Tradition, Technology Merge at Family Farm; Dairy Competitive in Tough Industry

By Stepzinski, Teresa | The Florida Times Union, September 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

Tradition, Technology Merge at Family Farm; Dairy Competitive in Tough Industry


Stepzinski, Teresa, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, Times-Union staff writer

This is the third in an occasional series of stories about the people who put food on the table in South Georgia.

WAYCROSS -- Barely discernible shadows against the pre-dawn skyline, cows with udders heavy from milk ambled serenely toward a brightly lit barn at the edge of their pasture without prompting.

Mooing every so often, the animals jostled to be first in line to go inside as the sun rose above the horizon.

Larry Moody and his daughter, Candice Moody-Rice, mirrored each other using deft footwork and short whistles to herd the cows into the barn's spotless milking parlor.

"You do the cow dance," said Moody-Rice as she stepped in quickly to detour an impatient cow. "You really get a feel for it. You can almost anticipate what the cows will do the more you work with them."

Moody-Rice is learning that and other intricacies of the family business by working at her father's side.

Moody Dairy Inc. is a third-generation dairy farm. It is one of a dwindling number of family-owned and operated dairies in Georgia, where agriculture officials say an aging farm population, low milk prices and rising production costs have taken a toll on the industry.

The Moodys have incorporated hands-on dairy traditions and modern technology on their sprawling farm on gently rolling pasture northeast of Waycross.

They milk 900 cows -- mainly holsteins but also brown Swiss and cross-breeds -- twice a day, every day. Dairy operations run 24-7. Their herd produces a daily average of about 65 to 85 pounds of milk per cow, depending on the time of year, Moody said.

The farm was established in 1947 by Moody's parents, who started out with four milking cows. Their family and milking herd have grown through the years. Most of the family remains in the dairy business, either at their home farm or at an independent 2,400-cow dairy operated by Moody's son, Calvin Moody, in Quitman.

All look to Moody's widowed mother, Dorothy McGowan, for experience and insight in dairy matters, Moody-Rice said.

Larry Moody, 55, is an old-fashioned dairyman. From the time he was old enough to walk, he was out in the barn on a milking stool by his father's side.

"I just grew up in it. My father was a dairyman and so was my mother's dad. It's our way of life," Moody said.

Since then, the dairy has evolved with time and technology.

"Back when we started, we were milking by hand. Daddy was milking 27 cows by hand twice a day," he said. "Now, the milk goes straight from the cow into the bulk tank ready to be picked up for processing."

But some things haven't changed.

Moody recognizes most cows without referring to the identifying ear tag. He knows the animal's bloodline, calving history and production rate.

He starts and ends each day like his father and grandfather did: out with the cows checking for newborn calves, as well as sick or injured animals. In between those rounds, he supervises the milking operation.

"I've thought about retiring a time or two. But I probably never will," said Moody, as he scrutinized a group of cows feeding nearby.

"I guess I just like working with these cows. Taking a young cow and raising her, then seeing her mother her own calves. It's really something."

Farms in decline

Moody-Rice, 32, said one of her earliest childhood memories is pedaling her tricycle through the barn to keep up with her father as he checked on their cows.

She grew up, went to college, married, had a child and became a middle school teacher.

But her heart remained down on the farm. She said the idea of working with her father lingered in the back of her mind. It became a reality about a year and a half ago, when Moody-Rice left teaching to help run the farm while her father became ill.

Although her father has regained his health, Moody-Rice plans to stay on. …

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