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Taylor-made tenacity

Determination, diversification keep TTT Dairy going strong
Story and photos by Chris Villines 5/24/2018

Kenny Taylor says that in the mid-1970s, there were some 100 dairies in Lincoln County.

Today, there are three.

The dairy was started by Kenny’s father, Edward, and mother, Vicky, in 1967 is one of the last standing. Fayetteville’s TTT Dairy, which includes Kenny, his brother, Kerry, and Kenny’s sons Jason, 37, and Brent, 31, is surviving and thriving at a time of great uncertainty in the industry.

“My wife and I started out milking about 10 or 12 cows,” says Edward, 83, who still lives on the farm with Vicky but is retired from the dairy. “The boys came in and we built up some. I told them to ‘go for it.’ I enjoyed every minute of it but I’ve done my time. They’ve been really dedicated, and I’ve never seen so many dang cows in one place in all my life!”

And therein lies the key to the present and future success of TTT Dairy. Yes, there are still 140 head of Holstein cows milked twice daily on the farm, but custom dairy heifer development is where the Taylors see the most growth potential in their operation, which encompasses some 1,000 owned and leased acres.

“We’ve always raised a lot of heifers and sold fresh 2-year-olds for the past 20-25 years, but over the last few years we’ve started into custom heifer development,” says Kenny, who is the older of the two Taylor brothers by three years. “We bred 301 heifers in the month of March alone. There are three or four dairies that we are growing heifers for, and we also work with some other folks who help us raise heifers, too.”

TTT’s reputation for high-quality heifer development extends beyond Tennessee’s borders, Kenny says.

“We’re working with a dairy in Ohio where the heifers will come in here and we’ll straighten them out and get vaccinations in them,” he explains. “There’s a dairyman in Georgia who, anytime he’s ready to expand his operation, will buy up a bunch of heifers and send them to us to grow them.”

At any given time, there are around 800 head of Holsteins at the farm, some of which are housed in a 150-by-200-foot heifer barn the longtime Lincoln Farmers Cooperative members completed in January of last year.

“It’s a numbers game,” says Kerry. “You’ve got to have a lot [of heifers] on hand to make it in this business nowadays.”

One local dairy that the Taylors help with heifer development is Dickson County’s Daniels Dairy, started by the late Johnny Daniel and run today by his son Benjie, a Tennessee Farmers Cooperative director.

“About a month before breeding, we will get a group of heifers from them, then breed and grow them until they are about 30 days from calving,” Kenny says. “We’ve probably got 70 or 80 head of Benjie’s heifers that we are breeding right now.”

Benjie says the Taylors’ reputation for stellar heifer development made working with them an easy decision. There was also the added bonus of familiarity, as Johnny Daniel served several years with Kenny on the board of Select Sires.

“We had bought heifers from [TTT Dairy] in the past and they have always been in good shape,” says Benjie. “When we started not having enough manpower to get our heifers bred, we started sending them to the Taylors. They can feed them as inexpensively as we can. They’re balancing the Jack Daniel’s distiller’s mash in their ration, allowing for good development which in turn translates into good milk production later on.

“They’re good people, and we’re happy to work with them.”

TTT has a relationship with Jack Daniel’s that dates back to 1991, when Edward began purchasing dried distiller’s grain from the legendary company. In 2007, the dairy also started getting Jack Daniel’s distiller’s mash as a feedstuff for heifers.

“We have a tanker that goes to Jack Daniel’s at least once a day,” says Kenny. “A lot of people mistakenly think we’re hauling a load of milk.”

Jason says that bringing in a group of heifers from another operation requires an adjustment period for the animals feed-wise.

“Most people wouldn’t think about it being that difficult,” says Jason, an avid hunter who operates a Montana-based outfitting business, Bear Paw Hunts, as a side venture. “But when the heifers have been accustomed to eating hay and grain, you’ve got to transition them into eating silage. It’s a two-to-three-week process that can be very challenging.”  

Another key partner in their operation, the Taylors each contend, is their local Co-op.

“There aren’t too many days when either we go by there or they are delivering out here,” says Kerry. “They custom-make our Cow Balancer and we get all of our mineral, seed, fertilizer, and diesel fuel through the Co-op. You can buy products at a lot of places, but the service we get from Co-op is what we rely on most. We always receive excellent customer service.”

Kenny adds that like

Co-op, TTT Dairy has succeeded through attention to detail.

“We learned a long time ago from Dad to always be particular with details when it comes to what we’re feeding these cows,” he says. “Everything has to be just right. When we mix up a batch of feed, it’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. When we get through chopping a field of wheat, rye, or corn, we don’t leave anything behind. We manage our silage pits so that none of the silage ruins.”

Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Feed Specialist Rick Syler, who balances the rations for TTT’s milking herd, agrees and says the Taylors “have the best managed silage pits I’ve seen anywhere.”

“We’ve had nutritionists come here and take photos of our silage pits,” Kenny adds.

There’s another picture the Taylors have a clear vision of — the future of TTT Dairy.

“I think our future here is going to be custom-raising heifers,” says Kenny, who recently hired a local woman, Bailey Howell, to help fulltime with that side of the business. “I don’t think it will be milking cows, and that won’t be a choice of our own. It’s just the way the world is changing. And if you don’t adapt to that change, you’ll get left behind.”

Simply put, the family is intent on carrying on the tradition of farming excellence Edward started more than 50 years ago.

“This is all any of us have ever wanted to do,” Kenny says. “We’re going to work together to succeed for as long as we can.”


Support Tennessee dairy farmers

Now more than ever, it is critical to support local dairy farmers. One way to do that is to buy Tennessee dairy products. On April 19, Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law authorizing labeling of any milk sold in the state as “Local Tennessee Milk.” 

“Processors can use the Pick Tennessee Products logo to show consumers they use Tennessee milk,” says Will Freeman of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “Also, they will soon be able to use the ‘100 Percent Tennessee Milk’ and ‘Tennessee Prime’ logos.”

There are many tools, such as the dairy code, to help determine if the dairy product came from Tennessee. First, locate the dairy identification code on the carton or container, which is usually printed near the top of the container, on the lid, or right on the label. Codes never have colons, only dashes. The first two numbers represent the state identification. Tennessee’s code will always begin with 47. Numbers following the dash identify the processing plant and more details about your dairy product. For information and to see the breakdown of the latter part of the code, visit www.whereismymilkfrom.com to find out where your milk originated.

So, the next time you grab a gallon of milk or any dairy product, do a quick code check to make sure you are supporting Tennessee’s dairy industry.


 
 
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