Southeast Dairy Students Tour Va. Farms

2/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Hayley Potts Virginia Correspondent

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Students from universities spanning the Southeast traveled to Virginia Tech for the 2014 southern division meeting of the American Dairy Science Association-Student Affiliate Division Jan. 31-Feb. 1.

A different university holds the southern division meeting each year, and this year Virginia Tech was the host. Attendees came from the University of Georgia, Clemson University, Mississippi State University, West Virginia University, North Carolina State University and the University of Kentucky.

The American Dairy Science Association, or ADSA, is an international organization of scientists, industry members and educators whose goal is to advance the future of the dairy industry and dairy science. The event also gave students the opportunity to network with each other and allowed them to experience dairy farms up close through tours and conferences.

On Jan. 31, students had an early morning as they traveled one hour south to Rural Retreat, Va., to tour Duchess Dairy Products Creamery and Huffard Dairy Farms Inc. Jimmy Huffard, part owner and operator of the creamery, gave students a tour of the facilities while explaining how he became involved in processing his own milk.

Huffard and his brother, John, began bottling all-Jersey milk in 2010 when they bought the current building and processing equipment. The brothers created the creamery in partnership with two other local Jersey dairy farms. Huffard grew up drinking Jersey milk and said he knew that there was something special about it.

Some people prefer Jersey milk thinking it has a superior taste due to its higher levels of protein and calcium.

“I knew that all-Jersey milk meant something to the consumer, and I wanted to help meet that demand,” Jimmy Huffard said.

Currently, the creamery is processing milk two days a week, with about 3,500 gallons of milk processed weekly. Regular products that are made include whole milk, 2-percent milk and chocolate milk in plastic pint, half-gallon and gallon containers. The brothers have also experimented with strawberry milk, high-protein milk drinks, drinkable yogurt and eggnog.

Their customers have an increasing demand for skim milk, so the Huffards are working at getting the equipment needed to process skim milk as well. The farm’s milk products are sold in 100 stores within a 60-mile radius of the processing plant. The brothers are excited about the future given the fact consumers are becoming increasingly aware of local agriculture and want to know where their food comes from.

Jimmy Huffard said milk processing can be hard work and it takes up a lot of his time, but he said, “I like a challenge.”

After trying some chocolate milk at the creamery, students drove down the road to tour one of the farms that supplies Duchess Dairy Products, Huffard Dairy Inc.

Trey Huffard, son of Jimmy Huffard, led the tour of the dairy. Trey Huffard is a 2013 graduate of Virginia Tech and manages most of the farm operations, while his father spends most of his time working at the creamery.

The farm began milking cows in 1929. The farm’s had nearly every breed of cow on the farm at different times, but have always milked Jerseys because “we wanted the cow that was most profitable,” Trey Huffard said.

All of the milk that does not go to Duchess Dairy Products gets shipped to a local cheese plant, which prefers the farm’s high-protein milk for cheesemaking.

The farm was one of the first in the area to install free stalls in the 1960s. Currently, the Huffard family milks 350 registered Jerseys. The family also raises bulls for A.I. studs and sells herd bulls to local dairy farmers.

Trey Huffard makes all of the mating decisions, saying that he chooses for good udders, high milk production and uses a lot of young bulls. He said he is looking ahead to the future, including plans to build a new free-stall barn and expand the herd to more than 400 cows.

The next tour stop was Hillside Farm. The Flory family, all graduates of Virginia Tech, own and operate Hillside Farm. The family is in the process of doubling the herd to 240 Holstein cows and installing a Lely free-flow robotic milking system.

The new system will include a new free-stall barn with four robotic milkers and a new dry-cow barn. The cows will be divided into two groups and a new three-way sort gate in the free-stall barn will help the family monitor cows that need attention such as fresh cows and cows close to calving.

The family is also installing Lely automatic calf feeders and will have growing pens for their weaned calves up to 6 months old. They also have the option to feed waste milk from the robotic milkers to their calves.

The Flory family is excited about all the changes, saying the driving force behind their transition is the labor efficiency they will be gaining with the herd expansion. The wealth of information they’ll receive about each cow going through the robots was also mentioned as a major plus.

One of the family’s major goals was to put in a system that not only benefits family members but the cows as well.

The final tour stop was the Virginia Tech dairy, which is located adjacent to the university campus in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has a 215-cow Holstein and Jersey dairy that gives university students many hands-on learning opportunities. Virginia Tech hires many part-time university students.

ADSA attendees were able to see recent additions to the dairy such as the automatic calf feeders and see the various research facilities for the many ongoing dairy science research projects run by professors and students.

They learned a little about Virginia Tech’s breeding philosophy. The Virginia Tech Jersey herd is ranked as one of the most progressive Jersey herds in the country. The tour groups also got to hear some of the plans for the ongoing dairy relocation and the changes that will be made in the coming years.

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