My Trip to An Alabama Dairy Farm

Last week I had the opportunity to learn about something I know little about.; dairy farming. When you think of dairy states you think of Wisconsin, and maybe California, you don’t think of Alabama.  Alabama actually ranks #43 in milk production. The top dairy state in the United States are 1. California, 2. Wisconsin, 3. New York, 4. Pennsylvania, and 5. Idaho, however dairies are found in all 50 state and Puerto Rico.

If you go back several decades we used to have quite a few dairy farms in Alabama, but many have went out of business. When I heard that there was a gentleman in Lee County who had started dairy farming recently I was very intrigued and asked if I could come visit.

Meet Dr. Darrel Rankins:

Darrel Rankins Lee County Alabama Agriculture

Dr. Rankins and his family reside in not too far from Auburn, Alabama on their family farm. An Illinois native, he came to Auburn University 1989 and worked with livestock producers of Alabama for 25 years with his expertise in nutrition in beef cattle through research, teaching and extension. Rankins retired in April of 2013 after his 25 year tenure with Auburn University.

“I decided after 25 years I was ready to do something different” Rankins explained to me.

Rankins decided he wanted to get in to the stocker heifer business (having female calves usually 6-9 months old that you are feeding until they are of harvestable weight) or have a pasture dairy. After much consideration Rankins decided to enter the dairy business. He started visiting other pasture dairy farms across the Southeast to get a better idea of how he wanted to build his farm.

In April of 2013 after his retirement he started working daily on building his milking parlor (which is where the cows are brought to be milked). He built his parlor from the ground up all on his own.

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On November 15, 2013 DarLin Dairy officially opened for business upon the arrival of the cows. The cows are pasture raised and are therefore grass fed. There is no difference between milk that comes from pasture fed and those who are not. If cows aren’t raised in a pasture what do they eat? Dairy Carrie has a great blog post about “What Do Cows Eat Anyway?”

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Right now Rankins is milking anywhere from 50-56 cows, 2 times a day. The number he milks varies depending upon when some of the cows are in their “dry period”. After giving birth the mother produces milk usually anywhere from 10-12 months and then has a dry period which is when milking is terminated about 60 days before the next calf is expected to be born. Since November, Rankins has had 18 calves to be born.

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Rankins milks in the morning and in the evening.

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His parlor can milk 12 cows at a time, but it holds 24 at a time so that he can be preparing the next 12 while the first 12 are being milked. I was surprised the cows knew when it was time for milking and they made their way to the barn with a little encouragement from Rankin’s sons.

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Into the milking area they went.

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It’s An Alabama Thing: Greenbrier BBQ: Best Hushpuppies in Alabama

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When I say that Greenbrier BBQ has the best hushpuppies in the state I am not exaggerating. In fact I may be under selling them, they may be the best in the nation. I have never taken anyone there and they not agreed when we left. They are THAT GOOD.

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For those of you who are not from the South you may be wondering what in the world are Hushpuppies?

Hushpuppies are basically a corn meal batter that is deep fried. They can come in different shapes, but they are mostly seen in round/ball shapes and in oblong shapes like Greenbriers. They are not the most healthy thing to eat, but they sure are delicious!

They are great with ketchup, ranch dressing, and especially white sauce. White sauce is a vinegary sauce pretty much only found in North Alabama, if you have never had it you are missing out.

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At Greenbrier the hushpuppies come out as soon as you sit down and they keep them coming. The food is also great at Greenbrier, it is greasy, but very good. You can even wash it all down with a 25 cent up of soft serve ice cream when you are finished.  It is not a fancy place, but has great service. Greenbrier has character, pictures of musicians and celebrities who have stopped by hang up in the restaurant. This establishment is on the list of 100 Places to Eat in Alabama Before You Die and is only a short distance off I-65 if you are ever traveling north/south through Alabama.

Trust me you have never had hushpuppies like these. If you are ever in North Alabama you have to give them a try.

”I am sorry”, said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you": Not the Same with the Toomer’s Oaks

Recently at one of our college student Sunday night devotionals one of the seniors, John Mark Henderson, related the book “The Giving Tree” to selflessness and did a fine job by providing such a profound example of seflessness. 


This week as I reflected back on his lesson it reminded me in ways of the Toomer’s Oaks and their end. I was expecting the last week to be a sad one, after all our beloved Toomer’s Oak Trees were going to be cut down. They were poisoned during our 2010 football season by a bitter fan from a rival school, who took things way too far. Sadly, these trees are not something easily replaced. They were a beautiful landmark in downtown Auburn and the space that is now in their spot looks strange. 


In the case of the tree featured in “The Giving Tree”, she gave all she had for the boy until she reached a point where she had to tell him she had nothing left to give, but she did. Even when it seemed like she had gave all she had, there was more. Same is the case with the Toomer’s Oaks. 


The corner right now looks bare, but yet those oaks have gave Auburn fans SO much and there is still so much for them to give. Until I came to college here I had never rolled the oaks. Since my freshman year I have made so many wonderful memories at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street. Many rolls of toliet paper thrown, runs underneath the canopy of the trees, several talks with friends and late night strolls. 


During my freshman year the night we wont the SEC Championship on December 4, 2010 was a very memorable night

The National Championship rolling was another night I will never forget! 

