

In the overnight hours of November 30, the Smokey Mountain fires went rampant as 80 mph winds drove a firestorm that created eight new fires by the next morning.

The front of moisture that eventually carried enough rain to quell fires to 50% containment was preceded by a 40-mile line of tornadoes and high winds. Worst hit in these storms was the community of Athens, Tennessee, near the original Mayfield Dairy Farm.

That rain was the first substantial rain since mid-June, according to University of Tennessee extension reports. But it had its impact after the fires first engulfed Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Lives were lost, injuries sustained, and homes and businesses destroyed.

Among the losses, Eastanallee Dairy Farm, owned by Blan and Kathy Dougherty, sustained destruction of its barns and milking facilities. The local community came to their aid.

According to Julie Walker, AgriVoice, “a great group of folks with animal and farm experience got first things done first. It was obvious the milk barn, and housing and feeding facilities received the brunt of the hit, and cows were not going to be able to be milked. Unfortunately, six just-weaned calves were killed,” she explained in a e-news post. “Steve Harrison, a neighbor to the Doughertys, generously agreed to temporarily house the cows until some decisions about the herd’s future could be determined.”

Last week, the Doughertys decided to have an emergency milking herd and bred heifer dispersal sale set for tomorrow — Friday, December 16 at 12 Noon — at the Athens Stockyards with basically just time for word of mouth and digital/social media advertisement.

It is hard enough to contemplate a dispersal of a dairy herd, and even tougher to do so under these circumstances. The Eastanallee herd is among the highest producing herds in Tennessee. A total of 114 milk cows and 15 bred heifers due through March will be offered. They will keep the yearlings and young stock as they evaluate their future, which may or may not include milking once again.

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There was a massive amount of property damage on their farmstead, and while their home was damaged, the Doughertys are thankful to have not lost their home, as have many of their neighbors nearby.

Getting ready for the sale, some culling has already taken place:  cows with breeding problems, mobility problems, and low production have already been sold.  Animals selling will be sound.  A sale catalog has been created by Ag Central Co-op, click here to view it.

We wish the Doughertys well, and our thoughts and prayers remain with the Athens community and all affected in East Tennessee. Many are homeless and services are taxed after the wildfire / tornado disasters in the counties of Coffee, McMinn, Polk, Sequatchie and Sevier for which the Governor requested this week a presidential disaster declaration.

Below are some links to two of the wildfire and tornado relief efforts.

 

 

Tennessee 4-H Wildfire Relief

Tornado Relief through United Way

Life after cows.

 

Anatomy of a dairy exit and dispersal.  Community support softens sting.

More than a few families can relate to this story and others are examining the fork in the road to see which direction their family farm businesses should take. Farmers are aging, and discussions are being had around kitchen tables all across Rural America about the future, whether to expand and modernize, exit, diversify, or stay the course. Even as farm families persevere in these difficult times of steep losses and low commodity prices, some are making the tough decision to exit dairy production.

These decisions are rarely easy, particularly when cattle values are down and next generation career paths are uncertain — or evolving away from the farm. The future doesn’t always follow a plan even when there is a plan. It is a tough economic time to sell a herd, a life’s work, and to send the next generation of cattle and children off to new pursuits, pathways, careers, lives…

Bittersweet. Thankfulness shines through in this video where end makes way for beginning … Whether living it or leaving it, the steps forward are grounded in faith, and a whole lot of love.

Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:8

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Nov. 4, 2016

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HANNA, Ind. — “It’s not like a death, but in a way, it sort of felt like that, at first,” said LuAnn Troxel a few days after the herd dispersal of 215 lots plus calves and embryos at Troxel Dairy Farm on October 20. “The first cow started selling, and I was concentrating on that, and then I got busy, and before I knew it, the last cow was selling. But when I saw the big semi-truck back in for the largest load, that’s when it hit me as final. They are leaving.

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She was quick to add that her “heart is so thankful for what we have and for all the people who came out to support us. The auctioneer was right, these cattle are the future, and our son Rudy did an incredible job with the genetics. Young dairy producers who purchased some of these cattle will have some valuable animals to work with, and that feels good.”

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Sale day dawned rainy and cold, and the community came out in large numbers, with over 70 registered buyers. Many came for morale support and to enjoy the hot chili and baked goods provided by their church family with a free will offering raising $5000 for the Harvest Call Haiti Dairy Project.

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Dr. Tom and LuAnn Troxel had made the decision to exit the dairy business a year ago. Certainly the cattle would have brought more  a year ago, than they did a month ago amid October’s downturn in what had appeared to be a recovering dairy market, burdened further by a rapid decline in the beef market that often softens dairy cattle market values.

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The sale consisted of over 100 grade commercial cows and another 125 registered Holsteins of all ages, and about a dozen Jerseys. Son Rudy had developed the registered herd in his four years of full-time employment on the farm.

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Registered cattle with genomic numbers ranged $1800 to $2200 with not many lower and a few higher. The average for the full sale — including unregistered grade cows and the younger heifers over three months old — was $1453.

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The top sale was Lot 62 MS McCari Nomi 57900-ET. The fresh 2-year-old with a GTPI of +2525 sold for $5500 to Russell Springs, Kentucky through Max Dunseth of Holstein USA. Her Mogul daughter — a calf born July 24, 2016 and with a GTPI of +2600 — was the second-high seller of the day at $3800.

