September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Virginia's Huffard family has a long history with the breed, one that stretched back to 1929. These days, Huffard Dairy Farm milks 370 Jerseys - all of them registered.
Huffard, who is the World Dairy Expo Dairyman of the Year for 2014, said his grandparents had a choice to make, back in '29. They could pack up and move to New York City, like his grandfather's employer wanted. Or, they could stay in southwest Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where the family has owned land since England's King George III granted it to them more than 200 years earlier.
"My grandmother said she wasn't leaving. So my grandfather said, 'Well, I guess I'm not, either.' So he quit that job and started milking cows," Huffard said.
There was a time when Huffard Dairy Farm tried another breed along with Jerseys.
"My father came home from college and told my granddaddy he had the wrong kind of cows," Huffard said. "So we put in our stanchion barn half Holsteins and half Jerseys. My father ran closely-monitored feed trials on both breeds and decided that the Jerseys made us more money in feed conversion. We didn't care what color the cow was. We just wanted the one that made us the most money."
Huffard's involvement with the dairy herd grew right after he arrived home with a dairy science degree from Virginia Tech. The 21-year-old was told by his father, "'I'm through with the cows. They're yours. I'll grow all the crops. Have at it,'" Huffard said.
Indeed, Huffard did heed his father's admonition and have at it. In the four decades since then, Huffard Dairy Farm has bred some 50 Excellent Jersey cows and 270 that have scored Very Good through appraisal with the American Jersey Cattle Association. In addition, the Huffard herd ranks among the top 25 percent in the United States on the Jersey Performance Index.
One of Huffard's homebred bulls - Schultz Volcano Harris - is the No. 1 Jersey on the young sire genomics list. Huffard also got involved in breeding polled Jerseys. Another of his bulls - Schultz Legal Critic P - ranks first among polled Jerseys when it comes to the number of proven daughters. Two more bulls Huffard bred that have made names for themselves are Schultz Performing Legend and Schultz Brook Hallmark.
Along with his herd improvement efforts, Huffard has long served the registered Jersey industry. He has been president of the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA) and is now vice president of National All-Jersey, Inc., the breed's milk marketing branch.
Huffard recently traveled to South Africa to address the World Jersey Conference. His topic: marketing Jersey milk.
He has his own Jersey milk marketing venture going on at home in the Old Dominion State. In 2010, Huffard along with his brother and farming partner John, and neighbors, Danny Slemp and Joey Blankenship, joined forces to form Duchess Dairy.
Plans call for milk from the Huffard farm and Slemp and Blankenships' Sugar Grove Dairy to be processed and marketed by Duchess Dairy. Huffard estimated that about one-sixth of his farm's milk is sold in about 80 retail settings within a 60-mile radius of the processing plant. As demand increases and new products are created, more milk from both farms will flow through Duchess Dairy.
Current products are whole, two percent and chocolate milk, along with eggnog around Christmas time. A drinkable yogurt has been available for a few months, and skim milk and possibly another flavored milk are in the works.
"It has been doing very well for us. It's all Jersey milk. People like it. It tastes good and it's on the store shelf within 24 hours of coming from the cows," Huffard said about the Duchess Dairy venture.
Huffard is hands-on with Duchess Dairy. An employee does the bottling and some other work, but Huffard trucks the milk to the plant, makes repairs and takes care of the marketing.
On the 600-acre Huffard Dairy Farm, Jim manages the cows, but his son, Trey, is taking over that job. Huffard's younger brother, John, who has an agronomy degree from Virginia Tech, is the crops manager and mechanic. Their mother, June, keeps the financial books. Besides family members, Huffard Dairy Farm has six full-time employees.
The Huffards are growing 220 acres of corn this year, but no alfalfa.
"Here in the mountains, we have great pasture, so we'll make a first cutting of grass hay - maybe 250 acres. And we'll plant a cover crop of rye in the fall and harvest that in the spring for silage. Then we'll go back with corn," Huffard said.
Huffard Dairy Farm is at an elevation of 2,500 feet.
"It's a nice area," Huffard said. "It's a little colder in winter than I like sometimes, but we have nice summers and cool nights."
The Jerseys are each averaging 58 pounds of milk per day, for a herd average of approximately 20,740 pounds of milk, 937 pounds of fat and 726 pounds of protein, Huffard said. Their Jerseys' milk is quite rich, testing at 4.7 percent butterfat and 3.7 percent protein. The cows are milked twice a day in a double-9 parlor.
Milk that doesn't go to Duchess Dairy is marketed through Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). Much of the Huffards' milk goes to Winston-Salem, N.C., for the fluid market. Another portion is sold to a cheese plant in North Carolina that prefers Jersey milk.
A recent mailbox milk price for his farm in Wythe County was about $26 per hundredweight. Good farmland in that part of southwest Virginia sells in the $5,000 range, Huffard said.
The Huffards do not show their registered Jerseys, but they do sell 12 to 15 bulls into AI each year, and they sell a dozen or so elite females annually. Huffard said there's a strong market for middle-of-the-road kind of cows nearby, so the farm markets many of those.
Huffard works as a nutritionist for six to eight farms, but has scaled back from a peak of 30. He reduced the number of clients because he felt he had too many other irons in the fire to be able to do a good job with all the consulting.
"If you can't do it right, don't do it," Huffard said.
The dairyman appreciates the history of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. He noted that Route 11 - once called the Wilderness Road - runs right near the farm. That road stretches from northern Virginia and heads west into Tennessee.
"A lot of people went past our front door," Huffard said.
Some years ago, his grandmother gave a parcel of land to a nearby church. Huffard said that church cemetery holds the graves of people who died in the Revolutionary War. "There is history around," Huffard said.
Huffard will receive his World Dairy Expo award Oct. 1 in Madison, Wis.
"It's quite humbling. It's a nice honor and I'm excited to get that," he said. "A lot of people contributed to the award - both family and employees. It's never a single-handed thing."[[In-content Ad]]
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