'Brutal time' forced family to sell off

herd 30 years ago


Capital Press

SCIO, Ore. -- Jack Smalley's career in the dairy industry has been more successful the second time around.

Smalley initially took over the dairy near Scio, Ore., from his parents in 1977 after marrying his wife, Suzy.

It was a "brutal time" in the dairy industry, prompting Smalley to sell off his cow herd after just two years.

The dairy industry suffered from a low ratio of milk prices to feed costs during much of the 1970s, which was aggravated by overall inflation and economic stagnation, according to USDA.

Over the next decade, the Smalleys continued living at the property. He worked as a millwright, farmed and attended college while his wife took a job at a bank.

It was always in his mind to return to milking cows, but his previous experience left him cautious -- similar to the fear of getting back on a horse after being thrown off, he said.

"We worked for 10 years to get ready to go back in again," Suzy Smalley said. "I was less apprehensive than Jack because I'm more of a gambler."

Since returning to the business in 1989, Smalley has used the smallness of his operation to his advantage, keeping overhead costs to a minimum.

"We've just found our niche at being a low-cost producer," he said.

Smalley keeps fewer than 50 milk cows on pasture on his family's 50 acres and leases 20 acres to grow feed.

He keeps the dairy's debt low and runs older equipment that he keeps well maintained. With a smaller operation, the machinery is also subject to less wear and tear.

"We don't use it up as quickly as if you were running it 10 hours a day," he said.

The farm doesn't employ anybody outside the family. While this keeps Smalley busy, it's the type of work he prefers.

"I've never been one to want to manage money and people," he said.

Smalley generates about half of his feed and relies on byproducts from a nearby vegetable-processing plant.

Waste from sweet corn, green beans and other crops provides a steady stream of feed, but the loads change from week to week.

To ensure the cows get the proper mix of nutrition, Smalley keeps an eye on their manure and milk production.

Due to the quick turnaround from one crop byproduct to another, finding the right balance is more of an art than a science.

"I wouldn't be able to get a feed analysis done by the time it's gone," he said.

Life as a small dairyman doesn't entail many perks, but Smalley said it has provided him with more time to spend with his three daughters.

Amy Smalley, the youngest of his children, said growing up on a dairy has given her a unique perspective and inspired her to pursue a career as a large animal veterinarian.

"I definitely want to stay around cows," she said. "I love cows."

Smalley Family Dairy

Location: Scio, Ore.

Farmers: Jack and Suzy Smalley

Years farming: Jack Smalley has worked in dairy for 45 years total

Cooperative: Farmers Cooperative Creamery

Total number of cows: Fewer than 50

Employees: The family

Quote: "We've just found our niche at being a low-cost producer." -- Jack Smalley

Recommended for you