From the Ground Up - Changes in Texas Dairies

Stanley Kettler and his son Robert run a family dairy in Grimes county that’s been operating since 1949.

“The number will vary up and down a little bit but generally we always milk around 100 cows.”

“If we were to try and expand, to get bigger or anything like that, I think that then definitely our location would hurt us.”

Dr. Michael Tomaszewski is a visiting professor of dairy science at Texas A&M, and says the trend today is for dairies to be larger.

“There virtually still are family dairy farms, it’s just that now as a dairy family, I might control 20,000 dairy cows, as opposed to 100.”

Mark Patranella, head of purchasing for Blue Bell, says that small dairies can’t take advantage of economies of scale that allow larger dairies to be more efficient.

“For the dairy industry as a whole, it’s positive, for Blue Bell it’s positive. We want a strong dairy industry. Our livelihood is dependent upon it as much as the dairy farmer’s.”

Tomaszewski says there’s also been a shift in geographic location of dairies.

“Eight of our top ten milk producing counties in Texas are now located on the high plains.”

Robert Kettler agrees that the hot Grimes County summers put them at a disadvantage to dairies located in west Texas.

“It’s hot but it’s a dry climate and they don’t have these hot humid days with 105 degrees in the summertime with 90 percent humidity, where them ole cows are just, like the rest of us they’re hot. I love where I live. I love what I do, but I’m not going to move to west Texas to grow a herd, and to keep on going.”

And the less milk you produce, the more it costs to transport.

“If you don’t produce a tanker of milk, they charge you extra, so if I’m a small dairyman, I’m hit there with from 25 to 50 to 75 cents a hundred weight because I can’t fill that tanker up.”

When asked asked how long his family could keep at it, Robert didn’t have an exact answer.

“It’s just a challenge, is all I can say, it’s a challenge, and you stay in it and fight as long as you can fight, and when the day comes when we’re tired of fighting, we’ll through our hands up and transition to something else.”

In 1975 there were over 100 dairies in Grimes County. Today there are two.

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