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Archive for Sunday, February 12, 2012

Flory dairy farm selling equipment, taking on different work after 60 years

Randy Flory, 57 of Lone Star, has been milking cows all his life. But times have changed and the price to produce milk has increased to the point where the family - which owns one of the last dairy farms in Douglas County - is getting out of the milking business. Instead, it will raise cows for another farm in Arizona.

February 12, 2012

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Randy Flory’s family has been milking cows on the Flory dairy farm for more than 60 years in Douglas County. That’s going to change March 7 after the farm will have an auction selling its milking equipment. Soon after, the Florys will begin raising dairy cattle for a massive outfit in Arizona.

Randy Flory’s family has been milking cows on the Flory dairy farm for more than 60 years in Douglas County. That’s going to change March 7 after the farm will have an auction selling its milking equipment. Soon after, the Florys will begin raising dairy cattle for a massive outfit in Arizona.

It was a weak whistle on this early morning.

The odd February weather had taken most of Randy Flory’s voice, so he whistled at the Holstein cattle on his family’s dairy in southwest Douglas County. They can be like people, he says, as he and his companion, Rocko, a “knothead” of a dog, motor through the darkness on a four-wheeler.

“You have to wake some of them up and tell them to get their day going,” Flory says.

Well, to be fair, the heifers are doing better than most folks. It is 3 a.m., after all.

Moments earlier, Flory had slowed the four-wheeler to an idle and told its passenger there would be a bull in this pen.

“He’s mainly harmless, but he does make a lot of noise,” Flory says.

The passenger doesn’t much believe him because Flory and the four-legged knothead seem to make it their business to know where the bull is any given moment.

At this moment, the bull is in the covered stall area. The old bovine is blocking one path, so Flory steers the four-wheeler down the other side of the stalls to check the barn for any straggling heifers. There are none, and he heads for the exit. The bull is still there, and now he begins kicking sand out of the laying stall — sand that Flory will have to replace. Flory slows the four-wheeler and musters a little more volume from his voice.

“You jerk,” he says directly at the bull.

Then he steers the four-wheeler to the other side of the barn because — make no mistake — the cows rule this place.

Well, for bit a longer anyway. The Flory dairy farm — you may have seen it atop its hill above Lone Star Lake — is having an auction March 7. Selling its herd. Selling its milking equipment. Closing the book on more than 60 years of Florys milking cattle in Douglas County.

“My wife keeps telling me I’m going to cry the day of the sale,” Flory says. “I keep telling her I’m not. I’ve been at it long enough. I don’t think there are going to be any tears.”

• • •

It is a tip about life that you won’t hear many places other than in a dairy barn — hopefully.

A cow and her calf that is just a few hours old are pictured at the Flory dairy farm.

A cow and her calf that is just a few hours old are pictured at the Flory dairy farm.

“At three o’clock in the morning, the girls don’t care if they poop or pee on you,” says Scott Flory, Randy’s brother and partner in the dairy business for the last 31 years.

Indeed, a morning constitution that falls on the concrete floor of the milking barn will splatter quite a ways.

Scott Flory spends mornings — he and Randy each get four days a month off — standing between two rows of six heifers that form a line atop concrete platforms. The udders of each are sprayed quickly with an iodine solution, then a quick wipe with a paper towel, and they’re connected to a milking machine. In about six minutes, a heifer will deliver anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds of milk.

The morning milking begins at 3 a.m. and is usually done by 5:30 a.m., after 150 head have gone through the barn. Scott does the morning milking while Randy does the outdoor feeding and chores. Come about 2 p.m., the process starts over for the afternoon milking, where Randy milks and Scott feeds.

“It is fun for a day,” Scott says. “Every day, not so much.”

Soon enough, the days will change. After the sale, the Florys will begin raising dairy cattle for a massive outfit in Arizona. A 6,000-head dairy will ship a few hundred head of cattle to the Flory farm where they’ll be bred and add about 600 pounds of weight before they’re shipped back. What won’t happen at the Flory farm is milking.

A change for sure, but don’t tell a man who has done the same thing for 31 years that all change is bad.

“It hasn’t really all sunk in yet, but I think once it does, it will be a big relief,” Scott says. “This is all a dying deal anymore.”

• • •

There is some help to be had here. Among the regular workers at the farm are 20 barn cats that run mice patrol, the four-legged knothead that helps bring the cows in, and a handful of college and high school kids who provide an extra set of hands in the milking barn.

