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Star Farmer carves own dairy path

A Trenton FFA member risks tradition, learns a new dairy breed and grows a business.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

May 29, 2024

5 Min Read
Cade Claycomb in a field with dairy cows
DAIRY ON: Cade Claycomb will represent Missouri at the National FFA Convention in 2025 or 2026, vying for the American Star Farmer, an award for a member who demonstrates the top production agriculture SAE in the nation. This year, he competes on the national stage in Dairy Production Entrepreneurship Proficiency. Photos courtesy of Cade Claycomb

Since he first toddled into the barn, Cade Claycomb has been around dairy cows. While carrying on the family tradition seemed a natural fit for a FFA project, he craved more.

To find his passion and purpose, the Missouri FFA Star Farmer ventured into an unknown world for him — purebred Jersey dairy cattle.

The summer before Claycomb’s freshman year at Trenton High School, he bought five registered Jersey females at a sale in Garnett, Kan. There was just one problem: He knew nothing about the breed or raising registered cattle.

Nearly 20 years ago, his generational Grundy County family farm started as a commercial dairy, milking crossbred dairy cows.

“My parents wanted to explore a different sector of agriculture,” the eighth-generation farmer says, “so we started dairying by using beef bulls on our dairy cows, and it worked.”

Cade Claycomb feeding milk to young Jersey calves

Raising purebreds, let alone a smaller Jersey cow, was brand-new. He needed to know more and heard about the Jersey Youth Academy hosted by the American Jersey Cattle Association. At the event, Claycomb learned about genetics, pedigrees, barn design and markets.

“I was able to meet several other people my age from around the country involved in Jerseys,” he says. “Being able to experience other farms and talk with other producers in this industry was a huge learning experience.”

Related:FFA stars shine bright at state convention

Then, Claycomb took the information and put it into practice.

High-tech dairy cows

Technology was key to improving the dairy herd.

Claycomb enlisted Trans Ova Genetics, which focuses on providing reproductive technologies to the livestock industry, to improve herd genetics. Using in vitro fertilization, the operation grew from five to 42 registered Jerseys.

While he’s used sexed semen in the past, Claycomb has luck without it. “I’ve been fortunate to get mostly heifers,” he adds.

The young females stay on the farm, grow and integrate into the milking herd. Currently, Claycomb sells purebred bull calves, but he has a dream.

“If they have the right pedigree and solid background,” he explains, “I would like to eventually start selling them. It is a goal of mine but hasn’t really happened yet.”

Low-tech dairy equipment

A look around the dairy milking parlor reflects financial sustainability.

There are no automatic takeoffs. Claycomb removes milkers by hand. Cows line up 10 on each side for milking. It takes about an hour to work through 80 dairy cows on the family farm, which includes Claycomb’s own 32 registered Jersey cows.

“It’s pretty different than the conventional setup that you might see on larger farms,” he notes, “but it really works for us. It has since we started.”

Related:Gen Z dairy farmer builds small herd as FFA project

Cade Claycomb manually removing milkers from cows

Dairy Farmers of America picks up the milk and then it ships to Highland Dairy Foods in Kansas City, Mo.

The farm is a pasture-based system, employing both rotational and strip-grazing practices.

Sorghum sudangrass makes up part of the strip-grazing fodder. Cows eat on a mixed grass pasture the remaining time.

Alfalfa is also a part of herd nutrition. However, cows do not graze, rather the family bales it for feed. “We produce all of the hay we feed,” Claycomb adds.

Building dairy networks

Jersey cattle opened a door closed to crossbred dairy cows — livestock exhibition.

Over the past five years, Claycomb exhibited cattle at the local county fair and the Missouri State Fair.

“I’ve really enjoyed the competition,” he says. “I’ve met so many people in the dairy business by showing. They’ve been so helpful in teaching me this aspect of the business. I also see how my herd compares to others.”

Cade Claycomb showing a Jersey cow at a fair

Today, Claycomb uses the experience to share with others about the Jersey breed and how it fits into the larger dairy industry. He will hone that skill at Oklahoma State University this fall as he pursues a degree in agricultural communications.

“It’s about advocating for the industry, going out and just talking to people about the dairy industry,” Claycomb adds. “We need to keep dairy farmers in the state because they’re important to the food industry and agriculture.”

Related:46 years and still dairy farming

Future in dairy business

Missouri is a net dairy import state.

In Grundy County, there are only 500 dairy cows left, according to the latest USDA Cattle Report. Claycomb doesn’t want to see that number drop.

It is a journey that will take him beyond the family dairy norm. It incorporates technology to advance a new breed on the farm, along with the confidence to branch out into a new business.

“I would like to continue running the dairy and possibly evolve it into a niche of selling my milk off the farm to consumers’ tables,” he says.

Claycomb says while it may not be easy, the next generation should find something that interests them and pursue it. “You may not know much about it, but don’t let that stop you,” he says.

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About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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