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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.
Weather problems in 2009
2009 was also the worst weather year he ever experienced, McReynolds says.
“Starting in April, it rained steadily for six weeks, and I lost my ryegrass hay crop; a lot that I had cut I never got to roll up. Then, May/June brought a six-week drought that got our second cutting of hay and our pastures, and just killed us.
"The drought was followed by an extended rainy season that lasted through December — we got 38 inches of rain, half our yearly rainfall, in six weeks. My johnsongrass hay was looking good (unlike row crop farmers, we dairymen love johnsongrass), but it was so wet I had to have fertilizer applied by air.
“Then, armyworms hit, and I had to spray for them. But I never got to cut that grass, because of all the fall rains; I had to plant my winter ryegrass by air. I had about 90 percent loss of my hay crop that year.
‘I try to put up all the hay I can; I like to get at least 1,200 rolls, but wasn’t able to do that the last two years due to adverse weather. I had to buy $12,000 worth of hay each year to get through the winter.”
Temporary grazing is ryegrass pasture — “we live and die by ryegrass,” McReynolds says. “It’s a wonderful high protein forage, both for grazing and baling. We’ll plant about Sept. 1 and hope to be able to start grazing by Oct. 12-15. We can usually continue grazing until about May 14.
“We also can bale it at high moisture, 50 percent to 60 percent, and wrap it in white plastic, which keeps it from deteriorating, and store it right in the field. The plastic wrap is cheap storage; we don’t have to have a lot of barn space for the hay.”
He has a 24-ton feed storage tanks, and uses about a ton per day. This tank contains 20 percent high energy protein feed and another 10-ton tank contains a pelleted 14-16 percent protein heifer ration.
As he strides briskly out into the pasture to whistle up cows for milking, McReynolds keeps a pace that a younger man might envy. He knows each cow, how many calves it’s had, it’s milk-producing ability, its particular temperament.
So, what happens if, and when, he decides to close the doors on his dairy?
“I probably would raise heifers to sell to dairies elsewhere,” he says. “I don’t think I could ever completely get away from cows.”