In many parts of the Four States, it’s rare to hear of more than one dairy in a county, if any at all, and more often than not the tales of milk producers going out of business seem to quadruple those going in. Christian County, Missouri, is a bit of an anomaly where a small cluster of family-run dairies still thrive, and where Brad Groves of Groves View Dairy near Billings, Missouri, calls home.
Brad and his brother Todd have been working their Holstein and Brown Swiss dairy since they were old enough to help their dad, Lonnie, who still manages most of the bookwork and bill paying. The land and dairy itself have been in the family since 1913.
“We milk in a double six herringbone style barn built in 1970,” Groves said. “It’s been remodeled before, but it is well past its prime so we’re constantly looking for ways to improve.”
Improvements are critical and constantly a priority of the Groves family. Using a three-fold approach focusing on facilities, nutrition and genetics, the dairy has become one of the top milk producers in its area, both in terms of quantity and quality.
“The free stall barn, in the 1980s when we put the concrete stalls in there for the cows to have a place to lay and fans to run on them during the summer — that right there was a ticket to milk quality,” Groves said. “Instead of laying out a pasture or under a tree, the barn keeps the cows cool and comfortable.”
Like everything on the farm, maintaining a clean free stall barn is a big commitment, one the family was initially doing by hand for hours at the end of each day before buying a specially made groomer for the project.
“It just takes time and management,” Groves said.
Eventually the family was ready to push to the next step and better nutrition. While, Todd, who does most of the family’s farming, was creating good quality corn silage and hay, it wasn’t being well utilized by the cattle.
“Just updating the facilities, allowing us to use a TMR, made a world of difference,” Groves said. “We ran corn silage and hay before and the cows could just pick out what they felt like eating instead of getting the right nutrition.”
With the right nutrition, it was time for over a century’s worth of quality cattle genetics to shine. Groves View Dairy is the No.1 Breed Age Average herd for their size in the Holstein Association and it’s not the first time or the last they’ve received the designation, thanks to Brad’s focus on creating elite cow families.
“I love chasing genetics,” Groves said. “Just seeing where we’re at up against the rest of the breeders is exciting and it has opened up opportunities for us.”
Hours of research and finesse go into every breeding decision on Groves View Dairy, and the result is a continuing reputation for excellence. With clients all over the United State and abroad, the dairy has invested in the foundation of their herd.
“I’m a firm believe in AI breeding instead of bull breeding because genetics are what pays the way,” Groves said.
While some of Grove’s lower-producing cows have been bred to easy-calving beef sires to help facilitate commercial cash flow, Groves said he still hasn’t bought into the idea that bigger isn’t always better.
“We still haven’t jumped whole-heartedly onto the moderate cow bandwagon,” Groves said. “And it’s probably just because I still love the big cows.”
While 2021 has brought Groves View Farm opportunities for updates and improvements, Groves said it's a welcome change of pace from the fears of 2020.
“I wouldn’t say that COVID-19 didn’t affect us— because it did, but mostly in terms of milk pricing,” Groves said. “When they started to shut down bottling, that was a big concern.”
While Brad and Todd still manage the day-to-day operations on the farm, it’s time to start thinking about the next generation. Brad and his wife Gail, have two children, Taylor and Keira, while Todd and his wife Sheila, have Brittany, Grant and Bailey.
All of the kids return to the farm to lend a hand, from feeding calves to fixing equipment, but Grant has recently returned to help out full-time.
“Now’s the time you just have to figure out your next steps,” Groves said. “We’re at the intersection of whether we cut back on a few cows and continue in our older facilities or if we expand facilities and add cows to help cover the costs.”
Groves said he and Todd are looking forward to the next generation of Groves View.
“Todd and I always joke about having what it takes to be a dairyman,” Groves said. “There’s something to it — almost like you have to bred for it to truly love it.”