Family Farms

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Agriculture remains a big part of the U.S. economy, but over the last few decades, the number of traditional family farms has declined. In Ohio the decrease has started to stabilize.

But state agriculture officials say the numbers may not be as good as they look, because recent surveys are counting very small operations and Christmas tree farms which were left out of past reports. In this two-part installment of WKSU's series, "New Work, New Families: America's Juggling Act," Kevin Niedermier visits a family dairy farm in Lorain county that is determined to keep the tradition going... Conrad: they moved out here, mid-to-late '30s and bought this farm before the roads were even paved. Dave Conrad represents the third generation of his family to raise dairy cows on this Lorain county land, and he says the surrounding area has changed over the last 60-years...
Conrad: They moved out here, mid-to-late '30s and bought this farm before the roads were even paved.
Dave Conrad represents the third generation of his family to raise dairy cows on this Lorain county land, and he says the surrounding area has changed over the last 60-years...
Conrad: Everybody out here that's lived out here farmed. There were 20-25 dairies shipping out and producing milk. I think we are down to three? But my brother and I, in the last ten years, have more than doubled the size of our herd. That's just trying to stay up with the economic times with farming. You have to do more with less. That's how we come to the number we are at. If we are still in business ten years from now, then, we'll be probably double that.
Conrad and his family own 250-acres, plus they rent over 500 more. Cash crops are grown on roughly half this land. The rest is used to raise feed for their 300 dairy cows, each of which needs to be milked three times a day, 365 days a year. For this, the cows que-up outside a milking parlor waiting their turn to be hooked-up to one of 16 automatic milkers. When the gate opens, they quietly amble in, and in a surprising and orderly fashion, take their place on a raised platform. Below, at udder-level, Conrad and farm-hand Jamie attach the equipment...
Conrad: This is where Jamie spends all of her time. We put about 80 hours a week down here, 90 hours a week. Jamie does the majority of our milking for us. We'd be lost without her. No doubt about it. She keeps this place running and we are awful glad to have her around.

Jamie: Right now, we are cleaning the udders. I had no knowledge whatsoever when I first came here. I have been here about a year and a month. I like it better than dealing with people. When they first come in, they give you a hard time. They kick. She's a little rowdy. It's been about 3 months, she won't be milked. I'm from Cleveland. I asked when I first started, "Are these all girls?"

Conrad says it is hard to compete with factory wages, but experienced full-time help can earn about $11 an hour, plus some health insurance benefits. Every cow takes about a minute-and-a-half to milk, adding up to roughly four hours for each of the three daily milkings, and this is the slow season. Mid-November, after the crops have been harvested, Conrad says it is rewarding but very demanding work, a big reason dairy farms are on the decline in Lorain county...
Conrad: A lot of them are just--they've not shown interest. It wasn't appealing financially. It was in your heart or it wasn't. Those that chose to stay on your farm--you grow up with this lifestyle and it's in your heart. It's what you wanna do, you do what it takes. It's something that I've always done, and God-willing I'll keep doing it.
Each day, Conrad's herd produces about 2000 gallons of milk. And for every 100 pounds, he makes about $13, which is a few dollars more than the average payout. The price farmers are paid for whole milk is based partly on how bacteria-free the product is; the cleaner the milk, the less time dairies have to spend pasteurizing it. Since that savings is passed on to the farmer, Conrad pays special attention to cleanliness, because it's a fact of life, where there are cows, there is manure, and where there are 300 cows, there is a lot of manure. Conrad benefits from his neatness in the milking parlor, but he laments the fact that he is still not taking in much more than his father or grandfather...
Conrad: We are getting the same price for product we produce now that we did 30-40 years ago. The difference is that your inputs keep going up--the only way to offset that is to get your numbers up. Do more with less. The production per cow has gone up. Their day average, back then, was maybe forty, fifty pounds. Now, we average 70-80 pounds a day. You pay a lot more attention to detail. That's a lot of the difference.
And besides the age old problems of weather and market fluctuations, issues Conrad now monitors on computers in the barn, he says today's farmers face new challenges, like environmental concerns and urban sprawl. I'm Kevin Niedermier, 89.7 WKSU.
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