"Milk … it does a family good"
by Molly Johnson
Fence Post Intern
George Maxey has been milking cows for over 50 years, and after all these years, he still remembers milking his first cow in the first grade. George’s neighbor owned two milking cows, and when his neighbor was busy during the harvest season, George would milk his cows for him … by hand. Each cow gave one gallon of milk. George was allowed to take one gallon home for his family and the neighbor kept the other gallon.
George grew up in Illinois, but didn’t begin his milking career until his high school years on his family’s rented dairy farm. George milked his family’s small herd of grade milk cows and realized that if he wanted to be a dairy farmer for the rest of his life, he wanted something other than a milk check every week.
“I’ve always had a love for animals and I realized that when you have a dairy herd, at least you have a regular income twice a month, I guess those are the two main reasons I became a dairyman,” said George.
Upon his discharge from the Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyo., George and his wife, Jean, moved to Colorado in 1954 to work for Carl W. (CW) Henry, a man famous for his nationally known herd of registered Valentine Holsteins. George started off as the hired man for Henry in 1954 at the farm west of Kersey, which was originally established by Henry in 1915, and is now the Maxey Farms.
George bought the farm from Henry and all the rights that came with it, including the registered “Valentine” Holstein prefix. When George bought the dairy, Henry had 24 milking cows. George has doubled the herd and now milks 48 cows, twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Of course, none of the cows from the original Henry Valentine Holstein herd are still alive, but there are some descendants from that herd that George still milks today.
Since their purchase of the Henry dairy, the Maxeys have also purchased two neighboring farms to grow about 300 acres of flood-irrigated crops for their livestock, have built loafing and hay sheds on the property and have installed a pipeline milking system.
George admits that they have been “hit” by some hard times, and that even now things aren’t looking the brightest either, with the water issues and bad prices, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“Agriculture still speaks pretty well in a community,” said George. “We’ll get through these times, just like we’ve gotten through all the rest, that’s just agriculture.”
He’s also willing to admit that the times are a changin’. The dairy business isn’t the small, specialized career it used to be. “Huge mega-dairies are steadily replacing the smaller family farms,” said George.
“Bigger dairies are in the business for commercial reasons, efficient production and bottom line, for the figures,” said son, Jeff. “The difference between them and my dad is that he still loves the cow.”
In the 1950s, milk prices were approximately $4-5 cwt. (per hundred weight), now dairy farmers are being paid $12-13 cwt., which is not much, considering the hike in price in the cost of production. Dairy cows were also producing only about 8,000 pounds per year in the ’50s, but now, an average cow produces 30,000 pounds of milk per year. In 2001, the Maxey Farms produced 1,130,000 pounds (141,250 gallons) of milk.
When George first started in the dairy business, milk was put into 10 gallon milk cans and was water cooled.
The milk was loaded into pick-up trucks and hauled to a processing plant, where it was pasteurized, bottled and delivered to homes and to the local college (now the University of Northern Colorado). Today, milk is cooled at 38 degrees in a stainless steel tank. A tanker truck picks up the milk every other day and it is then delivered to various destinations. Many milkers, like George, rely on the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) to sell the milk for the best possible price.
George says that his children, like him, learned the dairy business at a young age. “They all carried milk in buckets to the milk room before we got the pipeline,” he said. It’s obvious from the moment you step onto the Maxey Farms that George has a deep love for his family and for his cows.
“His family has always been his number one priority, looking back now, I can say that,” said son, Keith. “The thing I probably remember most is his passion and love for the cows, his total commitment to breeding a better dairy cow and to providing a good environment for us kids to grow up in.”
George and Jean have five children. Debra Helus, their oldest daughter, now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., with her husband, Calvin. Peggy Anderson lives in Bow, Wash., with her husband, Karl, and two children. Keith Maxey, his wife, Kelly, and their four children live just down the road from the family dairy. Keith works as a Weld County Extension dairyman and coaches the 4-H Dairy Judging team. Teresa Sponaugle lives with her husband, Rick, in rural Greeley, Colo., and is currently home schooling her six children. Jeff Maxey and wife, Deanne, live in Kersey, Colo., with their two children.
Jeff helps his father on the family dairy operation as a business partner. All five of the Maxey’s children graduated high school from Platte Valley High school in Kersey. The Maxeys have 16 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
All in all, the Maxeys wouldn’t give up the dairy business for anything. “I am thankful to have dairyed in the years I have, for there have been some good times in the registered cattle business,” said George. “We all feel blessed to produce food and fiber for our fellowman.”
So, while the Maxey Farms may not be the largest dairy in all the county, it is definitely a dairy that has been built by sweat, hard work, love and determination. “It never ceases to amaze me how many lives they’ve touched,” said son, Keith, “I’m still learning from him.”