 
Traffic jam on College Street heading to the game. Megan McMurray and I parked in the first spot we came to in the Comer Hall parking lot and sprinted all the way to the corner. 

The rest of the Auburn Family joined us

National Champs! What an exciting night.  

Brady and I after his first freshman game at the corner. 


We did not get to roll the trees as much this year as I would have liked to, but Saturday after the A-Day game, which 84,000+ people attended we rolled until I’m sure there was not a roll of toliet paper left in Auburn’s stores. 


These shots taken from above the crowd just help to solidify what this tradition means to the Auburn Family. People came from all over just to be a part of the final rolling of the oaks. 

Come fall when we (hopefully) win more football games. People will still gather at Toomer’s Corner as they have for year. This is where the trees are still giving back, the tradition started back in the 60’s and I’m sure willl continue. Toomer’s Corner is more than the trees, it is a place where Auburn fans can gather, usually we gather to celebrate victories of sports, politics (you name it), and some choose to gather there to protest. 

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This spot on Auburn’s campus has provided so  much for Auburn fans in the past and I cannot wait to see what it offers in the future. Shel Silverstein’s tree in “The Giving Tree” and the Auburn Oaks must be closely related they have provided so many memories over the years and still have so much still to give. 

Can We Do This Every Friday?

Last Friday the Auburn University Young Farmers organization went on our fall farm tour. We try to do one every semester to a farm somewhere in the state of Alabama to learn about a different area of production agriculture. Last spring we visited Purcell Farms which does a little bit of everything: cows, golf course, hunts, etc. 



So last Friday morning for our fall farm tour we loaded up three pickup trucks and journeyed about 2 1/2 hours from Auburn to Monroe county. Our first stop was the Frisco City Farmers Cooperative in Frisco City Alabama. Here we met up with Scott Saucer. 



Scott is a grower in the area and I had previously met him through working at the Alabama Young Farmers Leadership Conference, he was our guide for the day. While at the co-op we learned about fertilizer and took a look at their stockyard. 
They sell cattle here every Wednesday. There were not any cattle in the barn on Friday, but there was a random horse. This area years ago raised a lot of hogs, but in recent years like the rest of Alabama people moved away from raising hogs so this stockyard now handles cattle. 

From there we drove to a PhytoGen test plot. PhytoGen is a cotton seed  company.


 Some growers do test plots of different varieties , they grow small plots and when they harvest they keep a close track of how they do and report it back to the copany.  The plot we looked at had three different varieties being grown. Different varieties are used because they have certain characteristics the grower might want (ex. seedling vigor, storm tolerance, fiber quality and yield potential) 

             If you see signs like this while going down the road, it is probably a test plot. 

We also visited a cattle operation on our journey. This producer was a full time cattle farmer. It is calving season so there were several cute calves running around.

One management practice that many cattle farmers use is breeding all their cows at the same time. Cows like humans can be very troublesome when giving birth. If the farmer didn’t control when they were born he would be busy all year watching soon to be mama cows. So it is easier for them all to give birth around the same time. 


The Monroe County Farmers Federation fed us a wonderful lunch of BBQ and fixed us up with literature about peanuts. 

After our bellies were full we traveled to a peanut buying point near Atmore, AL. This particular buying point is the largest in the United States. One of our group members, Mark Philips and his family grows cotton and peanuts in Henry County. He said that their peanuts after harvest go through this buying point. 



Buying points are throughout the southern part of Alabama. After peanuts are harvested they are put in trailers and sent to these buying points where they weigh, clean, dry, inspect, grade and prepare peanuts for storage and shelling. 


If a truck is brought in and the moisture content is too high, they hook up a blower to the holes in the end of the trailer (as you can see in the picture above) and blow air until they dry out and can be stored. If I remember correctly this buying point handles 70 million tons a year of peanuts. 

Fun Fact: DYK that 50% of all peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100 mile radius of Dothan, Alabama? 

From there we traveled to the big city of McCullough, AL to the Frank P Currie Gin. Growing up on a cotton farm I have been to several cotton gins, but it always amazes me to see how they work. 

Cotton is brought in on module trucks. A conveyor belt takes it into the gin. 

 This machine is the gin. It separates the seed from the fiber. 

The seeds here are are separated and fall to the bottom

The cotton is in long fluffy sheet. It is stacked up and this machine bundles it up tight and it is then covered in plastic. 

 Each of these weigh around 300 pounds
The seed and lint is moved by a vacuum system to a warehouse where it is stored. It practically fills up the whole building.
The seed after it has been removed from the cotton. 

Cotton seed is very useful. Many people feed it to cattle. It can be used to make oil as well. This here will be carted off to farms to be used for feed. 
The cotton fiber after it is wrapped is placed in a warehouse and sold. Most cotton now goes overseas especially to China to be made into a variety of things. It could be used to make t-shirts, blue jeans, sheets, or even dollar bills! 
Our farm tour was in my opinion a great success. We all learned a lot (some more than others). It will be interesting to see where we journey to in the spring. Like I told Austin, our president, I wish we could take every Friday off and ride back roads of Alabama and look at and learn about crops. It would be nice, but then again I don’t think our professors would take too kindly to that.