Cass County Democrat Missourian

‘This was the job I was made for.’ Cass farmers work through modern challenges

Dairy farming is tough for the independent dairy farmer. Challenges are often formidable and the uncertainties can be daunting.

“There are so many unknowns and factors out of our control,” said Jay Fogle, owner of Fogle Dairy Farm in Peculiar. He notes that world markets and production have a big impact on prices, as do the latest findings about “what is perceived to be a healthy diet.”

Weather and climate around the world are huge factors, Fogle said. “And that’s not something we can predict ahead of time. Right now, we’re looking at the hurricane and wondering if weather patterns here might change because that will change when we can mow hay.”

For five generations, the Fogle family has experienced and remained resilient through these upheavals. Deeply rooted in the land, this extended family meets uncertainty with ingenuity, imagination and joy.

And their farm has thrived through the changes.

“There’s only one constant on this farm and that’s how I feel about it,” Jay Fogle said. “Farming is what I love. Every challenge thrown our way is an opportunity. We have open minds, try things we haven’t tried before and get up every morning and work hard.”

Jay Fogle’s great-grandparents, Jim and Josie Fogle, purchased the first 80 acres of what is now a 580-acre farm in the 1930s. All four generations since have lived in the original stone house Jim and Josie Fogle built. The exterior stone was hand cut from rock unearthed on the property. The interior wood work was crafted from walnut trees growing there.

From the time he started walking, Jay Fogle worked alongside his father, John Fogle and grandfather, also named Jim.

“Farming is the only thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “You don’t know its work because it’s your work and your entertainment.”

As obstacles have continued to escalate for dairy farmers during the past few decades, Jay Fogle and his family have been inventive in their responses. Diversification is key in these efforts.

In addition to their dairy operations, the Fogles lease nearly 600 acres a year for alfalfa, soybean and feed corn crops. When milk prices took a serious nose dive in 2009, the resourceful family started a bakery on the farm, Rock the House Bakery, and sell their baked goods at local farmers markets.

“These are the things you do make to your dreams come true,” Jay Fogle said.

For the Fogles, making their dreams come true makes for a full day, 365 days a year.

During spring and summer, Jay Fogle is in the kitchen several times a week at 1 a.m. baking bread and pastries for the farmers markets. In those months, his father and son, Jackson, do the 3 a.m. milking. When it’s not market season, Jay Fogle is up at 2 a.m. preparing the dairy barn for that first milking, a process repeated daily at 3 p.m. After the morning milking is complete, planting, harvesting and other work gets underway.

The Fogles’ 67 cows produce approximately 120 gallons of milk a day. Within two hours of each milking, a refrigerated tanker truck picks up the milk and transports it to a dairy for production.

While the day-to-day work is a given, the Fogles are on a quest to improve processes and increase production. At the core of these efforts is a commitment to sustainable farming practices that are good for the animals, too.

The Fogles fertilize their fields with manure, a natural alternative to other fertilizers that can run off into the water and increase toxicity. They plant row crops, such as turnips, that give the cows a nutrient boost in the winter, while also adding nutrients to the soil. The cows graze outside rather than being barn fed.

“We’re committed to producing the best milk we can and giving back to the land,” said Jackson Fogle, 17. “It’s important, and there’s value in people sustaining themselves and taking care of the land.”

The teen has worked on the farm since he was child. When he graduates high school next year, he will join his father and grandfather as a full-time dairy farmer.

While committed to responsible farming practices, Jackson Fogle also embraces the latest agricultural technology.

“Technology is more and more a part of dairy farming,” he said. “Robotics and computer-based farming are here, and we don’t want to be stuck in the stone age.

“There are apps that track planting, harvesting and milking. GPS-navigated sprayers with sensors can help reduce chemical toxins from overspraying and drones are bringing great changes.”

While involved in all aspects of the farm, dairy operations are Jackson’s favorite.

“I love working around animals and milking cows,” he said. “I love seeing them every day. They are there when I come to milk, waiting for me to pet them.

“I feel this was the job I was made for.”