Tennessee’s dairy industry is milking success. With 288 dairy farms, the industry ranks No. 7 in Tennessee’s list of top agricultural commodities. In 2016, Tennessee’s dairy cows produced a total of 742 million pounds of milk, which is the equivalent of 86 million gallons. In fact, each dairy cow provides an average of 6.3 gallons of milk per day.
Hardworking dairy farmers are behind the state’s success, including Jason Gillespie, owner of Gilmac Dairy in Chapel Hill. Jason farms with his brother, Jonas, milking about 100 registered Jersey cows. The family farm has been passed down through the generations, starting with his grandfather in 1952. “We have an annual production of 1.6 million pounds per year,” Jason Gillespie says. “We just sell milk.”
He says that as a farmer, animal care is one of the most important aspects of success.
“If we don’t take care of our animals, we won’t be profitable,” Gillespie adds. “The animals are taking care of you, so if you don’t take care of them, financially, you won’t survive very long.” He adds that if a cow seems sick, Gilmac Dairy does its best to diagnose the problem, call a veterinarian, and do the most humane thing possible for that animal.
“If you abuse your animals, you’re just abusing yourself,” Gillespie says.
Davis Brothers Dairy
Samantha Craun works with her family at Davis Brothers Dairy in Philadelphia, Tennessee, including her mother, sister, brother-in-law and husband. Her late father, Randy Davis, who passed away in 2016, and his brother started the farm in 1984. They milk an average of 800 dairy cows per day.
“My role is taking care of the cows,” Craun says. “Sick cows, breeding, overseeing anything with the cows and parlors is all part of my job.”
Craun graduated with a degree in dairy science from Virginia Tech University, but she says the plan wasn’t always to come back to the family farm.
“I really fell in love with the industry at college and figured out I wanted to dairy farm as my career,” she says.
Over the past few years, Craun says Tennessee’s dairy industry in general has changed and evolved, with new technologies helping to improve both farm efficiency as well as animal care.
Recently, Davis Brothers Dairy installed a digital monitoring system that tracks each cow’s activity, letting Craun and her family know whether a cow is in heat or needs to be bred, and tracks rumination, or eating patterns.
“Dad called it a Fitbit for cows,” Craun says. “With that system, we’ve learned to catch sick cows a lot sooner than we normally would. We know exactly when she stops eating or doesn’t move as much and can tell that she’s off.”
Craun says the farm also has an automatic feeding system for calves, so you don’t have to have someone manually filling up bottles.
Though the technology makes life a little easier for the family, Craun emphasizes that animal care is the top priority, and that’s what almost all of the advancements focus on.
“We’ve always said that we take better care of our animals than we do ourselves. There are all kinds of preventative things we can do to keep cows happy and healthy,” she says. “The industry has come a long way with these technologies, and we can prevent a lot of diseases just by keeping better track of the cows.”
As for the future, Craun says Davis Brothers Dairy is always striving to be better at everything they do and becoming more efficient. She hopes to continue her father’s legacy of promoting Tennessee’s dairy industry and consumer education for years to come.