June is National Dairy Month. It’s a time when dairy farmers are appreciated for all of their hard work. You’ll have to excuse them, however, if they don’t pause for too long to acknowledge the recognition.
“We milk 160 cows here and farm 250 acres, just me, my brother and my dad,” Gary Rice from Riceton Farm in Farmdale, Ohio told us. “We start at four o’clock in the morning and milk two times a day, 365 days a year."
The whole process takes Gary, his brother Jayme, and their father Dave about three hours. After that, they feed their roughly 300 cows and tend to the crops in between other chores, all before another three hours of milking in the afternoon.
About 50 miles to the east in Townville, Pennsylvania, Josh Waddell, general manager of Apple Shamrock Dairy Farm is balancing the demands of a busy dairy lifestyle. He and his wife — along with their three kids — his brother Joe, his parents, roughly 23 employees and 1100 cows form a big, hard-working family.
With so many moving parts, Josh wakes up every day and makes a plan. He lets everyone know the day's tasks, then he dives into the data. A high-tech monitoring system provides a real-time readout of nutrient, activity and production levels for each individual cow, so Josh can make sure they’re all healthy and happy. Then, he spends a few hours walking the grounds to check on the cows in person.
“At the end of the day it comes down to what we can do for the cows and how can we make it better for them,” Josh said. “We’re an 1100-cow dairy that takes care of our cows like a 60-cow dairy. We’re focused on the individual animal. Everything we do is for the cows.”
From deep sand bedding for a fluffy and soft place to lay to angled floors for ergonomic feeding, cow comfort is priority number one at Apple Shamrock.
The same is true at Riceton Farms.
“They pretty much get pampered,” Gary Rice said. “They live the life. They have feed in front of them 24 hours a day, fresh water 24 hours a day and they can roam wherever they want.”
Both farms also work closely with expert veterinarians who keep a caring eye on the animal’s welfare. Regular audits are conducted to make sure every cow is given plenty of shelter from the elements and a clean and cushioned place to lay down with ample room to relax.
All of these amenities are provided because Gary and Josh see their cattle as more than sources of income. Both farmers will proudly point out that dairy farming isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. You can’t keep hundreds of animals healthy and treat them humanely unless you truly care about them.
That’s really what matters. Regardless of manpower or amount of milk produced, the dairy farmers Giant Eagle works with have a simple focus at heart. They want the best for their cows. And by treating them like family, they know their own families and families throughout the communities they serve can enjoy better lives, too. Family is what makes all of the hard work worth it.
“It’s home. It’s great. You get to be your own boss,” Rice said. “I have a wife and two kids; my brother is married with two kids and they’re always out here running around. It makes the day go by better.”
Or as Waddell puts it, “Apple Shamrock is very much a family dairy. Our motto is we nurture our family, we nurture our cattle, we nurture our employees and we nurture the land. What we do allows other families to do what they do.”
So, when you wake up in the morning and pour milk on your cereal or into your coffee, know that not far from where you are, dairy farmers like the Rice and Waddell families are, and have been, awake and working. The cows have been checked on and cared for, and countless hours have gone into providing your family with a delicious and nutritious product.
The fresh, wholesome milk you buy at your neighborhood store or on Giant Eagle Curbside Pickup & Delivery is a round-the-clock, round-the-calendar labor of love.