March 27, 2022 at 7:37 p.m.
Dairying across america

Poised for profitability

Barton manages his dairies through nutritionist eyes
The Bartons – (from left) Evan, Maci, Mariah and Kayleigh – stand in their barn at South Fork Dairy near Newark, Ohio. The Bartons milk 2,600 cows and farm 2,500 acres at this location and also own two other farms in partnership – one in Ohio and one in Michigan.  PHOTO SUBMITTED
The Bartons – (from left) Evan, Maci, Mariah and Kayleigh – stand in their barn at South Fork Dairy near Newark, Ohio. The Bartons milk 2,600 cows and farm 2,500 acres at this location and also own two other farms in partnership – one in Ohio and one in Michigan. PHOTO SUBMITTED

By Stacey [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

NEWARK, Ohio – As the owner of four successful businesses, Evan Barton embraces challenge and is always on the lookout for opportunities. Whether farming or consulting, Barton is a numbers guy who keeps his eye on profitability.
Barton milks nearly 10,000 cows on three dairies – two in Ohio and one in Michigan – and is also a nutritionist. Balancing his time between nutrition consulting and dairy farming, Barton said each career helps the other.
“I’m definitely able to dairy farm because of all the experience I’ve gained as a nutritionist,” Barton said. “I’ve seen farmers do things right and well, and I’ve also seen the opposite. You learn a lot from watching client successes and failures.”
Barton started his first business in 2005 when he partnered with Nathan Kiefer to create Barton Kiefer Dairy Consulting – a dairy nutrition consulting company. In 2011, he began milking cows on his farm in central Ohio near Newark. Building South Fork Dairy from scratch, Barton started out raising heifers and now milks 2,600 cows in a double-32 parallel parlor.
“The custom heifer growing business wasn’t profitable, so I decided to put up a parlor and start milking,” Barton said. “I brought Jerseys in because they fit the stalls and because we received a good premium for Jersey milk at the time.”
Simultaneous to dairying, Barton continued growing his nutrition business and now has 16 nutritionists covering 15 states. Barton and Kiefer both do dairy nutrition consulting directly and partner in hiring and training additional nutritionists. Barton said the business is growing quite a bit in Wisconsin.
“Owning a dairy farm and being responsible for making money changes your perspective and what you do as a nutritionist,” he said. “Oftentimes, nutritionists want to make the very most milk, but that’s not necessarily the most profitable scenario. We like to bring an economic focus into our consulting business. Our first goal as a nutritionist is to make our clients money.”
In 2018, Barton became a partner at a dairy in Continental that milks 3,500 cows at two facilities. Named after the town, Continental Dairy is home to a main facility that includes cows at every stage of lactation as well as dry cows and a satellite facility devoted only to milking cows. Cows are milked in a double-36 parallel parlor at the main location and housed in a natural ventilated 6-row freestall barn.
At the satellite facility, cows are milked in a double-16 herringbone and housed in 6-row freestall barns featuring conventional ventilation. When Barton stepped into the operation, they did a 300-cow expansion to cover dry cow numbers.
“We used to have crossbreeds at South Fork and Continental Dairies, but we are switching to Holstein because the milk market does not pay over order premiums any more for Jersey or high-protein milk,” Barton said.
Barton’s farms focus on small-stature Holsteins, but both dairies have adjustable stalls as cow size increases.
Barton also became co-owner of Bad Axe Dairy in Bad Axe, Michigan, in April 2021 – a farm that milks 3,500 cows in an 80-stall rotary parlor. Barton has a knack for turning around struggling dairy operations and making them profitable, which is what he did with both the Continental and Bad Axe dairies. A large part of Barton’s success can be attributed to his focus on feed cost and feed efficiency.
“That’s such a big part of why a dairy is successful or not,” he said. “That’s my expertise and strength and the knowledge I bring to the table. But mostly, it’s financing and freeing up cash flow to be able to fill barns and keep good animals in the barn. If a farm gets tight on financing, they can’t keep good cows in the barn or keep barns full.”
A small dairy farm across the street from where Barton grew up is what piqued his interest in dairy.
“I was always enamored with that place and those cows,” he said.
The interest continued when he was recruited by Cornell University in New York to play football.
“I took a dairy science class and my professor fueled in me a passion for the dairy industry and helped me realize I could become a dairy farmer under the right circumstances,” Barton said. “He helped me see I could actually farm even though I didn’t come from a farm.”
After graduating from college, Barton worked on a dairy as a herdsman while buying heifer calves and looking for a farm to rent.
“I couldn’t find the right opportunity,” he said. “Another Cornell grad kept nagging me to sell feed for a large feed company. I didn’t want to do that, but I finally gave in and did it because I was spinning my wheels. That’s how I got into nutrition.”
About seven years after starting his own nutrition business, Barton finally had the resources he needed to start milking cows. He started with approximately 200 head and slowly grew to about 800 before expanding to 2,500 cows.
“My dad helped me out tremendously when I was getting started,” Barton said. “I would farm until all the equipment broke, and he would fix it. While he was fixing, I would go sell dairy feed to make enough money to keep the parts bill paid. … His encouragement meant a lot to me over the years.”
Cows are milked three times a day at each farm, and all farms are bedded with sand and feature sand lanes. Barton is involved in the strategic planning, financing and decision-making of all three operations. He employs approximately 125 people among his four businesses.
“My wife does the accounting work and is a voice of reason to curb my asset purchases,” Barton said.
On his own farms, Barton has been focusing on double cropping, small grain silage and replacing alfalfa and alfalfa silage with wheat silage or rye silage for better digestible diets and lower cost diets.
“I’ve seen how double cropping has really helped my profitability,” Barton said. “This practice has lowered our costs on forage production because we’re growing two crops on the same acre, and it makes diets more digestible, so feed efficiency is going up. After seeing those results on my own farms, as well as from an early adopter client or two, we’re trying to transfer that knowledge and strategy to more of our clients.”
Barton farms 2,500 acres on his South Fork Dairy, 1,500 acres at Continental Dairy and 200 acres at Bad Axe Dairy. He buys a large portion of forages and all grain corn and other feed for the second two dairies.
“A lot of crops are grown in Ohio, and we have plenty of crops to buy if we want to expand our business,” Barton said. “We do struggle a little with forage digestibility, so we feed a lower forage diet to get cows to perform better.”
Barton’s astute business sense, love for farming and nutrition know-how have proven to be the perfect recipe for success.
“I enjoy dairy farming and the challenge of trying to make a dairy farm business profitable,” Barton said. “That’s why I do what I do.”


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