February 24, 2023 at 8:41 p.m.

Milking in isolation

Davis dairy reaches out to educate in Iowa
Glenn Davis (from left) and his parents, Lawrence and Lois Davis, and Glenn’s partner, Tracie Phillips, display the most recent aerial photograph of their farm Feb. 7 near Gilmore City, Iowa. Glenn and his brother, Bruce (not pictured), are the third generation on the family’s farm. PHOTO BY AARON THOMAS
Glenn Davis (from left) and his parents, Lawrence and Lois Davis, and Glenn’s partner, Tracie Phillips, display the most recent aerial photograph of their farm Feb. 7 near Gilmore City, Iowa. Glenn and his brother, Bruce (not pictured), are the third generation on the family’s farm. PHOTO BY AARON THOMAS

By Jan Lefebvre- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series highlighting families who are the last dairy farm to operate within their respective counties across our coverage area. Dairy Star hopes to shed light on the industry’s landscape surrounding these farms and how these isolated farms thrive.
In the Feb. 11 issue of Dairy Star, we featured Randy and Sue Henke and their children, Wilton and Sigryn, who milk 200 cows in a double-7 herringbone parlor on their Oliver County farm near Hannover, North Dakota.
In the Jan. 28 issue of Dairy Star, we featured Scott and Darlys Albrecht and their youngest son, Dallas, of Mizpah, Minnesota. They milk 90 cows in a double-10 parabone parlor in Koochiching County.
Read their stories at www.dairystar.com.

