begin dairy farming from scratch
By GEOFF PARKS
For the Capital Press
TILLAMOOK, Ore. -- Kevin and Annette Thomas have nine children, 10 grandchildren and 500 dairy cows, so life at Silver Mist Farms at the south end of Tillamook is a constant whirlwind of work and play.
Kevin Thomas, 51, said he and his wife, who is 50, have been dairying on their own since August 1991, after they established the Jersey dairy with 12 cows and doubled that number the next year.
He said he found a place to rent after moving from California, where he had been a herdsman, but discovered that "you need at least one cow if you want to get any loans from a bank." Thus, the 12-cow start to Silver Mist Farms.
One of the Thomas' older children, Devin, 30, lives on the farm and is the go-to guy for using machinery to load, haul and perform other duties at the dairy. Dan Snell, whose wife, KaShan, is the Thomas' daughter, also works closely with the Thomases at Silver Mist.
Dairying was always Thomas' goal and now he's focused on making further improvements to the operation and targeting increased volume -- and profit -- for the farm.
His dairy is enrolled in the American Jersey Cattle Association's Registration, Equity, Appraisal and Performance program, which, for a per-cow or per-herd fee, offers continuing tracking of information that helps in increasing production and profit on Jersey farms such as Silver Mist.
The old axiom in dairying has always been that you get paid by volume of milk, and that's the same at Silver Mist, though because of sky-high feed costs and the economy, things are changing a bit, he said.
The volume of fluid milk from Jerseys is a bit less compared to the more ubiquitous Holstein breed, but higher protein and butterfat numbers make it a better choice for butter, ice cream and other uses.
Thomas took a year's worth of training in Dairy Herd Management from Utah State University prior to his stint in California as a herdsman.
He has all the parts ready to put in a bigger milking parlor, new barn and a new, 6,500-gallon milk tank on the property, as his herd now produces about 25,000 pounds of fluid milk each day.
Thomas said he sends his 6- to 8-month-old heifers to Hermiston for breeding before bringing them back to put to work at Silver Mist. Feed includes cotton seed, corn, barley, silage, grass, alfalfa -- and a treat of apple waste from the Hood River area.
Silver Mist Farms (Sil-Mist Jerseys)
Location: Tillamook, Ore.
Owners: Kevin and Annette Thomas
Years farming: 22 years
Co-op membership: Tillamook County Creamery Association
Total cows: 500 milkers
Quotable quote: "You need at least one cow if you want to get any loans from a bank."