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troxel-sale-303Dunseth purchased a load of cattle for various orders, and the largest volume buyer purchased 34 cows, both registered and grade, on order to Illinois. troxel-sale-107

 

Other volume buyers supported the sale, including Andrew Steiner of Pine Tree Dairy. With Pine Tree genetics in the young registered herd — and several sale offerings descending from the Rudolph-Missy family — Steiner said he was looking for protein, and remarked on the quality of the cattle. He and his wife Julie took 14 head home to Marshallville, Ohio.

The balance of the cattle sold locally to the many in-state buyers. Several neighbors said they were there “to support the Troxels” and came with plans to buy one or two good cows from “some really good people.”

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Young dairymen from nearby Indiana counties purchased for their young dairy herds. One from Elkhart called two days after the sale to say how well the nine cows he bought are working out for him and how “really nice” the animals are.

 

 

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troxel-sale-94The Troxels’ niece, 10-year-old Anna Minnich, brought her checkbook and bid on several Jerseys. She had lost her Jersey cow Elegance at calving in September and ultimately purchased one of the Troxels’ Jersey cows named Utah as a replacement, along with two calves from the same family — Utopia and Unique. Anna plans to show them next year.

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A local heifer grower purchased some registered heifers, and another buyer purchased two for himself and an additional registered heifer with great numbers to donate to the Mennonite Disaster Committee heifer sale, showing how people in this industry want to give back.

“We had quality animals, and they sold for what the market would bear,” said Dr. Tom, with a smile, when asked how he viewed the sale outcome. “I am glad they did not have to go to the livestock auction.”

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Last fall, just eight buyers attended the small string sold ahead of this year’s complete dispersal. “One cow that we didn’t sell last year brought $400 less today,” LuAnn observed. “That gives you a true indication of the strain we are all under.”

But despite the strain, having more than 70 registered bidders, and such an attendance from the community, helped soften the sting. Dr. Tom is well known to the community as a large animal veterinarian who operated the dairy as the second generation on the farm, with LuAnn a prominent dairy advocate.

“To know people were here and that they cared about the cattle did insulate us a little,” LuAnn added. “We could not have gotten even these prices for this many cattle on just the market, alone.”

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Many connections were made between articles, ads and social media that resulted in buyers no one expected. The buyer from Illinois taking 34 cows was one example. A college friend of her daughter-in-law — both having no farm background but marrying into farm families — saw the note about the sale on Facebook, and her husband bid online. In fact there were some cattle in the sale that lit up the online Cow Buyer computer and had ringmen and order buyers on their phones taking bids. Courtney Sales, LLC managed the sale.

“The decision was made and we kept with the plan to move forward and trust God to work out the details,” LuAnn added.

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While farms have to have money to make things happen and get by, LuAnn expressed what many dairy farmers feel, that “while money is necessary, it is not the primary motivator or we would have exited the dairy business a long time ago,” she said. “Family is huge in this. Most of the time dairy farming is good for families, but these tough downturns do put a strain on families. We are blessed to have worked together and to have raised our family here on the farm.”

Having all four boys come home for the sale and hearing them talk, reinforced that sentiment.

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Each of the sons took in the sale preparations and the emotions of the sale day differently, but the bottom line was in saying goodbye to a piece of who they have become. While the farm and veterinary practice go on, the cows are leaving and they were central to life on the farm.

“I have to believe that what we have done for 33 years has been beneficial to our boys, but also to the 30-plus high school kids we’ve employed here over those years,” LuAnn acknowledged.

Certainly true as they have all stayed in touch over the years and some came out to the sale.

“We tried to make our dairy something that people felt good about, where kids could learn how to take care of an animal and have it be something that they remember fondly, that they could work here and develop into responsible young adults with the confidence that comes with knowing and doing something that is bigger than yourself,” LuAnn related.

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She will miss the girls that have most recently milked for them up until the sale. “They were laughing and talking about the different cow personalities and wondering how it will be for them at their new homes. All of this life around the animals just adds to the richness of the dairy experience and why this is such a compelling lifestyle.”

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There are so many aspects to a family’s decision to exit the dairy business. First comes the realization of the next generation’s plans for their own families’ futures. Next comes the actual sale planning, which can be very time consuming, so much so, that the emotional weight of saying goodbye to the animals is not top-of-mind.

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In addition to coming out to buy cattle and be supportive, some sale attendees indicated they are facing similar decisions and wanted to see how it all works. Others had read the articles and just wanted to be there. Still others knew they wanted to bring a few of the Troxel girls home to their farms.

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As the Troxels adjust to life after cows, LuAnn notes that other producers, who have been through this process, have encouraged her to “hang on to find the blessing in this decision.”

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At the moment, she still has 20 calves to feed, and there are six dry cows to calve. While they sold all of the registered animals of all ages, plus the grade milking cows, they kept the grade dry cows and unregistered young stock to sell later as fresh or springing heifers.

“It is strange to walk out and see just one or two cows,” LuAnn said with a hint of emotion. “But we have heard from some of the buyers. And that’s good. It’s good to know they appreciate our cattle.”

In fact, buyers repeatedly complimented the family on sale day about the quality of the cattle as they paid their auction bills and backed trailers in to load.

“They did look good,” said LuAnn, not in a prideful way so much as satisfaction for having raised good, productive, healthy animals that will work for their new owners the way they worked for the Troxels.

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“There’s no time to dwell on it,” she said. “The boys were all home and they are leaving today. Then we help move Rudy and his family to Wisconsin for his new job with Genex-CRI.

“We knew all of these changes would be coming. It is just strange for it to be so quiet here. The challenge will be the transition from going a million miles an hour to having it just stop,” she explained. “First, we’ll take it easy, and then, we’ll get at it. Next week the vet calls will need to get caught up, and then we’ll need to figure out what our new normal is, and that will take a little time.”

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