GILMORE CITY, Iowa – Dairy farming in north central Iowa makes for uncertain plans.
“I really don’t know about the future because I don’t know how long milk will still be picked up in my area,” Glenn Davis said. “If that would end, I’d be forced out.”
Glenn and his partner, Tracie Phillips, and brother, Bruce, manage the only dairy farm in Humboldt County near the town of Gilmore City. They milk 75 cows, mostly Holsteins with a few crossbreds, in a double-5 herringbone parlor. They also grow corn, soybeans, hay and oats on 600 acres.
“I’ve got to go 15 miles to the north to get to the next dairy, but I can go 30 miles to the south and 50 miles to the east of me,” Glenn said. “My good friend just quit last year, and he lived 7 miles to the west of me. Now, the next dairy farm (to the west) is probably 40 miles.”
Associated Milk Producers Inc. picks up and processes the milk from the Davis farm. A truck comes every other day and brings the milk to the AMPI cheese plant in Sanborn.
“It’s not looking good since we’re out here alone in the middle of nowhere,” Glenn said. “I’m going to have trouble getting the truck to come in.”
It was not always that way in Humboldt County. Glenn and Bruce are the third generation on the farm.
“When I was in high school, there were six of us in our family besides Mom and Dad, and when people wanted to go on vacation, I’d go milk their cows,” Glenn said. “I helped in four different setups, and they’re all gone.”
Glenn said he has memories of a dairy farming community.
“We all worked together as kids,” Glenn said. “We’d go help the neighbors bale hay. Now, I’m basically the only one that has any hay around the area.”
Glenn has to plan ahead because the support once available in the area is no longer there.
“The next hard part is to make sure you have supplies,” he said. “I have enough supplies to get me by for about three months. I’ve got a route man who comes every two months, so I’ve got to think in advance about what parts I might need.”
Without other dairy farmers nearby, Glenn said it has become difficult to connect with the community because events are no longer scheduled around the farming lifestyle.
“Being out here, you’re kind of a loner because you have nobody who understands that when it’s milking time, the operation shuts down and you head to the barn,” Glenn said. “All the meetings – such as church boards and things like that – are at 5 p.m. There is no way I could join organizations because (meetings) are moved up to their convenience, not mine.”
Glenn said Tracie, who did not grow up on a dairy farm, has also encountered an obstacle in connecting with community.
“Most of the friends Tracie has are elderly and can relate to her from their younger life in farming,” Glenn said. “The women and men of her age don’t have a clue what it is like (to dairy farm) anymore. It’s a forgotten art.”
Tracie began farming with Glenn in 2006. Two years later, an opportunity arose for them to highlight the importance of dairy farms even as those farms were in decline in their area.
An elementary teacher in a nearby town, who had attended school in Gilmore City, contacted Glenn and Tracie when her school’s fieldtrip had been canceled. She asked if the students could visit the Davis farm instead. Tracie said she expected around 20 kids to arrive.
“When they came, there were 60 kids that got off the bus,” Tracie said.
That day inspired a mission of sorts for Tracie and Glenn.
“We quickly got things organized, and it’s kept growing from there,” Tracie said. “Sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone.”
What she and Glenn named Dairy Day has been happening one day each spring ever since that first event, with neighbors joining in to add animals and activities for children to enjoy. This year’s Dairy Day is May 12, and the event keeps growing.
“Over the 15 years, we’ve added something new or different every year,” Tracie said. “Last year, we added butter churning, corn shelling and corn grinding.”
More than 400 elementary, pre-K and day care students from a variety of schools, some over 40 miles away, attended last year’s event. Dairy Day now offers around 28 stations, allowing students to ask questions and experience agriculture first-hand.
“We even have someone show how to make rope,” Glenn said. “The kids get to make a jump rope and bring it home.”
A demonstration shows the children what and how much a cow eats per day.
“The kids go nuts because each of the ingredients has a different smell to it,” Glenn said.
“We also have milk jugs tied to the silo to show how much milk a cow produces in a day.”
Visitors watch a cow being milked, and clear buckets are used for the demonstration so kids can see the milk.
Neighbors bring a host of other animals such as llamas, alpacas, sheep, a miniature horse and a miniature donkey for petting. One neighbor brings a Clydesdale, sometimes accompanied by a foal, and another neighbor brings in a team of horses and gives wagon rides. The farm also has chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and a few pigs.
“We really want to educate the kids that their milk doesn’t just appear in the store; it comes from somewhere,” Tracie said. “The kids love it. We have another school that wants to come this year that has never come before.”
Glenn said he looks forward to the event each year.
“The best thing about it (for visitors) is that it’s all free,” Glenn said. “How can you put a dollar amount on a smiling kid’s face?”
The couple said they see the importance of Dairy Day as an educational tool. They are reminded when they see so many children and adults who have no previous experience with farms and little knowledge of where their food comes from.
Once, when a calf was being born during Dairy Day, Glenn and Tracie said they were surprised the adults present were divided between whether or not the children should be allowed to watch what is a common occurrence on a farm.
“We’re not just educating the kids,” Tracie said. “We’re educating the parents too.”
However, Dairy Day can only continue if the Davis dairy farm can continue, and that depends on several factors.
Of Glenn’s three adult daughters and Tracie’s teenage son, only the oldest daughter, Amanda Davis, is interested in taking over the farm. She works off the farm but is ready to step in when 62-year-old Glenn is ready to hand over the reins. But, Amanda is not interested in milking cows.
“She loves everything else – feeding the cows, fieldwork, haying, the baby calves – she just doesn’t like the barn,” Glenn said. “Unless she can find someone to take over the milking part, that part might end.”
In the meantime, Glenn and Tracie continue their routine.
“We don’t have any hills or pasture; everything we have down here (in Humboldt County) is flat land and farmable,” Glenn said. “I can look out across the field and see if everyone’s doing what they are supposed to be doing, and I don’t even have to get out of my house.”
However, Glenn does have to go to the barn to milk cows twice each day, a chore he said he does not mind doing.
“I’m still here,” Glenn said. “My good friend was milking 120 cows, … and he just up and said, ‘That’s it.’ He’s done. I’m not able to do that yet. I enjoy my job and treat it as a hobby, a way of life, and the farm is a place my kids can come to and say, ‘This is home.’”


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