When you think of a successful dairy farm, Heritage Dairy Farm certainly comes to mind. For the past 18 years, Grandy and Rhonda Ladner have run Heritage Dairy Farm in Tate County, Miss. When they, along with their business partners, Darren and Candy McGee, acquired the property in 1999, there were 350 cows. Currently, the farm has around 600 cows. The Ladners worked tirelessly to get the business to where it is today. They started with three employees when they purchased the business and have added seven more for a total of 10 employees.
Grandy is no stranger to the dairy farm business. He was born and raised on a dairy farm in Hancock County, Miss. His father and grandfather were both involved in the dairy farm business. Grandy remarks, “I have always enjoyed it and was blessed enough that the Lord provided for my family to have a dairy farm as well.” Heritage Dairy Farm was started in 1978 by Jimmy and Wayne Steward. The Stewards started with six cows.
The farm is a total of 290 acres and is at ideal capacity with the approximate amount of 600 cows. Grandy and Rhonda are both involved in the day to day operations. They also have a full-time herdsman, Myron Powers. Powers’s daily tasks are quite arduous with the farm’s large cattle herd. Powers says, “I oversee most of the breeding, cow health, and the maintenance of premises.” The breeding consumes an enormous amount of time. He is constantly looking for signs of readiness to breed and documenting that so he can be ready to get her bred on a timely basis.
The cow’s health and comfort are high priorities. Stanley Mosley and Ryan Taylor help keep the barns clean and well bedded, so cows will have a good, clean place to lie down during inclement weather. The cows are kept cool with fans and sprinklers during, the hot summer months. Powers says, “We try to keep them healthy and comfortable. If she isn’t happy and comfortable, she isn’t eating. If she isn’t eating, she’s not producing milk.”
Good nutrition plays a big role in high quality milk production and cow health. The cows are fed a balanced diet of corn silage, alfalfa hay, ground corn, cottonseed, soybean meal, and minerals along with pasture grazing at night when weather allows. Most of the feeding is done by Sidney Jones. He makes sure the cows are fed a fresh TMR (total mixed ration).
Holstein cattle make up 100 percent of the herd at Heritage Dairy Farm. The breed is well known in the United States thanks to the popular marketing by the restaurant franchise, Chick-fil-A. Aside from being a marketing symbol, Holstein cattle have outstanding milk production and are easily adapted to a wide range of environments. The United States boasts over 9 million dairy cows with 90 percent of them being of Holstein descent.
The cows at Heritage Dairy Farm are milked three times a day. Every day - 365 days a year. When asked about the time-consuming task of milking, Grandy jokes, “It keeps us out of trouble most of the time.” The milking parlor can accommodate 26 cows at a time and it runs off air and valves with an automatic takeoff feature. Grandy says, “The parlor runs close to 20 hours per day.” The milk is then sent to a chilling tank on premises and kept below 40 degrees. The milk is transported to Hattiesburg, Miss., where the Borden Dairy Company takes control of the product.
When we discussed the future of the dairy farm, Grandy had several ideas. He mentioned, “The herd is at maximum capacity due to available crop ground. But in the future, I would like to improve the quality of the milk as well as the cow’s comfort. One day we hope to be able to process some of the milk ourselves.” With these ambitions and current success, Heritage Dairy Farms will certainly continue to prosper.
photography by Tarah Ferguson and H&H staff