September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Today, Richie Traylor and his brother, Justin, manage their parents', Glenn and Betty's, 182-cow dairy, which is located 90 miles northeast of the state capital.
"My brother and I are full-time employees for our parents," Traylor said. "In 1964, my dad purchased the family dairy from his relatives and then I joined the farm after college in '82."
Although dairy does not rank in the top 10 agricultural commodities produced in Alabama, and the state's dairy farmers produce less than 20 percent of the population's dairy needs, according to the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Traylors have established themselves in the industry and are thriving.
"I've always lived in the farming community and have enjoyed it," Traylor said. "It's a great place to raise a family and teach your children a good work ethic and responsibility."
Traylor and his wife, Michelle, have raised two daughters on the dairy - Shelby and Sarah - alongside Traylor's brother's son, Luke.
Together the families raise all of the replacement heifers, as well as young bulls and feeder steers for the local markets.
"We sell our steers in Sweetwater, Tenn., where we've been able to receive a good price for them," Traylor said.
In addition to operating a dairy, the Traylor family also raises 145 beef cattle and manages four broiler barns. Traylor's daughters have a small herd of registered Red Angus.
With Alabama's humid and hot climate in the summer, and mild winters, the Traylors house their animals in open loafing barns.
"Really, because we have such nice weather, the cattle are out on pasture most of the time," Traylor said.
Cattle are brought to concrete pads during the morning and afternoon milking, where they are fed a TMR mix. As one group is milked in the double-8 parallel parlor, one is fed the mixed ration and another remains on pasture - rotating throughout the milking shift.
While Traylor does not often milk, he oversees the beginning of every morning shift.
On 1,200 acres of owned and rented land, the Traylors make hay and pasture their animals. With the landscape mimicking that from the mountain range, the land is not suitable for crop farming.
"It's extremely rolling lands here and not tillable for much of anything. We don't have a large enough area of flat land for irrigation," Traylor said. "If farmers have four to five acres of tillable land, they're very fortunate."
Because of the inability to grow grains for feed, the Traylors purchase most of their commodities needed in the ration, including citrus pulp, dried distiller grains, corn silage, and sometimes cottonseed hulls.
Although the state was in a significant drought last year, this year has been promising for putting up hay and aiding in the quality of the ration.
"We've been fortunate this year for good rains," Traylor said. "Sometimes, we'll go five years where we won't get much good rain, and then it'll be back."
When the weather cooperates, Taylor said dairy farming is easier, but challenges still remain in the southern state.
In 2000, there were 120 dairy herds across Alabama and now only 38 remain. A study once observed the trends in the state and predicted the dairy industry would be wiped out by 2016, said Traylor.
"We haven't proven that trend true yet, as there are a few new producers starting out. But it is a test to produce milk here," Traylor said.
Traylor must travel to Tennessee, Mississippi or Louisiana to acquire the right parts and services the dairy needs.
"Our infrastructure is gone - with the exception of farming equipment, there's not many dealerships left," Traylor said. "I'm usually traveling five hours for help, or they're traveling to me."
Although the markets have played a significant role in the steep decline of dairy farmers, Traylor credits the industry's collapse to the lack of interest from the next generation.
"Young family members just don't want to stay on the farm and older members are ready to retire," Traylor said. "The ones that do come back are milking smaller herds and processing their milk. It's becoming a really popular thing to do and have a market for your milk."
The Traylor family has focused on continued improvement within their dairy to remain competitive in the industry.
Several years ago, the family began crossbreeding to incorporate better genetics into the herd, which now consists of Holsteins, Jerseys and Holstein-Jersey crosses.
"The goal is to always increase pounds of milk per cow to be more efficient," Traylor said. "Crossbreeding has increased heterosis and we're making a better calf with each breeding."
Additionally, Traylor finds value in being involved in dairy-related organizations throughout his community - both locally and at the state level.
Currently, Traylor is the chairman of the Randolph County Dairy Farmers Association and a representative on the state's dairy committee.
"I've been involved at the state level since 1998, when I first became involved in the dairy," Traylor said.
Traylor hopes that his involvement in promoting the industry, as well as his farm's progression forward will solidify the industry's place alongside other agricultural sectors in Alabama for many years to come.
"This is our livelihood and it's a good one," Traylor said.[[In-content Ad]]