Today it is Grant Metsker, a 4-H friend of Scott’s son. He’s been milking at the farm since 2005.

“I think he mainly just likes the company,” Metsker said as he wipes and waits alongside Scott.

Scott Flory Feeds some new heifers on the Flory dairy farm.

Scott Flory Feeds some new heifers on the Flory dairy farm.

Metsker milks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays because his classes at Kansas University’s engineering school don’t start until 10 a.m. Engineers — such late sleepers.

Randy says the No. 1 reason the family is getting out of the business is because he and Scott are tired of it. But difficulty in finding help also ranks up there.

“You have to have some country blood in you to make this work,” Randy says. “There have been plenty from town who thought they wanted to do this, but come to find out, they didn’t.”

And Randy says it is no secret that Douglas County farm families are dwindling.

Indeed they are. Scott and his wife, Bobbie, have two children going to KU, majoring in something other than dairy farming. Randy and his wife, Cheryl, have three grown children.

It was a great way to raise children — “no other way I would have wanted to do it,” Randy says — but he never pushed the children to follow him. If anything, he pushed the other way.

“I only had one out of the three who thought he wanted to give it a try,” Randy says, “but he ended up deciding there was something a little better.”

Now there are grandkids. The oldest is 12, and his name comes up unsolicited while Randy washes buckets.

“Now that boy, he would get after it,” Randy says while dirty water fills the floor drain. “He really would. I can just tell. He would have gotten after it, if we would have stuck around.”

• • •

Randy Flory does not have a mother’s voice. But he tries. Well, sort of.

“How are you, darling?” he says to this just days-old calf confined in its own pen with its own dog-houselike structure.

Flory has about a dozen bottles he brings to the calf area each morning. There’s a wire hanger to hold each bottle, and most calves attack the bottle like a teenager devours a bowl of cereal. All kids are the same that way. But this little calf is so new she doesn’t know what to do yet.

Flory holds the bottle in one hand and her head in the other. He admits he and Scott hate this part of the job the most. Their wives usually take over the chore on the weekends, and they’re much better at it.

Flory, though, has the mothering tone down, although the words don’t always match it.

“You’re going to have to do it faster than that darling or else we’re going to be here all morning,” Flory says to the calf still struggling with the bottle. “Geez, dumb as a rock.”

It is about 4:30 a.m., and morning chores are past the halfway point. Earlier, Flory mixed and delivered 7,700 pounds of feed, a combination of hominy, alfalfa, corn silage and water, to the main herd. That same amount will be delivered in the evening. In addition he carried about 30 buckets of a different mixture to the younger members of the herd.

After chores wrap up at 5:30, Flory will eat breakfast and take a nap. By 8 a.m. he’ll be delivering hay to pastures that need it, and during growing season there is always a field that needs tending. The family farms about 1,000 acres of cropland and hay pastures, trying to provide as much of the farm’s feed as possible to control costs.

But all of that work happens after these morning chores because, really, nothing comes before the cattle around here.

Which brings us back to the bottle. Flory has to wake one calf up to give her the bottle. She struggles, and the powdered milk in the bottle disappears slowly. “Geez, darling, you’re about as dumb as the other one,” Flory says.

And then, of course, he waits.

• • •

It indeed is odd. Lightning in the western sky in February.

Rain begins to fall, and the cattle in the far pasture are spooked but not by the storm. Flory is driving a different truck today. The passenger door on the regular one doesn’t stay shut too well.

Another flash of lightning provides a glimpse at the herd.

“It looks like spring,” Randy says.

But it is not. For the dairy industry in this part of the state, it is much closer to an ending than a beginning. Flory is convinced the future of the industry is mega herds, 6,000 to 7,000 head that milk 24 hours a day. You won’t ever see those in eastern Kansas, he says.

“It is the wide-open spaces,” Flory says, “where you’ll see the milking done.”

But it will get done. Just not as many people will get the joy of “getting up before the chickens,” as Flory has said many times before.

“This is a dying art,” Flory says unsolicited. “It makes me feel good I was part of it.”

It is not quite 5:30 a.m. About all that’s left of the morning chores is a check of one pasture and its hay supply. The ride there takes Randy by his oldest son’s house. Randy’s cellphone rings. It’s the son. He was up and said hello. The pasture produces the bumpiest ride of the day.

