And then there was one

Growing a family farm in Missouri

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FULTON, Mo. — As the Bloss family does morning tasks on their farm, the east-facing door of their freestall barn allows the sunrise to flood the barn with light.

“The barn sits on a hill and looks out over all of our crop ground, and it looks different at various times of the year,” Bethany Bloss said. “You see little shoots of corn popping up, glowing and ready to thrive; then the wheat goes dormant, and then right after harvest, it’s like a clear, slick slate. When the sun comes up after Dad feeds the cows and they are all eating and the sun is blazing through the barn, it’s very pretty.”

The view is one of the rewards, Bloss said, of getting up at 3:30 a.m. to start chores.

Bloss is in partnership with her parents, Jeff and Amy, and her brother and sister-in-law, Jade and Elaine, at BP Dairy near Fulton. Theirs is the last dairy farm in Callaway County, located in central Missouri. Bloss’ sister, Becca, also works at the farm as does one full-time employee, Luke Chrisman. 

The Blosses milk 200 cows three times a day in a double-12 rapid-exit parlor. They milk at 4 a.m., noon and 8 p.m.

The herd is comprised of ProCROSS cows, a cross of VikingRed, Montbeliarde and Viking-Holstein.

“We have big cows that stand up on the concrete and don’t fall down,” Bloss said.

Family members play to their strengths and interests on the farm. 

Jeff and Jade handle the fieldwork and manure application on the farm, which has 500 acres — 300 acres of it tillable, which is used to grow feed for the herd. Jeff mixes feed and manages farm operations. Jade oversees everything to do with calves. Elaine and Bloss work together as co-herdsmen, including vet and A.I. work. Amy feeds calves and does another job. 

“She also makes breakfast,” Bloss said. “She makes the meals, so she is a very important lady.” 

Everyone takes turns milking. Dry cows are on pasture, but the herd is fed inside where deep-bedded sawdust is used for bedding.

“We have a milk contract through (Dairy Farmers of America); our milk goes to Central Dairy in Jefferson City, but it’s through Prairie Farms,” Bloss said. “There is an ice cream shop down there. Ice cream, cheese and fluid milk are the three things our milk goes into.”

One of the biggest changes around Callaway County and a contributor to why other dairies have closed there, Bloss said, is the growth of urban areas.

“The town of Fulton has definitely grown out a lot,” she said. “There’s an asphalt plant right on the other side of the highway from us, and there are little subdivisions of people who want to live in the country, but then they also have neighbors. There are also some beef farms and confinement hogs in the area.”

As suburbia spreads around their property, farming becomes trickier.

“There are people who want to live in the country but don’t want to deal with things in the country, like the smell of cow manure or hog manure, or just general things,” Bloss said. “It took a while, but we’ve gotten to where we’ve made allies — we’ve made friends around us — but still the biggest challenge is the growing of the town.”

The family made a decision to begin dairy farming near Fulton in 2016 when their current farm site became available to rent. 

“My dad and his dad farmed together for 42 years near LaRussell in southwest Missouri,” Bloss said. “My dad milked cows there in a tiestall barn until they went to a double-3 herringbone.”

The Bloss family quit milking cows and pivoted to operating a commercial hog barn for a time, doing their own farrowing and raising their animals from feeder pigs to finish. Then, they decided to get back into dairy farming.

“We bought ProCROSS cows from the Bucks (Dave and Ann) near Goodhue, Minnesota,” Bloss said. “We milked those cows and threw our own genetics in with them for a few years.”

By this point, Jeff and Amy, looking to the future, decided they would need to split off from the partnership with Jeff’s father to accommodate their growing family, which also includes two older sons, Nate and Kurt. 

At that time, Kurt chose a different career, but Nate was part of the farming operation. 

When a dairy farm became available for rent, the Bloss family saw a chance to work together to grow their dairy operation. The parlor had a good setup, Bloss said, but needed repairs after sitting idle.

“We started with one dry cow and 24 milk cows, and we got all those from the Bucks,” Bloss said. “From there, we got the ball rolling and bought (cows from) a few dairies that were going out, and we started growing our herd.”

As Nate’s own family began to grow — he now has five sons — he left the partnership to pursue another job and create his own commercial hog farm.

Today, BP Dairy continues in spite of tight profit margins in dairy farming, and the family is in the process of buying the property. 

“We have been very hard-nosed; we put our head down and keep fighting through,” Bloss said.  “A lot of times we go without things, but we have meat in our freezer and food on the table. Some people like to live in luxury, but we don’t live like that because it’s just not realistic on the amount of money we do make. The reason we keep going is because we love what we do.” 

Bloss said the family also believes in the viability of their farm.

“We have really good tillable acres — we actually just harvested 300 tons of corn silage this year, which is crazy,” she said. “We’re able to apply our own manure. We have a dragline and a tool bar, and we’re not limited on pounds per acre. We have a 500-foot freestall barn, so we have plenty of room to expand. Our parlor is really nice, and we can expand it as well because there is room.”

This means their farm can grow.

“We’re a very tight-knit family,” Bloss said. “That’s probably the biggest benefit to all of this — you get to work with your family. I hope that we can expand so that we can continue to live the lives that we live now and that, whenever my sister and I get married and have families, we can all be part of it.”

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