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December 02, 2001   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
December 02, 2001

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby, left, presents the keys to a 2002 Chevy TrailBlazer to the 2001 Outstanding Young Farm Family for Alabama, Hale County dairyman Laird Cole.
"Mobile, Ala." A Hale County dairy farmer, Laird Cole, was named Alabama's 2001 Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) Dec. 2 during the Alabama Farmers Federation 80th annual meeting in Mobile.

A fourth-generation dairyman, Cole, 26, got his first taste of farming as a boy when he helped his father, Henry, put up silage. Then, in 1985, economic pressures forced Henry to sell the dairy and take a job in west Alabama's emerging catfish industry. The younger Cole, however, never gave up on the idea of owning a dairy, and in 1996, he purchased 90 cows and a small milking parlor from a neighbor. Today, Cole's Foundation Farms near the Newbern community includes 250 milk cows as well as 90 bred heifers.

"When I got started, I had a few cattle and a few acres of catfish ponds; I did custom hay baling, and I had a public job," Cole recalled. "I decided all of those would be the 'foundation' for my success."

Cole advanced to the final OYFF selection process when he was named the state's Outstanding Young Farm Family for the dairy division earlier this year.

As the 2001 Outstanding Young Farm Family, he will receive the use of a 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer for one year, an IBM personal computer and software package sponsored by Valcom Business Centers of Alabama, a $200 cash award and a plaque. Cole also will serve on the Alabama Farmers Federation State Young Farmers Committee.

Cole's selection as an outstanding dairyman continues a legacy begun by his grandfather and father, who won similar awards in 1965 and 1974. But, he is not resting on his laurels. Cole is completing an expansion of the dairy barn that will more than double his milking capacity, and he is building a covered "hospital" area for treating sick and pregnant cows. Cole also has broken ground on an 18,000 square foot equipment shed and workshop.

"We are milking in a double-four parlor now, and we're putting in a double-10 (system)," Cole said. "Instead of milking 35 cows and hour, we will be able to milk over 100 cows in an hour. That will cut down on labor costs and give the cows more time to be out resting instead of standing on concrete."

Since taking over the dairy five years ago, Cole has increased his per-cow milk production by 30 percent. He credits good nutrition and herd health management for the improved yields. The cows are fed a balanced ration of hay, corn, cottonseed and protein pellets in an 80- x 225-foot free-stall barn, which the young farmer constructed two years ago. In addition, the cows are washed at the back of the barn before entering the milking area, and he treats udder and foot problems as soon as they are detected.

"I'm here every single day, and I know what problem a cow is having as soon as it starts," Cole said. "The best thing to do is to treat them right then. One thing I stress is cleanliness and getting things done right."

Cole's emphasis on efficiency and hard work has paid dividends not only for him, but also for his family. Thanks to the dairy's success, his father was able to quit his job at the catfish farm and now manages the dry cows, heifers and breeding program for the dairy. Laird's brother, Robert, also left a public job to manage the family's 70 acres of catfish ponds and to help milk. Meanwhile, his mother, Thresa, is in charge of baby calves, and also helps Robert and his wife, Tammy, run a catfish hatchery. Laird's sister, Celena, is an agronomy student at Auburn University, but she also helps out around the farm by performing environmental tests.

""The first two years, I ran the dairy by myself with just one man helping me,"" Cole recalled. ""Now, it's making enough to employ all of us. This is what I've always wanted to do-run a dairy with my dad. It took a lot of years, but we finally made it back.""

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