watersheds.org the world in your watershed search
homewhat's newabout ussite mapcontact us

Farm and Forest Buttercup Dairy

Dairy Farming in Douglas County: Buttercup Dairy 

By Sue Kalhoefer of Buttercup Dairy
Buttercup Dairy fits the pattern for a typical Douglas County dairy farm. It is family owned and operated. The cows are Registered Holsteins, and are enrolled in Dairy Herd Improvement Registry, which means they are tested monthly for production, and the records contribute to genetic evaluations for the breed. The family members are active in the affairs of their milk marketing cooperative. 
Douglas County, located in the heart of the Ozarks, has well over 100 dairy farms. Most of the farms are small, comprised of open or cleared acreage nestled among large tracts of woodland. A typical farm has about 55 cows, housed on permanent improved pasture, plus about 40 young animals being raised as replacements. Cows are milked in a parlor twice a day. Other buildings on the farm are usually an equipment shed, a hay barn and/or feed house, and a calf barn or a series of calf hutches. Cows water from farm ponds and non-freeze waterers. A single well supplies farm and household needs. 
Besides the permanent pasture where cows are housed, there are usually other fields reserved for forage production. Hay is cut once, twice, or three times a year, depending on weather conditions. Some farmers also cut green forage for silage. Most of the hay is a mixture of drought-resistant grasses and a legume such as clover. Some farmers have land suitable for alfalfa production, but others substitute brewers' grains to obtain the protein which is lacking in other forage mixtures. Cows receive a complete dairy ration of mixed grains, vitamins and minerals, either with or without chopped dry forage, in the barn during each milking. This feed is purchased from local feed mills. Outside, cows graze on pasture during the growing season, and are given access to hay. 
The average Douglas County dairy farm markets about 65,000 pounds of milk a month. Almost all milk is marketed through cooperative associations owned by the dairy farmer members. There are two basic types of milk marketing cooperatives. One type markets all its members' milk through contracts for sales to third-party handlers, choosing not to own any facilities for processing milk itself. The other type is capitalized by the members and owns processing facilities, and also forms joint ventures with third parties for handling fluid milk sales. Some milk may also be sold by contract to independent handlers. Most of the milk produced in Douglas County is used in fluid milk bottling, in baby formula and other canned milk products, and in cheese making. 

Most of the labor for the dairy farm is supplied by family members, or possibly one or two part-time hired hands. The cost of production is typically kept low, with purchased feed being the major cost. In spite of this, several farms go out of business each year because of low milk prices. Some farmers are looking at variations of rotational grazing through paddocks, or seasonal dairying as ways to further reduce costs. Each of these alternatives has its problems, too, and need considerable management to make them work. The weather - and the cows themselves - don't always cooperate with the schedules these plans impose. 

In spite of all the natural limitations on dairying in the Ozarks, milk production in Douglas County ranks seventh of all Missouri counties. The number of dairy farms ranks fourth. Although on-farm employment doesn't account for many jobs in Douglas County, dairy farmers bring more dollars into the local economy than any other production enterprise, either agricultural or industrial. This accounts for many jobs in Ava, the county seat. 


Sources:  USDA Agricultural Census: Douglas County, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Office of Milk Marketing Administration, Tulsa, Oklahoma.