A dairy tale: No expiration date for valley’s last large dairy farm
No expiration date for valley's last large dairy farm
“That’s farmer scaffolding,” Bob Raymond said, laughing while pointing at two neatly stacked ton bales of hay with tools on top. The “scaffolding” sits securely against a newly built cinderblock wall.
Stepping inside, Raymond continues to point around the structure explaining the expansion that his family just started on the half-a-century old milking barn.
Raymond has milked cows since 1951 and this new expansion will allow his dairy to milk more cows than ever before.
At 80 years old, Raymond is the owner of Raymond’s Dairy in Loma — quite literally the last remaining dairy in the Grand Valley.
The Grand Valley used to be home to more than 70 dairies, according to Raymond’s memory, but with the last few dairies shutting down over the past two decades, the Raymonds are the only large dairy producers left it seems.
“‘Cause we’re stubborn and persistent,” Raymond said of why he thinks his family’s dairy has lasted so long.
And now they are expanding.
They milk 14 cows at a time, going through about 45 to 50 cows an hour in their current milk barn. After the upgrade they’ll milk 70 to 75 cows an hour. It takes about seven hours to get through milking 420 cows, and they do that twice a day.
But over the next few weeks as his son and his grandson work on the expansion, they will have to drop down to milking seven cows at a time, which means several days of non-stop milking.
“We’re not expanding the dairy because business is good. We’re expanding it to try and cut costs per hundred pounds of milk,” Raymond said.
Raymond’s Dairy just purchased cows from a dairy that closed down in Delta, dropping the total number of dairies on the Western Slope to six, Raymond said. Once the expansion is completed and they take possession of the purchased cows Sept. 1, Raymond’s Dairy will be milking 550 cows and have close to 1,000 cows with all of the calves.
They also farm nearly 400 acres of corn and alfalfa, more acres than they have in the past to offset feed prices that have skyrocketed the past couple of years, putting dairies in a pinch.
Working with the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative, they send their milk to different places in the region including Delta, Denver and Beaver, Utah. For the past several years, they have also provided milk to the popular ice cream provider Graff Dairy on 29 Road.
But the Raymonds don’t always know where their milk is heading. Trucks come in and out of the farm almost on a daily basis, often with different destinations. They don’t always keep up on where the milk is going as long as it goes, they said, because they have more cows needing milking.
“We get a lot more milk per cow than we ever used to,” Raymond said.
That’s because of some changes in the industry like an improvement in genetics and the way they feed, he said. They also have a nutritionist come visit once a month to make feeding suggestions.
“The biggest thing for consumers is that milk today (in the U.S.) is probably the safest milk supply in the world. It’s tested so many times,” Raymond said.
The son of a miner, Raymond moved to Loma in 1941 from Collbran. Back then he said money was hard to come by but his family decided dairy farming was a good way to support themselves.
“If you had a dairy then, you had income every month,” Raymond said.
Which is why there used to be so many dairies in the area, he said. Since cows have to be milked every day, twice a day, dairy farming can provide a little more stable income than raising other commodities.
The peak for dairies in the area occurred in the 1980s, Raymond said. But slowly dairies began to close down.
Regulation changes in the industry led to the closure of a lot of dairies, he said. Many of the new regulations called for new equipment, and many dairies could not afford the upgrade and closed down.
“It just got more complicated to run a dairy. And the profit margin was pretty good until 2009,” Raymond said, noting the downturn in the economy additionally damaged the industry on the whole.
Clymer’s Dairy, which used to operate just south of the Fifth Street bridge, felt the effects of low profit years before. Like many dairies in the area, Clymer’s had a hard time affording the costs of dairy farming, especially when they had to ship feed all the way through town, said Sterling Clymer, whose family had to shut down their dairy in the early-1990s.
“It takes a lot of milk to pay the bills,” Clymer said. “The price of feed was high and the price of milk was low. It just wasn’t feasible anymore.”
Raymond thinks another thing contributed to dairies shutting down.
“Some dairies closed down probably because the younger generation didn’t want to milk cows, they wanted to do something else,” Raymond said.
But Bob Raymond and his wife Helen don’t have to worry about the future of the farm. His son Ed and his grandson Tyrel now run the dairy with the help of several employees. Counting all the family members, Raymond’s employs 14 people.
“It’s pretty satisfying to go out there and put in an honest day’s work. I enjoy the heck out of it,” Ed Raymond said, despite the fact that he is highly allergic to cows.
The dairy was at a point where they either had to expand or downsize in order to make a decent profit, he said.
“I would like to see this expansion succeed. And good Lord willing it will,” Ed Raymond said.
Ed Raymond has no desire to close the dairy down anytime soon and will keep it going as long as possible. He said, “As long we can keep paying the bills, we’ll be here.”