Last dairy farm closes in Calloway County

The milk most of us think of is the milk we buy at the grocery store, but for Jim and Judy Stahler milk was their livelihood and meant ensuring hundreds of cows were milked twice a day, every day. 

They were the last remaining dairy farmers in Calloway County. Jim Stahler sold off the majority of his cows on Tuesday.

Stahler faced some difficult numbers. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, farms generated $800,000-worth of revenue a year for Calloway County. Poultry and eggs made up most of the county’s animal sales at 92 percent, while milk makes up less than 1 percent at $7,000. 

While the numbers aren’t a huge revenue, it’s still a huge loss for the county.

In the dairy barn is where it started, and it’s where it ends. Between big business and the troubles of supply and demand, dairy farmer Jim Stahler said he wouldn’t do it any differently. He says all he ever desired was to dairy. Stahler says it was hard for him to understand what people meant by thank goodness it’s Friday because he was able to do what he loved and dreamed every day.

Stahler says selling most of his cows was bittersweet, but that’s how it had to happen. He says he knows he’s in an evolving industry, but after 50 years in the business he couldn’t absorb the losses from a fluctuating supply and demand anymore. 

Calloway County Extension Office Agriculture Director Matthew Chadwick says the dairy industry is growing more industrialized, and the Stahlers’ farm is more proof of that. “The small farmer we see in the Norman Rockwell painting is kind of disappearing,” Chadwick says. 

Chadwick says it’s not only the dairy farms at risk. He says after shutting down, more farms are succumbing to urbanization. “It is definitely an issue in Murray and Calloway County, just the rapid urban sprawl and the city growing out,” he says. 

Although the Stahlers’ farm is considered a small farm, it will continue to be the family home and their passion every day for the next 50 years. “There’s a time to start and a time to finish, and when you enjoy what you do you don’t think about finishing,” he says.

Stahler decided to keep about 20 cows on his farm. Before closing, the farm sold milk to the Saputo branch in Murray, but the milk stayed local in Murray. The Stahlers say they’re looking to lease their chicken houses and begin focusing on ministry work.

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