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Grain, dairy good mix on Carolina farm

John and Karen Moore had a plan early on to farm and raise a family in the Piedmont of North Carolina. They started from scratch and have been a big success in both endeavors.

Both John and Karen grew up working on dairy farms, so it was natural that dairying is how they chose to start their farm. Their son Brian started working with them when he was old enough to walk and still works in the farming operation — now as a full partner.

Work is the key word for the Moore family. A typical day starts at 4 a.m. or so milking cows, followed by breakfast, then a full day working on the farm.

“We love what we do and the Good Lord has blessed us with a number of good crops over the years. We have drought years and tough years, but we still love what we do,” John Moore says.

What they do is run about 110 dairy cows. The trend is to go larger, but the Moore’s say they intend to stay in the family dairying business.

“We are gradually moving toward more Jersey cows than Holsteins,” says Brian Moore. The jersey cows are smaller, but more efficient and produce a really high quality milk that brings a premium price,” he adds.

Growing their own grain crop is a benefit to the dairy operation. They also grow certified seed for the North Carolina Crop Improvement Association and UniSouth Genetics. This year grain crop acreage will be down because of a lack of wheat acres.

They grow corn, wheat, soybeans, barley and a few acres of sunflowers. Though they grow their own silage, they still have to buy feed for the dairy to meet the protein needs of their cows.

Feeding dairy cows, John Moore insists, is more of an art than a science. Everybody goes about feeding their cows a little differently, but in the end everybody is trying to produce the highest quality milk possible.

Corn silage is the base for their dairy ration. They typically chop corn silage in August and store it on the farm. Corn or barley is ground for energy and added to the corn silage. Then, Moore adds, they have to buy soybeans to complete the protein needs. Soybeans, he explains, for dairy cattle comes in a complete protein mix, plus cottonseed or citrus pulp.

Typically, they grow 80-85 percent of the total grain fed to their dairy cattle. They have an on-farm grinder to grind corn and barley which they produce on the farm.

Barley has become a more popular crop in the past few years. It is a good source of feed, but dairy cows don’t perform well if their ration is too high in barley. “With dairy rations you have to mix and match grains and barley gives us a lot of flexibility in our rations,” John Moore says.

Barley has become a popular grain for the Moores over the past few years. Brian Moore notes that they grow barley for seed, so it is a natural fit on their farm. However, he says the trend is to go more heavily with corn in dairy rations.

“If we can produce 80-90 bushels of barley per acre, the input costs are much lower than corn. So far us, barley remained a big part of our feed mix over the past few years,” Brian adds.

Barley grows well in the North Carolina Piedmont, says John Moore. “In our operation, we get barley out 2-3 weeks earlier than wheat, and our soybean yields are higher behind barley than wheat,” he adds.

This year, like so many North Carolina farmers, they did not get to plant as much wheat as they wanted because of record fall rains. On the land that had been targeted for wheat they will plant full-season soybeans.

Like so many farmers across the upper Southeast, the Moore’s had to deal with rutting and erosion problems from torrential fall rains. “A number of our fields on our no-till land had erosion problems. Ours wasn’t from damage from equipment, just from the rain. If you got wheat seeded early in the fall, the erosion wasn’t as severe, but on no-till land when soybeans came off late, there was damage on all our farms,” John Moore says.

Brian notes they will plant some late Group IV maturity beans, which is something new. And, generally they will plant more late-maturing beans. “All that is a little different for us, and we’re looking forward to seeing how that works out.

“Advances in corn hybrids over the past decade or so has upped the yield potential, but likewise increased the management challenges. With so many new hybrids coming and going, it’s sometimes hard to know what to plant, says Brian Moore. “We try a few new hybrids on a few acres each year, both of us try to know as much as we can about the new varieties, but with so many good ones available, it’s tough to know which one works best on your particular farm,” Brian explains.

By the end of harvest season, usually mid-November, they sit down and plan what grain they will plant on every field they farm. At that time they will determine which variety goes in which field, which allows them to purchase all their seed before the end of the calendar year.

Last year they had their best year with corn, averaging more than 150 bushels per acre. Better varieties and good weather over the past few years have pushed corn yields up for most farmers in the North Carolina Piedmont.

The secret of making a successful grain crop operation and a successful dairy operation work together is no secret at all, according to John Moore — it’s all about hard work.

“We are devoted to keeping our family farming operation just that, and we are willing to work hard to keep our dream going,” Moore concludes.


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