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Milk… it does a family good

Story and photos by Glen Liford 2/23/2017


The gentle Jersey breed has been a perfect fit for the Moore family’s operation. Their prolific herd is averaging more than 61 pounds of milk per head per day on Co-op feeds.
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Not many people begin a lifelong vocation at age 6, but that was how old Cleveland’s Howard Moore was when he first saw the farm on which he would find his career calling as a dairy farmer.

“I remember we rode down here to see it in a Model A Ford,” says Howard. “My brother, Clifton, and I sat in the back in the rumble seat, and my dad was at the wheel.”

His dad, Henry, had purchased the 200 acres in 1941 with the assistance of a government loan program. The property was mostly “scrub ground,” says Howard. A larger farm had been divided into four or five smaller sections and “sold off.” The family moved to the farm in September 1942.

Though the first few years were hard, they made an impression on the future dairyman. He remembers milking the family’s 15 or so dairy cows by hand after school. It was then, he says, that his desire to dairy took root.    “We started off milking by hand in the old dairy barn,” says Howard. “Then we built a new stanchion barn.”

Bolstered by that barn, the Moores’ operation took off, and the milk began to flow. They collected the milk in five- and 10-gallon cans and carried them across the creek where the milkman picked them up, says Howard.

“The milkman was pretty stout, I guess,” he says. “He could carry two of the cans at one time — one in each hand — as he loaded his truck.”

All through elementary school, Howard helped with the chores and the evening milking. He joined 4-H as a youngster and became involved in the dairy science project, joined the dairy judging team, and showed his beloved Jersey cattle. As a high school senior in 1954, he won the state 4-H dairy record book project competition, which included a trip to National 4-H Congress in Chicago where he was named a national winner in dairy science.

“I rode a train up to Chicago from Chattanooga,” he recalls.

Howard’s only departure from dairying was playing basketball and baseball for Bradley Central High School. He was pretty good, he says, as a forward on the basketball court and as a pitcher and right fielder on the baseball team.

It was at the state dairy show in Shelbyville in 1952 that he first met his future wife. Howard was showing his Jersey cattle, while Polly was showing her Guernseys.

Polly was also raised on a nearby dairy.  Her family had their own dairy and bottled their own milk on the farm, something that many dairy operators did at the time, she says.

Howard, “a good-looking” high school athlete, had already caught her eye.

“He needed someone to lead a calf in the county group class, and I got the job,” she says.

Though she was admittedly smitten, it was quite some time before the pair started dating, Polly explains with a laugh: “I had to chase him for a long time, but he finally slowed down enough for me to catch him.”

Howard, a man of few words, agrees that they were a good fit.

“She led that calf good,” he says.

After high school, Polly briefly attended Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville but returned home after only a year.

For Howard, the pull of the land was strong, too. He took a short course in general farming practices at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) but says he never thought of doing anything else.

The couple married in 1955 and moved in with Howard’s parents. A year later, they built the home where they still live.  

Through all those years that Howard and his dad farmed together, there was never a cross word between them, says Polly. “You had to know Mr. Moore [Henry] and Howard,” she adds.

“We got along allright, I reckon,” says Howard.    

After he and Polly married, Howard received from his dad a tenth of the farm’s monthly milk check — approximately $50.

“As we had kids and the farm started doing better, he would incrementally give me more of the check,” says Howard. “It got to where I was buying all the machinery, and he was buying the feed. Finally, he said, ‘You can have it all.’”

Howard took over operation of the farm when his dad died in 1991.

Howard and Polly’s first child, Diana, came along in 1960 and was followed by Darla and then Billy Joe. All three of the Moore siblings have chosen careers closely related to farming. Diana, who majored in food science and technology at UTK, works as a microbiologist at a local laboratory. Darla also graduated from UTK and works as a dietician at Sweetwater Hospital. Billy Joe graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and works in data security for a publicly traded farm supply business. They were all active in 4-H and showed cattle as well.

Over the years, Howard has added about 200 acres to the farm, quite a bit of it woodland. He has served multiple terms as a Co-op director  — first on the board of Bradley Farmers Cooperative and now as a director of Southeastern Farmers Cooperative. Howard currently manages a herd of 69 Jerseys and gets help on the farm from daughter Diana and dairyman George Blackwell.  He normally grows about 40 acres of corn for silage, 17 acres of rye, and a small amount of wheat.

“This year’s corn crop was hit hard by the drought,” he says. “I had about 20 acres that didn’t get waist high, so I just turned the cows in on it.”

Howard sought advice from Bob Davis, Southeastern Farmers Cooperative outside salesman, about feed alternatives. Together, they decided on Co-op 16% Peak Power Coarse and

Co-op 18% Milk Enhancer WCS.  The Jersey herd is now averaging a stunning 61.2 pounds per head per day, he says.

With Howard and Polly “getting older,” they say they’ve had insurance salesmen talk to them about their estate planning. One particular salesman asked them what their business was worth.

“I told him, ‘We don’t have a business, we just go to the barn and milk,’” says Howard. “He wanted us to put a dollar value on it. That would be hard to do. We’ve made a pretty good living. We always had something to eat.”

“And we have raised our kids,” says Polly. “They all went to college and are taking care of themselves, and as far as I know, they have never gone to jail.”

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