A fourth-generation dairyman’s recent decision to call it quits leaves Jackson County with less than a dozen dairy farms.
Bruce Stahl’s decision also eliminates one less potential local food source at a time when the trend is toward buying, marketing and selling locally produced food.
The Brownstown dairy farmer had considered having his milk made into cheese and selling it locally. At least one of the other Jackson County dairy farmers has done that in recent months, but Stahl decided it wasn’t something he wanted to pursue.
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For one thing, the 47-year-old had been milking since he was a kid, and it was just time to move on to something else, Stahl said.
Something else also came into play.
“The bottom line is that prices are too low and costs are higher,” Stahl said. “It’s just a wash.”
So July 12, he and his wife, Mendy, decided to close Stahl Farms.
Stahl said he will miss milking.
“It’s the only thing I’ve known,” he said.
In the beginning
Bruce and Mendy Stahl switched homes with his parents, Charlie and Vivian Stahl, in the early 2000s after the older couple decided to retire.Charlie and Vivian started the dairy part of the farm after they were married in 1961.
“Vivian was a Wischmeier, and her family owned a dairy farm, so she grew up with it,” said Mendy, whose family was not in the farming business.
Bruce’s father built the present dairy barn in 1971. They had been milking in a smaller nearby dairy barn.
When Bruce and Mendy quit production, the herd count was 115. At one point, the Stahls were milking 180 cows a day, with each feeding taking about five hours to complete.
Dairy farming requires constant care seven days a week. The cows need to be milked twice a day every day.
Bruce said they once tried to milk three times a day but found out that was too much trouble.
“It’s pretty labor-intensive,” he said. “I had to be there most of the time.”
Stahl and his wife have three sons, Nick, 21, Skyler 17, and Chandler, 12. All three of the boys have helped with milking, and the Stahls also have had farmhands in the past.
Cost of care
Another creeping cost was keeping the herd healthy. A single adult dairy cow drinks nearly the equivalent of a bathtub full of water every day, according to the American Dairy Association Indiana Inc.Richard Beckort, an educator with Purdue Extension Jackson County, said the decline of small-town dairy farms largely is due to economic factors.
“Lots of small businesses are having a tough time,” he said.
Smaller dairy farms typically do not turn over enough profit to cover the full cost of production, but if the herd size is large enough, smaller dairy farms can earn a profit, he said.
There are other factors behind the decline, said Denise Derrer, media relations director for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
“A lot of expense is incurred by the companies purchasing the milk with all of the traveling back and forth,” Derrer said. “So it’s not beneficial to them to make stops at some of the smaller farms that produce only small tanks of milk.”
A year ago at this time, there were 1,134 dairy farms in the state. But that’s now down 1,077, according to the state.There were 13 dairy farms in Jackson County a year ago. With the Stahls’ decision, the number now is 11.
“I was surprised my husband was ready to call it quits,” Mendy said.
She admits being sad about the decision to get out of the business but understands her husband’s desire to do something different.
Their sons did not have much of an interest in continuing the business, and Bruce was growing tired of it.
“It’s time to get out,” he said. “I’m not going to miss heading to the dairy barn two times a day to milk.”
Although the Stahls have decided to give up the dairy of the farm, they haven’t quit farming completely because they will still be involved in growing grain crops.
With no more long hours spent working on the farm milking, Bruce Stahl will need to adjust to the new lifestyle.
“I’m going to miss it when you do something you have been doing all your life,” he said.
For information about dairy farms in Indiana, visit secure.in.gov/boah/2343.htm or winnersdrinkmilk.com.
According to the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, the dairy farms in Jackson County are all Grade A farms.
Most commercial dairy farms are Grade A.
This means the milk is ready to drink, said Purdue Extension Jackson County educator Richard Beckort.
Grade B dairy farms require more processing in order to produce other dairy products, such as cheese and butter, Beckort said.