June Dairy Month begins with an emphasis on dairy farmers, or rather the lack of dairy farmers operating in Warren County.
“Warren County no longer has a major dairy producer,” said 4-H Extension agent Alison Hopper. “When it comes to family dairy farm operations, it’s a dying industry.”
Ken Vickers operated Warren County’s largest dairy farm for years in the Centertown community. He milked over 400 cows three times a day before deciding to sell his dairy cows in November and concentrate on other aspects of farming.
“The costs kept going up and the margins kept getting smaller,” said Vickers on his reasons for getting out of the dairy business. “With such tight margins, I really needed to expand and I didn’t feel like expanding at my age. So we sold the cows and they are now all over the Southeast.”
Vickers said it would be extremely difficult for someone to start a dairy farm from scratch. It requires a large amount of land, expensive equipment, and plenty of labor. His farm in Centertown is 900 acres.
“Land is high. Equipment is high. Labor is high and hard to find,” said Vickers.
Chris Sullens of Sullens Transport said the number of dairy farmers are dwindling, but the amount of dairy being produced is greater than ever. Sullens Transport specializes in the delivery of milk, cream and orange juice all over the Southeast.
“There aren’t as many little guys. The mega farmers are taking over,” said Sullens, who added he’s not concerned by the lower number of dairy farms in operation. “It’s always been a big business and it still is a big business. It’s like anything else. It favors the big guys who can be more efficient.”
Sullens says life running a dairy farm is not attractive to many kids today, which has led some longtime dairies to make the decision to shut down the family farm.
“Milking cows is seven days a week, three times a day, 365 days a year,” said Sullens. “That includes Christmas. One of the larger farms I work with in Kentucky milks 3,000 cows a day. The cows don’t take a vacation for Christmas.”
Sullens doesn’t perceive the lack of small, family dairy farms as being a problem. He says some of the mega farms are high-dollar operations that produce in the neighborhood of $700,000 in revenue every day to ensure our dairy supply remains stable.
Sullens says his trucks are capable of hauling 50,000 pounds in each load. He hauls 14 to 15 loads of milk a day for some of his major customers.