September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Now, 17 years later, the Nyes own and operate two dairies - Mountain View Dairy and Horizon Dairy - and milk 1,400 cows on each. They bought their Horizon Dairy five years ago, to bring their oldest son, Gregory, into the business.
New England, Mary said, was "a much tougher place to dairy." For one thing, the Nyes rented a farm there and wanted to increase their herd. They wanted a place where they could grow and eventually include their children in the business.
"We either had to vastly change what we were doing or get out of the business," Mary said.
Their move to the Beehive State gave them more space and let them become more efficient. The purchase of Horizon Dairy is an example of increased efficiency. It's just a mile from Mountain View Dairy, so the Nyes did not have to double their workforce, although they do have different barn crews for each dairy.
The purchase of the second dairy also let them make better use of their equipment and machinery.
"It was a pretty economical thing to do, as far as leveraging what we had," said John.
John and Maria have another son, Peter, who works with them part-time. A daughter, Katharine, is working on an agriculture degree in California and plans to return to the farm.
Both herds are doing well, posting rolling herd averages of about 25,000 pounds each on three-times-a-day milking. Somatic cell counts (SCCs) are good, too - less than 100,000 and 130,000.
But all is not cheery at the Nyes' dairies these days. They buy the bulk of their feed, growing just 65 acres of corn. John figured they would need to farm 3,000 acres if they wanted to grow all their feed.
When feed prices are lower, buying works well, and has most of the years the couple has been in Utah. But not now.
It had been a good way to go, except for the last few years," John said. "We're in an area where there's a lot of alfalfa hay, and a lot of it gets compressed into small bales and shipped to China. We're kind of paying a 'China tax' on our forage."
Irrigation is common in the Nyes' area, so finding alfalfa, corn silage and barley isn't a problem. But John said hay should fetch closer to $100 a ton rather than $200 a ton, the way milk prices are.
Those high feed prices have driven their cost of producing a hundredweight of milk up to $18 to $18.50, Maria said. The lion's share of that expense is feed - close to $12.40 per hundredweight of milk produced.
"This year it bites a whole lot harder, when the milk check doesn't stretch to cover all the other things it needs to," Maria said. "It sounds like misery. Our last check was $13.82."
That was some $4 less than what it cost the Nyes to produce that milk. Obviously, they can't keep losing money forever and stay in business.
"Hope is not a strategy," John said. "But that's exactly what we're doing now - hoping it gets better."
The main factor contributing to the low price the Nyes are getting for their milk is a supply/demand imbalance. The winter was mild; spring and summer weather have been conducive to cows producing milk. As a result, Utah's milk output has been up close to nine percent month after month.
"Everybody is making as much milk as they ever did before," said Maria.
"What's more," John said, "markets have not performed as well as they should have. So we have more milk than we need."
Trucking that extra milk to other markets costs farmers money. And, that so-called "distressed" milk fetches a lower price.
To attack the supply/demand imbalance, the Nyes' co-op, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) has put into place a "growth management plan." Maria is a director of DFA's Mountain Area Council.
"The long and the short of it is, most of us have to get rid of about seven percent of our milk production in the next 30 days," John said."
The Nyes have already done that. They culled 150 cows from the bottom end of their herds and have been feeding more milk to calves. Schools will open again soon, so the Nyes hope to see some pretty good improvement in their milk prices.
A bright spot in all of this misery has been the market for Holstein steer calves, said Maria. Prices for those have risen lately.
Just in case milk prices don't recover, and feed prices don't come down, the Nyes have been backing off their crossbreeding program. It consisted of using Jersey genetics on their Holsteins, and using Norwegian Red genetics on the Holstein-Jerseys.
They've been going back to Holsteins, using sexed semen to try to build heifer numbers. That's just in case they sell the herd somewhere down the road. That would happen if they end up needing a career change, which they really don't want to do, Maria said.
Their current woes aside, the Nyes said they still like dairying.
"We like milking cows. We do enjoy the industry that we're part of," Maria said.
With an eye to the future, John and Maria have been contemplating replacing their 20-year-old double-16 and double-20 milking parlors. They might wait until robotic rotary parlors are perfected - maybe in five years or so.
The Nyes dairy in west-central Utah, about 140 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Their Millard County operation has 25 non-family employees.
"Our Hispanics are the very best workers we've ever had," John said. "We've got good people and we've had good retention of people. The biggest thing is, you'd like the government to get off their duff and get this immigration thing figured out."
The name Mountain View Dairy pretty much describes where the Nyes live. It's about 5,000 feet above sea level, in a valley, with mountains all around. The temperature can top 100 degrees in the summer, but the humidity is generally low. Precipitation amounts to just seven inches a year.
"When you come from New England, like we did, and it's green and you get 50 inches of precipitation a year, it's a little stark to start with," John said. "But it grows on you. You get to where you like it and appreciate it."
Cows can handle that Utah heat as long as cooling systems are used. The fact that the temperature might drop 50 degrees at night also helps.
But February, March, September and October can be troublesome. That's when the air is more humid, and those wide temperature swings can contribute to pneumonia, if cattle are not vaccinated against it.
All in all, the Nyes said they like dairying in Millard County, which was named after President Millard Fillmore when Utah was a territory vying for statehood. It's Utah's top-milk producing county, has some 20,000 cows and 10,000 people, and is the size of Massachusetts, according to John.
Along with the climate and the relative closeness to good markets for their milk, John and Maria like one more thing about their spot in the high desert of Utah.
"We live in a state where there are large families that believe in drinking milk," Maria said.[[In-content Ad]]