Milky Way Farm sells dairy cows to Fallon operations
Milky Way Farm Inc. – one of the last dairy farms in Douglas County – has sold its herd of milk cows, but the farm itself is not going anywhere.
The farm is still there, cows are still there, but no cows are milked there anymore.
Owner Craig Witt said he and his wife Caren had been considering selling the cows for several years, and made the decision, among other reasons, because his composting business has been so successful. Full Circle Compost, an extension of Milky Way Farm, will become Witt’s main focus.
“This has freed me up to pursue composting,” Witt said, “which I think is a bigger need right now, affecting more people.”
Witt’s grandparents began Milky Way Farms in 1920, and his father took over in 1950. After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in general agriculture, Witt took over operation of the farm in 1980. Five years ago, he and Caren bought the farm, giving his father an opportunity to retire.
Witt said he loved the dairy business, but it is not an easy way to make a living.
“We’ve always said dairying is a way of life,” he said. “There’s a commitment to it that is different than a lot of other things. It’s not easy. It’s very rewarding, very challenging.
“Twenty-hour days aren’t
uncommon. My father explained it real well as he considered eight hours a day at dairy farming his job, and the other eight hours his hobby.”
Because of changes in the dairy industry and uncertain milk prices, the Witts looked for other avenues to diversify their income, so they would not be relying solely on the dairy business. They pursued composting and giving tours of the farm. Both have been successful for them, and both will continue as before. Just the milk cows are gone.
“It’s not like I sold the cows and now I’m wondering what to do,” Witt said. “It’s almost like we did too good of a job diversifying our farm.”
Witt said a goal of his had been to have the highest producing herd in Nevada, which he accomplished for several years.
The cows were milked three times a day, with milking going on 24 hours a day.
But in 1997, Milky Way Farm Inc. produced 34,000 gallons of milk more than the previous year, while their dairy income was $96,000 less.
The Witts decided it might be time to sell the dairy and put the word out they were interested in selling the herd. They were greeted with a surprising number of responses, Witt said, probably because it was the highest producing herd in Nevada.
Witt sold 350 cows to two dairies in Fallon, and the process of selling the herd went more rapidly than expected.
In order to make money in the dairy business, Witt said, farms need to be large, milking as many cows as possible.
Milky Way Farm did not have the potential for that type of growth, not only because of space reasons but also because of Witt’s desire to continue pursuing composting.
The number of dairies in Douglas County has been steadily decreasing.
“I was talking to our milk truck driver the last day he was there, and he’s been hauling milk for 22 years,” Witt said. “And when he first started hauling here, there were 16 dairies in Carson Valley. Now there’re three.”
Fallon has 31 dairies, and Witt said it is a better location to raise and milk dairy cows. The climate is dry, and the city gets less snow in the winter.
Witt said it was upsetting to see the cows go, and he mourned for a week – much like he had lost a family member.
“It was a part of me. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss them, just having them there,” Witt said. “But now it’s snowing and I don’t have to worry about them. They’re in a better environment. They went to good dairies, so I’m feeling relief also.”
Witt is considering different options for his farm. He said he is entertaining the option of raising replacements – young dairy cows before they are ready for milking. Also, the facilities there are intact and functionable. If someone wanted to utilize the farm to have a dairy herd of 100 to 200 cows, Witt said he would entertain that idea.
For now, however, Milky Way Farm Inc. has no cows being milked, and Witt will have time to concentrate on composting. Although it’s something he has pursued aggressively in only the past few years, Witt said composting gives him an opportunity to do more for Carson Valley. Helping keep the Valley’s soil fertile and fields green, as well as helping to educate residents and farmers on how to do the same, is a direction Witt wants to go.
But, he simply doesn’t have the time to run both the dairy and the composting businesses. Already working on three composting sites, Witt said he anticipates the operation growing. Still, the change does create a level of uncertainty.
“There are certain times in life when you make a big change. It’s kind of scary,” he said, “but you don’t know how it is on the other side of the fence until you get there.”
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