Happy cows don’t come just from California, like the commercial says.
They can also be found at Hillcrest Dairy in Dearing.
Mark Rodgers, who co-owns the dairy with his brother, Andy, works to keep their cows as content as he possibly can, because a happy cow is a productive cow. Theirs have made Hillcrest Dairy one of the top producing diary farms in the state.
In Georgia, the average cow produces approximately 20,172 pounds, or 2,345 gallons, of milk per year. The Rodgers’ cows produce almost a third more than that, averaging about 30,000 pounds, or nearly 3,488 gallons, per cow per year, Rodgers said.
“We’re shipping about 4,000 gallons of milk a day,” he said.
He and his brother are third generation dairy farmers. Their grandfather, G.L. Rodgers, began the dairy on 295 acres in 1941. Now it encompasses 1,200 acres and has about 850 cows.
The dairy recently received the award for top production per cow herd in the state of Georgia for the second consecutive year and is one of the top producers in the Southeast.
The key to high production really is happy cows, and the Rodgers have cow happiness down to a science.
That’s no easy feat for a dairy farm during a humid Georgia summer, when the mercury hits 90 and cows are happiest in the 30- to 70-degree range.
So, in 2009, the Rodgers built a freestyle barn. It gives the farmers an environment they can control to create the optimum cow heaven, including keeping cows cool.
As temperatures rise, the animals are sprayed with water and fanned off to dry, creating a cooling cycle Rodgers called the “Bubba effect.”
“You go to Clarks Hill. You jump in the water in August. The water’s nasty and it’s hot. You get out and you’re still hot. But you get in the back of your buddy’s pickup truck. When the air starts drying you, you’re going to cool rapidly. It’s the same thing here,” he said.
Mark estimates that milk production increased by 15 percent after they built the barn.
Cows now walk around on rubber floors, which are easier on their hooves. They eat feed mixed to specifications to keep them as healthy as possible. They lie in sand beds, which are softer than the grass in the pasture.
But not only do the Rodgerses strive to keep their cows happy, they also want to be good stewards of the land.
Everything that can be recycled is recycled. The water that is used to cool the animals and to clean the barn is either reused in the barn or it goes to irrigate crops.
Manure is recycled into fertilizer used on crops that are harvested to feed the cows.
Sand that is kicked out of the stalls is washed and replaced.
“We’re not wasting anything,” Rodgers said.
Their environmentally friendly methods earned them the Governor’s Pollution Prevention Award in 2001.
He said all of the owners of the family business, which began with his grandfather in 1941 and will continue one day with his daughter and nephew, have striven to be both a good neighbor to Dearing and good stewards of the land.
“We want to make sure we leave the farm in better shape than when we got it for the next generation, because we do have a next generation,” he said. “My grandfather did it for my father, my father did it for us. We’re doing it for our children.”