Farm Horizons, Aug. 2006

Time was right for selling

By Roz Kohls

Kevin and Lois Campbell of Mayer are the third generation on their family dairy farm.

“I started milking cows when I was 13,” Kevin said.

When the price was right this spring, however, they sold their 70 milk cows.

They still have their 74 replacement heifers on 250 acres east of Winsted. They no longer have those long hours, seven-day work weeks they had when they were milking, though.

Kevin said he wanted to get out of milking the same way Viking player Robert Smith wanted to get out of football, “walk away early, rather than limp away late.”

None of the Campbells’ children, all adults now, are interested in making a career of dairy farming. Also, their 16-year-old hired hand wanted to work at a machine shop. They knew they wouldn’t have his help much longer, Lois said.

Milk prices had been cresting for a year and a half earlier. The Campbells’ cattle broker, Ken Wagner of Mayer, advised them in February to take advantage of the increased demand for dairy cows while the prices were at their peak.

“We got out right at the end,” Kevin said, adding that now the price of milk is down.

The Campbells have a good relationship with their broker. In the past, Wagner helped them sell their extra heifers, so again he helped make the arrangements. The cows first had to be tested for tuberculosis before they could be transported across state lines. The TB testing began late March.

Then Wagner arranged for the two prospective buyers from Wisconsin to come to the Campbells’ farm during milking and watch the operation. The buyers checked out the herd health, temperament of individual cows, whether they were pregnant and how many pounds of milk they produced. The Campbells were paid per milking cow.

Wagner came with five trucks and trailers over a period of three days and shipped the cows to Wisconsin. Lois laughed that it probably seemed to the neighbors that there were thousands of vehicles involved because only 12 to 16 cows were loaded at a time.

The cows were taken to big operations, only two miles apart, in which the operators had several hired hands.

The Campbells are still in the dairy business. “The only thing we’re not doing is milking cows,” Kevin said. “I’ve done that long enough.”

Early in the summer, Kevin took a job helping a neighbor with his steers. Kevin first feeds silage to the Campbells’ cattle at 5 a.m., and then works four to six hours feeding the neighbor’s steers. Kevin made sure up front that he would not work on weekends and holidays, one of the main reasons he wanted to get out of milking, he said.

Lois feeds the smaller calves in the Campbell’s barn and the heifers outside.

In the afternoon, when Kevin comes home, they fix equipment, cut the grass, do housework and bookkeeping.

Other than the milk check, the Campbells don’t miss milking at all. “We were ready to sell them,” Lois said.

Especially with the heat this summer, the Campbells are relieved their work days are shorter now.

“It’s very stressful on the cows and us, and milk production goes down,” Lois said.

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