Garfield County's Last Dairyman, Brad Brainard, Shares Family's Legacy in Oklahoma's Dairy IndustryTue, 17 Sep 2019 11:13:34 CDT
In the winter of 1965, a Garfield County dairyman walked 110 of his milk cows two and a half miles down the road from his mother’s property to the old barn his grandfather built a generation before. Since then, that barn has continued to operate, milking the same herd twice a day, every day. Now, managed by that dairyman’s son, Brad Brainard, the last dairy farmer in Garfield County still in business. Brainard shared that story of his family’s centennial farm with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays during the recent 2019 DariyMax Ice Cream Contest at the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City. You can listen to their complete conversation by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
Fifty-four years later, Brainard continues to manage his father’s dairy operation much in the same fashion he did all those years ago, with 110 milk cows rotated in and out from his larger herd of about 250 head. Marketed through Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), 99% of Brainard’s milk goes into liquid milk production, processed and jugged by the Hiland Dairy plant in Chandler, Okla. with the occasional diversion to Blue Bell for ice cream production. That same barn his great-grandfather built is still in use too, remodeled now three times since its construction. While the day-to-day hasn’t changed much on his farm, Brainard says the industry itself is a completely different story.
“The dairy industry has changed tremendously. Today’s animals are much larger. They consume much more,” he said, describing the economical conundrums that have evolved over the years and put so many like him out of business. “Our cows, being dairy cows, are fed like Olympic athletes - balanced to the micronutrient. We’ve really seen a lot of change in the dairy industry in the fact that years ago you had people who just milked cows and then you had ‘dairymen.’ Today, if you’re in the dairy business, you’re a dairyman because it’s such a tight margin now… unless you’re really managing for that milk production, you just cannot economically stay in it.”
As the last of his tribe in Garfield County, it saddens Brainard to think about the colleagues he has lost, having themselves made the hard decision to abandon the industry.
“It is very difficult, and we’ve seen a large exodus of dairy producers just in the last few recent years. It saddens me when I go to the meetings and no longer see my colleagues there that have left the business,” he said. “Everybody leaves for different reasons, but for me, I also have a crop farm and a beef herd, but for me the best opportunity in agriculture is still on the dairy side.”
Though profitable for him, Brainard admits, the work and the commitment that is required to stay afloat in the dairy business is strenuous to say the least.
“It’s a lot more work, it’s a lot more hours… a lot more stress. But, there’s lots of opportunity there,” he said. “That’s my biggest restraint… time and talent. You can only do so much, and I figured out just recently that it’s a lot easier for me to find somebody that’s qualified to work on the grain or crop side or on the beef side maybe, than what I can find on the dairy. So, I now spend much more time with the dairy and am focused on finding help that can run those tractors, plant those crops that provides feed back to those cows. It’s really just getting to be a lost art to find someone that’s a really good cowman - especially a dairyman.”
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