Homegrown dairy farm thrives in Lawrence County

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Union Township - Standing in the bright September sun on his 325-acre dairy farm, John W. Smith looks out over the rolling, green Union Township countryside, knowing that more work always needs to be done.

The 53-year-old farmer wipes the dirt off his hands and sweat from his suntanned brow as he talks about what it means to be full-time dairy farmer, one of only two still operating in the county.

"If I wanted to be busy all the time I could. You always do what you have to," he said with a chuckle as he talks about his day that starts at 5 a.m. and may last until well after the sunlight fades to dark. "It is work, but I absolutely love it. You have to enjoy it morning and evening."

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More than three decades ago John and his wife of 33 years, Nancy, bought the Smith Dairy Farm from John's parents, who had operated it since 1941. Smith, a

life-long Lawrence Countian, grew up on the property and has now seen a lot happen on their rural paradise: buildings have burned and been rebuilt, dairy farming has gone high-tech and their three daughters and now five grandchildren have grown up there through the years.

Today, the farm boasts 81 female cattle, mostly Holstein with some half-Jersey/half-Holstein breeds. They mill about the fenced farm, seeking food and attention at every turn. Only 40 cattle are milked at a time, each producing an average of 7 gallons of milk per day for a total production of approximately 250 gallons daily.

In more practical terms, the dairy generates enough milk each day to supply 4,000 children with their half-pint servings they receive in school lunchrooms.

"I am going to treat these cows like princesses. I treat them as good as I can," Smith said. "You get good milk from contented cows."

Far from the days of milking by hand, Smith uses a modern pipeline system so that the milk is never touched by human hands and goes straight into a filtered container.

Smith sells his milk to United Dairy in Charleston. Every other day the company rolls its 54-foot tanker up the narrow gravel private drive and, fence-bumping aside, fills up almost like a motorist at a gas station. United then pasteurizes and homogenizes the white nectar.

From his perspective, Smith has learned a thing or two that may surprise the average consumer.

"Different companies bottle under different labels, but it is all the same milk," Smith said.

For Nancy, who grew up on a farm too, it has been a wonderful way for her and John to be together. Though, not always together.

"I know how to milk a cow but they don't like me too well and I don't like things that take a swing at me," she said laughing. "You are not too likely to find me out in the barn."

"The only thing about living where you work is that your work is staring you in the face all the time," she said. "Sometimes, that is why I think God put me here, to make John take a break."

John does not have to do all the work by himself. Tommy Wood, 21, of Chesapeake, has helped out for the past four years.

"Tommy is my part-time worker but I'm a Christian so I consider Christ my full-time helper," said John, a Gideon by denomination.

It is this faith and emphasis on family that is at the core of the Smith's lives.

A stay at home mother and grandmother, Nancy said she loves the fact that John was able to be a daddy 24 hours a day.

John couldn't agree more.

"Every morning of my kids' life I got to see them off to school. That is a real blessing," John said. "Even though I am working, I always here. It has been a great way to raise a family."