September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Running a one-woman operation

Dairying Across America
Claire Murral (second from left) is pictured with her husband, Sam (left), and her parents, Carol and Blair Heavilin. Blair and his brother, Brent, dairied on the 300-acre farm from the mid-1990s to 2006. Murral reestablished the dairy three years ago.  (photo submitted)
Claire Murral (second from left) is pictured with her husband, Sam (left), and her parents, Carol and Blair Heavilin. Blair and his brother, Brent, dairied on the 300-acre farm from the mid-1990s to 2006. Murral reestablished the dairy three years ago. (photo submitted)

By by Kelli Boylen- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

FREEPORT, Ohio - Claire Murral is a determined woman.
She started dairy farming over three years ago, and although she does receive help from her husband and parents when they are able to give it, for the most part her farm is a one-woman operation.
Murral milks about 50 cows on her dairy farm near Freeport, Ohio.
Her dad and uncle, Blair and Brent Heavilin, started dairying on the 300-acre farm in the mid-1990s after her dad was laid off from his job with the coal mining industry. They sold the herd in 2006, and after she graduated from Ohio State University in 2007 with a degree in agriculture education, Murral decided to reestablish the dairy operation.
Murral said dairy farming has always been in the back of her mind.
"It was what I always wanted to do," she said,.
After college, the timing was right for her to start dairying.
While her husband, Sam, is a "city boy" and works full time off the farm as a machine operator in the coal mining industry, he has been with Murral since before she started farming and has always been supportive, she said.
Murral quickly learned the daily dairy duties, even though she knew a lot about what her dad and uncle did on the farm. Doing everything by herself every day took some adjustment. In fact, she said doing all the daily tasks on her own is the biggest challenge of farming so far. That being said, her dad, mom (Carol), uncle, and aunt, Melissa (who farmed with her husband and brother-in-law), are always willing to give her advice when she asks or lend a hand in the evening and on weekends when they are not working their full-time jobs.
"When I have a problem they are there to help," she said. "I talk to my dad everyday, he lives just up the road from the farm."
In addition to her family, Murral said she also receives a great deal of help from her A.I. technician, Jerry Valdinger, who is very good with treating sick or injured cows.
"If I'm ever in a jam and no one else is around I can always call him. He'll come and help me.  He's been a life saver in a couple of situations with sick cows," she said.
Murral started with six heifers from the original herd. During the past three years she has been able to grow the herd to 50 milking cows and about 30 heifers. Originally, she thought she wanted bigger cows, starting with Holsteins and Brown Swiss. She has since decided the size and grazing ability of Jerseys are a better fit. Her herd is currently a mix of Holsteins, Brown Swiss, Jersey and crossbreds, but her goal is to work toward an all-Jersey herd.
Murral turned the freestall barn on the farm to a compost bedded pack facility. She used straw the first year but switched to sawdust and is happy with the change. She has found a good local supplier, and she uses a tractor and tiller to turn the compost.
Along with grazing and the fact that she is the only one milking her cows, she also credits the compost bedding pack for her low somatic cell count, which is currently about 110,000.
Murral milks in a flat-4 parlor, and it takes her about 1.5 hours to milk. She may work toward having a herd of about 80 cows someday, but she realizes that for now 50 is about all she can handle on her own.
Her herd averages 40 to 45 pounds of milk per cow per day in the summer, and she ships her milk though DFA. For the past three years DFA has awarded her their Gold Quality Milk award. Murral said part of why she is able to produce quality milk is that with only 50 cows she can keep a close eye on everything. She and Sam were chosen by DFA to attend the National Milk Producers Federation annual meeting in Reno as young cooperators.
Much of Murral's 300 acres are in pasture, and she has the hay and silage custom harvested. In the summer the cows are on pasture, supplemented with grain, and in winter they receive a silage-based ration. Her pastures include clover, fescue, timothy and other grasses.
Murral said her area of Ohio has moderate temperatures most of the time. It occasionally goes into the 90s in the summer, and in the winter they get down to about freezing.
"I watch the weather for the nation and see what the weather is like up your way. I'm glad I live in Ohio," she said.
This past year Ohio had a very wet spring and fall. Crop growers had a hard time dealing with the mud at planting time and again at harvest.
Murral said her grass grew well, but she did have to deal with muddy lanes for a while.
There are about 400 farms in Harrison County, but only a handful of those are dairy farms. Murral said most of the farms in her area raise beef. The heart of Ohio's dairy industry is in Wayne County, about 60 miles north of Murral's farm. The dairies in her area have less than 100 cows, and the hilly terrain of eastern Ohio prevents dairies from being much larger.
In the early 1900s, surface mining of coal began in earnest in Harrison County, according to The amount of surface mining has declined in the last few decades, and properly reclaimed strip mined land is sometimes used for grazing and hay production.
When he is not working with the coal mines, Sam enjoys cutting firewood and taking care of the garden. He goes to work in the afternoon, so Murral said they really appreciate any time they spend together.
"Anything we get to do together is good enough for me. Just eating a meal together is pretty nice," Murral said.
The couple has been married for about 1.5 years.
Despite the challenges of dairy farming on her own, Murral is following her dream.
"Most days I am able to realize this is what I want to do. I am passionate about farming and dairy cows. I am able to spend everyday outside and with my animals. That makes me happy," she said.[[In-content Ad]]


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