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Of the 1,000-plus dairy enterprises that once dotted the landscape of Oktibbeha County, Miss., just one commercial operation is left — McReynolds Dairy. John T. McReynolds, who milked his first cow at age 6 on his father’s farm, is the lone survivor of the county’s once-teeming industry.
Four pasture systems
Over the years, McReynolds says, “I’ve milked as many as 160 cows, or as few as 70-80. Now, we’re milking 115-120.
“I have one herd of registered Holsteins, another of registered Jerseys — about 60 milking cows of each. There are another 100 bred and open heifer calves. We keep calves in pens until they’re 2-1/2 months old, wean them, and then they go into the barn on hay and grain until they’re ready to go onto pasture.
‘We have four pasture systems: one for milk cows, one for dry cows, one for open heifers, and one for bred heifers. There are eight pastures used for grazing ryegrass.
“All our breeding is by artificial insemination. There has never been a bull on the place since I started in 1966. AI gives me access to the world’s best bulls. I purchase semen from Select Sires and ABS Global.”
He says the average is about 14,000 pounds of milk for the Jersey herd and about 16,000 for the Holsteins. “We probably should be doing better, but with the atrocious weather of recent years, the cows just don’t perform to their maximum potential.”
The milking parlor is a double 4 herringbone layout, with four milkers on each side, and Germania automatic takeoffs.
“We can milk eight cows at a time, about 40 per hour,” McReynolds says. Milking usually takes 2-1/2 hours morning and night, starting about 4 a.m. and 5 p.m.
His helper, Chris Reese, handles the milking operation.
“It was a good day when Chris came to work for me,” McReynolds says. “He is now in his 20th year with me, and in all that time he has never missed a single day of work. He likes the work, he knows the cows, and I could not ask for a better employee than Chris.
“He comes morning and afternoon, sanitizes the equipment with a chlorine wash, rounds up the cows and heads them into the holding pen. In hot weather, we can spray them with misters to cool them down while they’re waiting. They go through the cleaning station, where their udders are washed down, and then into the milking parlor. All the manure is washed into grates and then flows downhill to the treatment lagoon.”
The milk is stored in a 1,250-gallon tank that maintains it at 38 degrees until it’s picked up. “Our milk goes to Dairy Fresh at Hattiesburg, Miss.,” McReynolds says, “but from there most of it goes to Walmart and is sold under their own label. A tanker truck comes through every other day to pick up milk from us and the handful of other dairies that are still scattered across northeast Mississippi.”
In 2009, he says, the price of milk bottomed out at about 1975 prices, “but the price for feed and everything else has gone steadily upward. Our biggest cost items are ‘The Three Fs’ — feed, at $300 or more per ton; fertilizer, at $400 or more per ton; and fuel, at $3.50 to $4 per gallon.
“China has run the prices of corn, cotton, and soybeans sky high. I’m proud that farmers can get $7 or $8 for corn and $12 or $13 for soybeans, but it kills us on feed prices. We’re surviving right now because milk prices are inching back close to what they were in 2008.
“My best year was 2008; we had good milk production and good prices. Ironically, my worst year was the following year, 2009; there was a lot of overproduction and China pretty much dropped out of the cheese market. Our milk prices tend to follow what the cheese market does, and we saw a 60 percent price drop that year.”