“It is something to think that your family has done this for 60 or 65 years,” Flory says. “When that sale comes, it will be over. I think we’re the last ones with the name Flory milking cows in the county. When I was growing up, it seemed like every Flory was milking a cow. That does get you a little sentimental.

“You know, they all say I’m going to be the one that breaks down. I don’t think I will.”

Comments

purplesage 2 years, 10 months ago

Can you milk a heifer?

Oh well. See family farms go by the wayside is sad.

Getaroom 2 years, 10 months ago

Well, give it a go trying to milk a bull. Sorry, just could't resist. Heifers begin producing milk after they are bred, but continue to produce milk after birthing when stimulated by machines/sometimes added hormones, or by hand (for small numbers of cows), in order to keep producing milk. You can usually get somewhere around 2-3 years milking out of a dairy cow, some times a bit longer, or less.

I wish the Flory's all the best in this next phase. Bet it will be tough resetting the internal Rooster for while!

frankfussman 2 years, 10 months ago

Chad, This is an awsome story. What time did you get up to do this? Or did you just stay up all night to get there on time?

The Florys must have really hectic lives, with a really strange work/sleep schedule. I hope their new business, without the milking, will be better.

Joe Hyde 2 years, 10 months ago

As I read this article nothing in it says the Florys are getting totally out of the milk cow business, just the mechanized milking aspect. Once the operation switches over to raising young Holsteins to weight and then shipping them to milking operations, I would expect the Florys to have just as much enjoyment and satisfaction as before. Hope so anyway. And it won't be like they're going into retirement; there'll be lots of work to be done daily.

Driving to and from Lone Star Lake for fishing, I've always appreciated seeing how the Florys maximize the recycling aspect of their milking operation by taking pains to spread cow manure on their crop fields then working it back into the soil to maintain organic content. The way they do cropping is better for upland soil quality than how many croppers go about it, plus the Florys take steps to protect the water quality of Lone Star Lake. I doubt these aspects of their operation will change one bit, and that'd be cool.

Good story.

AnglNSpurs 2 years, 10 months ago

Great Story and a great tribute to an even better Family!

Liberty275 2 years, 10 months ago

We took a wrong turn onto their farm once looking for a fishing spot and saw a dead cow. I'm sure it died of some acute disease since it otherwise looked healthy, and was just waiting for someone to pick it up for the leather and other usable parts, but it was sort of disturbing to us dazzling exurbanites that love animals.

Yes, I'm a hypocrite every time I eat a burger. Hippies, go argue with a stop sign.

Liberty275 2 years, 10 months ago

Also, it's sad to see a small farmer stop. Soon enough there will only be government-funded milk-product and chocolate will be outlawed because it makes you fat and is obviously racist. When we elect a fine person/achromia as (Insert slur here) In Chief, I'm sure we'll lose strawberry too if the POTUS is a liberal.

Note. No I don't think Obama is going to try to make chocolate milk illegal, but some of the meddling his wife is doing in American family's lives regarding the food their children eat gives me a bit of a pause. It's none of the government's business what people eat.

JackMcKee 2 years, 10 months ago

I heard Michelle Obama has a secret stash of Baby Ruth's and Slim Jims hidden in the White House. She drinks Pepsi straight from the fountain to wash it down (she won't touch Coka Cola it's too American)

mom_of_three 2 years, 10 months ago

Meddling? That's a stretch if I heard one. If someone suggesting kids eat healthier foods and exercising is meddling, then you have more problems than Michelle Obama. What about the NFL's play 60 campaign, the healthier school lunches, and the food pyramid or whatever they call it now. OH, and Lawrence schools have suggested for several years now that no junk food for parties. Its probably been 6 or 7 years. They tell you or suggest to you what to bring.
What government control (rolling eyes, dripping sarcasm).....

JackMcKee 2 years, 10 months ago

I don't want to live in a country where children think twice about ramming a Big Mac down their throats and can't, with good conscience, wash it down with a 5 gallon coke. What kind of world are we living in? What would the framers say? That's not freedom. That's tyranny.

JackMcKee 2 years, 10 months ago

mindless decision making is a God given American right! We have the right to be idiots! It is guaranteed by the Constitution! That's why we fought the Brits. For the right to be stupid! Fight for your right to be an idiot! Don't let Michelle Obama trample on your freedoms! Don't let the evil seed of knowledge penetrate your thick skull!

JackMcKee 2 years, 10 months ago

There you go again trying to suppress my freedoms. Viva La Stupid !

