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Despite dwindling numbers, Kentucky fetes dairy month
Kentucky Correspondent

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Even with dwindling numbers in the past several years, the Kentucky’s dairy business is the center of agricultural attention in June complete with celebrations and “dairy days” all across the state.

Kentucky saw a decrease in the number of milk cows last year by approximately 4,000 head and a drop from 2002 by nearly 16,000 head.

But all is not bad news, milk production has risen by 51,000 pounds from last year and milk producers earned $236.6 million in cash receipts from dairy products in 2004, a 23 percent increase in 2003, according to the Kentucky field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Kentucky Ag Commissioner Richie Farmer believes the state’s dairy business will get better thanks in part to better planning.

“I want to thank the farmers who produce the top-quality dairy products we all enjoy every day,” Farmer said. “Kentucky’s dairy industry is poised for better times ahead. Dairy producers and related dairy interests have formed the Kentucky Dairy Development Council (KDDC,) created a strategic plan and held a series of meetings to help producers improve their bottom lines. I am optimistic about the future of dairy farming in Kentucky.”

According to a report by Eunice Schlappi of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), “KDDC was formed in 2005 to represent and unite all aspects of the dairy industry. The goal is to present “one voice” for the state’s dairy industry.

“The KDDC currently includes Kentucky dairy producers as well as allied industry individuals and groups such as genetics, nutrition, animal health, and others who will have the opportunity to become members. The group also consists of advisory members from universities and other public agencies.”

While groups such as the KDDC work to achieve improvement in the dairy business, young people are getting a grass roots introduction to dairy by way of people like Jackie Branham.

Branham, a former Thoroughbred trainer for 35 years, decided to invest in dairy cows during a trip to the North American Livestock Show. “I watched a Holstein cow class and just thought they were beautiful and elegant and thought I would like to do that,” she said. “So I bought one and went from there.”

While still in the horse business, Branham spent much of her time in Florida, but she bought a 25-acre farm and began to work with her other favorite animals in the summers until she retired from training to stay on the farm.

Branham started working with young people after participating in an event called Kids Tour where students from a local high school went to farms as projects for a school club. “There were four on the team that came out and worked with the heifers, they walked them and trained them and did a great job,” she said.

One of those students was Cassie Huckeba, a shy, quiet student from a military family that moved around a lot she said. Hucheba’s love for cows blossomed as worked around the farm with Branham spurring her next move to the University of Kentucky to study Agriculture Education.

“I want to be a teacher. I really like teaching little kids,” said Huckeba. “My inspiration has been ag teachers at school and Jackie. I help her feed and break heifers and we get them ready for shows.”

Huckeba is now a junior at UK and works in the dairy there helping to milk 120 cows and participating in shows and fairs all over the region.

“I like to go to all the county shows and we go to the state fair here and in Tennessee,” she said. “People walk through the fairs and ask questions and that’s really our best way to help educate people about the dairy business.

“I told a woman once that one of my jobs is to milk cows and she said ‘people still do that?’ We use every opportunity to educate people.”

Branham sees a lot of hope for the dairy business in young people. “There are a lot of kids interested in dairy cows,” she said. They don’t necessarily have to run a dairy farm, they can teach or go to shows. There are so many advantages to the family farms. It’s a great place to raise kids, they have responsibilities and something to do and it’s something city kids could do, too.”

Huckeba has taken her natural love of animals and is turning it into a profession and thanks to those that taught her, she will now pass that experience on to another generation.

“I’ve lived everywhere my whole life and I know if we hadn’t moved to Kentucky and I hadn’t gotten involved with FFA and Jackie, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college,” she said. “I think everyone should find something that they love. If we get these kids to come out and fall in love with this, maybe they will continue,” said Huckeba. “I like teaching little kids. When they understand something for the first time they say ‘wow’, that is awesome.”

Branham, a native of Massachusetts, originally came to the state because of her love for horses but she stays now for the love of her cows.

She serves as chairman of livestock for the Franklin County Fair Board and got the ball rolling on making milk the official drink of Kentucky.

“I read where other states had made milk their official drinks so I thought, why not here, so I talked with State Sen. Joey Pendleton and said what’s the official drink of Kentucky, why can’t we have an official drink here and he took it from there,” she said.

“Last year at the state fair, they gave me a plaque for helping to promote the dairy industry, it was quite a surprise.”

The barn at Branham’s Mills Lane Farm is usually busy with the sounds of grooming clippers and classical music playing on the radio.

Branham asked, “They say listening to classical music makes kids smarter, do you think it works for cows?”

Branham looks after her cows like a parent, and she talks to them and takes care of them like they were her children; but most importantly, she is passing on her love for the breed to others.

This farm news was published in the June 14, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.