7 lessons from my Grand father

7 lessons from my Grand father

Joep Driessen: "Jeffry Bewley visited our cowsignals training center with 10 students last year for CowSignals training. He really impressed us by writing this article".

Everything I Really Needed to Know about Dairy Farming, I Learned from my Grandfather

By: Jeffrey Bewley, Ass. Professor Extension at the University of Kentucky (and CowSignals Ambassador).

I have been blessed to have many great role models to learn from in my career in the dairy industry. Additionally, I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees in dairy science. However, as I travel across the world visiting dairy farms, I realize more now than ever that everything I really needed to know about dairy farming, I learned from my grandfather. I may know more of the technical or scientific reasons why things work the way they do, but the basic principles that he taught me still hold true.

I fell in love with dairy when I was 6 years old when my mom moved back to her hometown next to my grandparents. Early on, my duties were limited to feeding calves and gradually increased to being involved in herd management decisions. At the time, I didn’t know I had the opportunity to learn
from a great dairyman. Coming back to Kentucky, many dairy industry professionals have indicated to me that my grandfather was ahead of his time.

In the early 1990’s, his herd had a rolling herd average milk production of 23,000 pounds per cow without rBST and without any lactating or dry cow housing. There was nothing fancy about his dairy. It is ironic that my work now focuses largely on dairy cattle facilities and application of technologies, when these were not critical to his success. I often find myself thinking about what it was that he did to achieve this level of success with minimal inputs. Keeping it simple by sticking to the basics was essential to his success. Following is a list of everything I really needed to know about dairy farming:

Lesson 1: It’s all about the cows.

Like most dairy producers, my grandfather treated the cows in the herd as if they were members of the family. Attention to detail with regard to cow care was one of his fortes. He knew each cow
individually and knew the subtle signs to look for when something was going wrong. He spent that extra time watching cows to catch them in heat. There was no doubt that each cow was the center of attention on the farm. Whether we call it cow comfort, cow signals, or animal husbandry, this skill set is still important on dairy farms today.

Lesson 2: All that time worrying about forage quality pays off.

When I was young, I never could figure out why my grandfather was so worried about the weather and planning everything around it. Now, I recognize that was one of the main reasons why he got so much milk out of his cows. He always had the highest quality corn silage, alfalfa hay, and wheat silage possible because he harvested at the correct time.

Lesson 3: Genetic selection using the highest merit artificial insemination sires really does work.

In 38 years of dairy farming, my grandfather never owned a bull. He was an early adopter of artificial insemination and never looked back. Every time I see him, he asks me what percent of Kentucky producers use artificial insemination. Although we didn’t have any registered cattle, he had the highest quality grade cattle possible because of the caliber sires he used. He selected from the top end of the bull list and the quality of animals we worked with showed that.

Lesson 4: The dairy farm is a business.

Again, I did not appreciate it at the time, but my grandfather was not only a good dairy producer but also a good small business owner. He was focused on the operation making money to support his lifestyle and the needs of his family. He was not afraid to spend money on things that would increase revenues, but he watched expenses closely. He knew what the breakeven even milk production was for a cow on the farm and wasn’t afraid to cull a favorite cow who wasn’t paying her way.

Lesson 5: Record keeping pays.

Once he joined DHIA, the performance of the herd improved dramatically. I remember getting off the bus excitedly waiting to read the latest DHIA reports with him. The information that these records provided us regarding individual cow milk production, reproductive performance, and somatic cell count allowed us to improve management of each of these areas.

Lesson 6: Attention to detail in the parlor pays.

My grandfather was extremely picky about what happened in the milking parlor and who worked there. I milked for quite a few years before he would ever allow me to milk by myself. He was very particular about milking procedures. Harvesting large quantities of high quality milk paid dividends.

Lesson 7: It’s not really about the cows at all.

It’s about the people. My grandfather believed in people and valued his family and hired employees. He wanted to see us all thrive in whatever he did. He was a kind leader by example. To me, he embodies what I see across the world in the dairy industry---the quality of people in this industry is what makes it so great.

Comments (15)

Leo Benders

What an inspiring and great story. Perfect start of the day. I found myself smiling throughout the article. It does remind me of my own background. It really is all about paying attention to what you do, how you do it and love whatever you do.

Silvija Dreijere

Great story! The best is so simple.

Kees de Koning

This reminds me to my fathers way of thinking on his dairy farm. It's all about having the basics right. Simple but true.

C. Bobbitt

Very inspiring observations. Many times out mentors set the road for our future. You are so lucky to have him in your life.

Ellen Scott

A very inspiring story and one that I wish people would stop and take a look at it sometime all animals have individual personalities and quirks and knowing these cattle as your grandfather did is a testament to the dairy industry and any industry that involves livestock or animals God bless

Ronald van Giessen

Great and good to remember where dairy farming came from! But what are the lessons for the trend to índustrial dairy farming, large scale, no longer family run. Can sensor technology replace the close farmer/cow interrelationship?

Windy Van Dam

This is a great story; thank you for sharing! I know that my husband had a close relationship with his grandfather, and while he learned from both his grandfather and father on the dairy, he holds a great deal of respect for the methods used by his grandfather, and talks about how they taught him so much.......

Wolfgang Auer

A great story. It sounds very simple but farming is a passion. Sensor technology can´t replace the close connection between the farmer and cow but helps a lot to improve it. Many activities of the cows are held at night and also a farmer needs to rest.

Andrea Murphy

It never ceases to amaze me that when we talk to the old timer's the 'new' science of why so fits with the how's and what's of what they did. Doing the basics well will never go out of fashion! :)

shittu, js

This write-up gives me a nostalgic feeling, our old ones could not explain the science and technology behind what they did, but they were result oriented, perhaps, they provided the basis for today's breakthroughs. Thanks to them all.


This are all good qualities of a serious dairy farmer.... thanks for sharing. GOD BLESS THE FARMER ALWAYS....

Wolfgang Auer

A good article to start in the morning. It reminds me of my childhood I learned also a lot from my grandfather. Great story!

Olive Greening

I enjoyed your story very much and even thou we are from a very technical age on our farm we are always reminded by my father in-law that simpler is better. We follow many of the same lesson you've learned from your grand dad. Thanks for sharing!
P.S. Does the worrying help grow better forage? It's always the talk around here :)

Maury Cox

Wonderful story, especially since I had the pleasure of meeting your Grandfather. Your story reminds me of growing up on my Grandfather's farm where we milked around 45 Registered Holsteins. I loved studying pedigrees of the bulls available through A.I. and reading the DHIA sheets when they came too. Knowing your many talents, quite a nice tribute!

Somula Schwoeppe

This is my favorite article you've ever written too! A fantastic way to begin the week with a reminder of where we came from. Thank you Jeffrey!

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