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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The Indy-500 milkmen deliver ‘coolest trophy in sports’

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On Memorial Day weekend a year ago, I had the honor and privilege of being one of three agriculture journalists invited to cover the Indy-500 and the milkmen who present the famed glass of milk to the winner. This International motorsports tradition is also an Indiana dairy farm tradition and underpins events for dairy promotion all year. Below is the story I wrote and some of the centerfold photos from last year’s event as we look forward to tomorrow’s run!Indy-spread

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, June 1, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.–It’s a roar not soon forgotten when the field of 33 drivers rounds the curve to the paddock straightaway and the pace car exits the track. The thrill of the Indy500 is unmatched in motorsports, and the refreshing, replenishing, revered beverage associated with this great race is MILK.

Each year the legend is complete with the winner’s drink of ice cold milk. Last Sunday’s 96th running of the famous 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) was no exception. Milk took center stage for the 76th time as the “coolest trophy in sports” awarded for the “greatest spectacle in racing,” also known as the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

With the two Target Chip Ganassi Team cars topping the field and just 10 of the 200 laps remaining in a race that had thrilled spectators with a record number of lead changes, few cautions, no rain delays, a fast-paced 186-mph average speed, and a record high temperature of 93 degrees in the stands (125 on the track), the announcer energized fans for the finale by stating: “I just saw the American Dairy Association folks with the ice cold milk!”

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Dave Forgey of River-View Dairy Farm, Logansport, has been an Indy500 spectator for years, especially since the Milk Promotion Services board began choosing dairy farmers to give the famed bottle of milk to the winning driver each year. After serving as last year’s rookie, Forgey was lead milkman this year. He was assisted by 2012 rookie Duane Hill of MayHill Holsteins, Fountain City.

“As dairy farmers, we bring a personal touch to the award, that brings it to the common level of the fans. At the end of the race, the milk is always first,” said Forgey with a broad grin.

The job of the Indy500 milkmen began long before Sunday, and will continue in venues such as Rotary Club presentations and small town parades, as well as other competitive events that capitalize on the Winners Drink Milk slogan of the Milk Promotion Services of Indiana, Inc. (MPSI).

Forgey described the past month as a whirlwind of preparation, promotion, and parades, along with media interviews and milk toasts at events like the Rookie Drivers Luncheon last Tuesday.

By Sunday, the milkmen were focusing on keeping the milk iced for Victory Circle and promoting milk and dairy farming to race-day fans.

In short, the Indy500 milkmen are charged with protecting the future of this unique sports award ruled tops for its “cool factor” according to Sports Illustrated writer Pete McEntegart, who in his 2005 si.com column ranked milk #1 among the Sports World’s top-10 unique trophies.

“It is certainly a tradition that everyone respects. What else can we do that is this national and international in scope?” Forgey observed. He said he came home to find an email from a friend in New Zealand who saw the whole thing on television.

In addition to pre-race television and radio broadcasts, Forgey and Hill figure they personally greeted and talked with hundreds of fans Sunday morning, not to mention the sheer visual impact of milk in the Victory Circle celebration to several hundred thousand spectators, millions of television viewers, and countless more via the Internet.

“The fans are interested. They wanted to talk about our dairy farms,” said Forgey. When fans realized he was giving the bottle of mlk, they wanted to know how he qualified for the job. When Forgey explained that he and Hill are Indiana dairy farmers, the fans were eager to know more. Of course, they also wanted to see the milk.
Standing by the milkmen in front of the IMS Pagoda Sunday morning, enthusiasm for “the milk” was evident. Fans paused to take pictures, and ask questions.

“There was a lot of excitement for this within the racing fans,” said Forgey. “They know the tradition. They know about the milk. And when we can help them connect it back to the farmer, that generates interest.”

Initiated 76 years ago when the first three-time winner, Louis Meyer, asked for buttermilk to quench his thirst after the grueling 500-mile race, the bottle of milk tradition has endured and evolved. The American Dairy Association of Indiana (ADA) coordinates the promotion, and 38 years ago added to the Indy500 heritage by sponsoring the “Fastest Rookie of the Year” award. The coveted award recognizes the first-year driver who achieves the fastest four-lap average speed from among fellow rookie competitors during time trials.
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“The rookies are very interested in the milk and getting their pictures taken with the milk,” said Forgey. He explained that professional videos of the two farms (River-view and MayHill) were created and shared at the Rookie Luncheon. The videos highlighted the ADA “Fastest Rookie” award and promoted the dairy industry with snapshot histories of the farms of the 2012 milkmen.

