Despite high production costs, long hours and low profits, dairyman Brooks W. Tarbet, 31, says he is determined to keep the business he grew up in and wants to pass on to his son.
Tarbet and his father, Delbert, own one of Utah's finest Holstein diary farms. Whereas the state's average per cow production of milk is 15,149 pounds per year, the Tarbets' herd averages 19,922 pounds. Their top-producing cows give as much a 28,000 pounds of milk in only 305 days. Annually, their dairy herd produces more than 2.2 million pounds of milk.Delbert Tarbet, 61, moved from his family farm in Smithfield to Lewiston in 1963. He started with 13 cows and has bought only 30 new cows in the past 25 years, building his herd through breeding within his own animals and by using artificial insemination from top purebred Holstein stock.
Today, the Tarbets farm 450 acres, have nearly 375 head of milk cows and slaughter steers, and milk 101 cows in their modern milking parlor. They grow most but not all of their own feed, harvesting 200 acres of alfalfa hay, 125 acres of barley and 60 acres of corn silage. They have to buy some alfalfa, barley and silage, some whole cottonseed meal and some feed additives.
Brooks Tarbet says he would someday like to have enough land to grow nearly everything he needs to feed his animals, but that would take 650 to 700 acres.
He and his father have been able to make farming pay, he says, "by borrowing as little money as possible, doing our own machinery maintenance and repair, our own carpentry, building construction and cement work and doing most of the jobs around the farm ourselves."
The only outside help the two men have are two neighbor youths, one who works full time and one part time.
Tarbet and his wife, Sally, have two daughters, Kara, 8, and Kelsey, 3, and a son, Kade, 6, who helps with some chores. Someday, Tarbet says, "I want Kade to be able to take over the farm if he wants to."
Tarbet says he wants Kade to study something besides farming, though, when he goes to college "so he will have something to fall back on if farming plays out. This is a pretty uncertain business. I love it. I want to stay in it, but it is hard work, the pay is tricky and there are more things that could put you out of business than I care to think about."
All of the Tarbets' acres are irrigated, and that costs money. "There are close to four miles of irrigation pipe on the farm and pumping water through a hand-wheeled pressurized irrigation system uses a great amount of expensive electricity."
Tarbet said he recently had an accountant figure out what his family's farm is worth, counting the land, buildings, machines, equipment, supplies and animals. "It came to $1.2 million.
"Farming is big business - so big that three months ago my dad and I incorporated into the Tarbet Farm Inc., hoping that incorporation will help us increase net profits.
"If the farm were sold - and I don't know anybody who would want to buy a dairy farm right now - and the money put into a bank, I'm sure I'd make a lot more money just sitting and collecting the interest than I make having the farm.
"But I love farming too much to sell," he said.
The Tarbets' dairy cows weigh about 1,600 pounds, live to be seven or eight years old, have an average of five calves and, in their lifetime, give more than 96,000 pounds of milk. Bull calves are raised to be slaughtered and milk cows, eventually, are slaughtered too.
Tarbet feeds his cows four times a day and milks them twice a day. He starts work every day at 4 a.m. Milking takes 11 1/2 hours to complete. "I can milk 12 cows at a time in four minutes," he said.
Feeding up to 400 animals, using mechanized equipment and stalls that are located next to feed storage bins, takes only 30 minutes.
During the day, Tarbet and his father maintain farm equipment, construct buildings, clean up and move the more than one ton of manure that is produced each day by the herd and put it on fields, plant, irrigate, weed and harvest their fields and do a hundred other chores. By 4 p.m., Tarbet is back milking his herd again.