Liberty275 2 years, 10 months ago

"OH, and Lawrence schools have suggested for several years now that no junk food for parties. Its probably been 6 or 7 years."

It's meddling. Parents should decide what their children eat. Children's BMI should be of no concern to the government unless the child is a ward of the state. We don't need a nation of Barbies.

youngjayhawk 2 years, 10 months ago

Great article about two great, hardworking families - wish them the best! Thanks, LJW, for highlighting them.

Enlightenment 2 years, 10 months ago

Heifers are female bovines that have not produced a calf. Heifers are not milked, except for the rare occasion that a farmer may choose to begin milking the heifer a few days before they give birth to their calf. Once a dairy heifer gives birth, they will beginning milking for production at which time they are then classified as a cow.

Enlightenment 2 years, 10 months ago

I know that dairy farming is extremely difficult work and takes an individual that has to be fully committed to the operation and I commend the Flory family for the many years they devoted to their operation. However, I'm a little disappointed that they are moving their operation into providing stock for corporate farms out of state.

deec 2 years, 10 months ago

I wonder if they'll still qualify for the government farm welfare after they transition to being essentially tenant farmers for multinational corporations http://farm.ewg.org/persondetail.php?custnumber=A06798598

countrygirl4ever 2 years, 10 months ago

Might want to read a little more about tenant farming and government welfare. Sounds like your puzzle is missing a few pieces.

FlintlockRifle 2 years, 10 months ago

I can remember going to the Flory farm to pick up there canned milk with the rural milkman early in the AM darkness, they were the only people to have an electric winch to lift the full and heavy milk cans from the cooler.Good luck on your next endeavor, and maybe a little better hours, I doubt it being a farmer which never have good hours.

lawrencechick 2 years, 10 months ago

And I thought my job was tiring, I am exhausted just reading about his day. You sure can't blame him for being ready to stop.

Mike Ford 2 years, 10 months ago

dumb people accusing the First Lady of meddling in their lives when they gladly let Rush limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the Kansas GOP meddle their ability to process reality.....who's fooling who?

Liberty275 2 years, 10 months ago

I never listen to any of those I listen to NPR.

BTW, aren't you missing Sunday services down at the swamp while posting?

Mike Ford 2 years, 10 months ago

biggunz....did you give the dimwits who assailed the First Lady to begin with a pass? whose side are you on.....nothing against liberals....just a slur used by people who don't think to assail thinking people.....Kansas....doing it's best to assail thinking people and stay in the 19th century.....

Jack Bell 2 years, 10 months ago

great family indeed, very well known name in the county...randy will even pull you out with his tractor or truck when you, or your friends for that matter, get stuck ha...they also won't make fun of you TOO much when you ask them why the cows are wearing earrings, come to find out they were ID tags...i guess i was only 5 or so...it's unfortunate they can't compete with the larger operations, seems like everything is headed that way these days...

Liberty275 2 years, 10 months ago

Concerning MO'b and her opinion regarding children's diets, it's not political as much as societal. At what point will the bully pulpits stop telling Americans how to raise their children? Do you want Laura Bush telling you that your boys should play army instead of chess or theatre? What's the difference between that and telling you how much your children should weigh?

I don't see a difference. But you smart folks go ahead and consign your kids to the whims of other people. I don't expect anything more from most of you.

Mike Ford 2 years, 10 months ago

naw...I listen to what I want to listen to and ignore noise.....some people just invent noise they want to be distracted by.....paranoia anyone????

budwhysir 2 years, 10 months ago

I love how everyone has become sour enough to tie an article about a hard working american farmer into politics...

Mike Ford 2 years, 10 months ago

I work with relatives of this family who told me how they lost lands with the creations of the lakes a couple of decades ago. Good people.

Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 10 months ago

Great article and wonderful people! I wish them well in the future.

BMI 2 years, 10 months ago

All you locals...check your ancestry. One way or another, you're related to a Flory or Hadl. And good for you if you are!

Ronnie24 2 years, 10 months ago

My ex and I sold our cows and milking equipment years ago. He thought it was the "right" time to get out of the milking business. We had a hard time adjusting to not having to do the chores, and tending the cows. He also went through depression after everything was gone. It was a hard thing to deal with. I wish the best for the Florys. At least getting to raise little ones for a while might make the change eaiser for them. .

EJ Mulligan 2 years, 10 months ago

This is some great writing. Thank you, Chad, for sharing this family's story with us so well.

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