“It has been very exciting to do this,” said Forgey about his role as Indy500 milkman, where he set a goal to broaden awareness of the event within the dairy industry.

“What better way could we as dairy farmers promote our product than to be out in the forefront of this event, which is so significant worldwide?” said Forgey, who has “appreciated the honor of spending these past two years representing the 1200 dairy farmers in Indiana and 50,000 in the nation that work hard to produce a healthy product.

The bottle of milk tradition and Fastest Rookie award are two Indy500 programs supported annually by the ADA and its Hoosier dairy farm families. Forgey and Hill, both members of the MPSI board, took on the responsibility for continuing one of Indianapolis’ most treasured traditions this year.

“We appreciate the support of this tradition by the Hulman-George Family and recognize the important place it holds in the hearts of everyone who loves the Indianapolis 500,” said Forgey. “This is a tradition the dairy farmers of Indiana uphold each year, and it’s not just for Indiana. People associate the famous 500-mile race with the bottle of milk.”

Today, scientific evidence shows Louis Meyer knew what he was doing back in 1933, when he turned to milk to refuel after a grueling 500-miles.

Dario Franchitti hit the three-win mark Sunday, and continued the Winners Drink Milk tradition.
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Part of that ongoing tradition is the list of “mini marathons” and other competitive events in which the Winners Drink Milk slogan is used and chocolate milk is provided as the most refreshing beverage to replenish after exercise. For the Indycar drivers, however, the choice remains traditional. The milkmen keep whole white milk, 2% or nonfat chillin’ for them in Victory Circle.
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CAPTION INFORMATION:
Driving for the Target Chip Ganassi Team, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon swept the top two spots in the 96th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27. Legends were celebrated from 101 years of racing against a backdrop of Memorial Day honors for U.S. troops, including a tribute to last year’s Indy500 champion Dan Weldon, who was later involved in a fatal crash during the final 2011 Indycar race last October. Franchitti, Dixon and third place driver Tony Kanaan were all close friends of Weldon. Sporting his trademark white sunglasses, they crossed the finish line nearly three-abreast as the Indy500 ended its 200th 2.5-mile lap under the yellow caution flag, with the winner determined in the 199th lap.

“Winners Drink Milk” is the slogan imprinted on the bottle of milk awarded to the winning driver at the Indy500 each year. The slogan and bottle are used by the American Dairy Association of Indiana as shown in the milk float during the Festival of Indy parade Saturday.

Franchitti celebrated his third Indy500 win Sunday with the bottle of milk tradition started in the 1930s by Indy’s first three-time winner Louis Meyer (above right). After Meyer’s second victory in the grueling 500-mile race, he requested buttermilk to quench his thirst.

Pictured in the white and black cow-cap is 2012 Indy500 milkman Dave Forgey. The Logansport, Indiana dairyman was selected by his peers to deliver the legendary bottle of milk to the winning driver in Victory Circle this year. The “Winners Drink Milk” campaign is funded by Indiana dairy farmers through the ADA.

In traditional fashion, Franchitti celebrated his victory with the milk drink (and dunk) to the cheers of the crowd and throngs of photographers as well as national and international media.

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MORE CAPTION INFORMATION:
The “Winners Drink Milk” float was a main attraction at the Festival of Indy parade Saturday in downtown Indianapolis.
“Milkmen” Dave Forgey of Logansport (left) and Duane Hill of Fountain City kept a bottle each of whole, 2% and nonfat white milk chilled (with backup of course) for Victory Circle.
Indy 500 legends are commemorated on milk bottles lining shelves at the gift shops.
All 33 drivers were surveyed for their preferences before the race, and this race fan checked the sheet to see what his favorite driver prefers (whole, 2% or nonfat).
For racing fans like these folks from Wisconsin-the bottle of milk is a revered tradition, and the Indiana farmers who served as milkmen were treated as protectors of the celebrity-MILK-as they greeted Indy500 fans on race-day in front of the Pagoda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.