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Marlane Williams still remembers the rumors that circulated around town when she bought her 1920 farm house that sits on 40 acres of land in Pierce City, Mo., and started milking her first eight Guernseys in June 2002.
“There were bets I wouldn’t make it six months,” she says. “But over time, I have built relationships with my neighbors, my vet, my suppliers, the DFA reps and more, and I guess it worked, because here I am almost 10 years later. Everyone has been good to me.”
Williams understands why the rumors started. She was 42 when she bought the farm to remodel into her dairy, Mar Gold Guernseys. She had also just moved from Florida to take a full-time job at Joplin HealthCare Center, a nursing home facility in Joplin, Mo. No one in town, including her neighbors, expected to see Williams make it as the farm’s sole operator in addition to working 40-plus hours 30 miles from home. But, she was determined.
Today, Williams milks nearly 50 Guernseys twice a day in a flat barn, is adamant about keeping the barn clean and has built a reputation for her cows being well cared for. She works hard to keep her somatic cell count under 200,000 and her bacteria count low.
After nearly nine years of working the dairy alone, however, she hired a morning milker last December to oversee the 5 a.m. shift, Monday–Friday, and recently purchased another 42 acres of land to raise heifers.
“As the only one here, I was lucky to get four hours of sleep before I had to get up and make my way to Joplin,” she says. “I had wanted to own my own dairy for so long that I was willing to sacrifice sleep.
“I’ve always wanted a dairy; I just couldn’t get started financially. But, there’s something about the Guernseys. I truly have a passion for them. I wish I had a passion for beef cows; it would be a lot easier, but I just don’t. I think the Guernseys just bring back the child in me. This is in my blood.”
Milking isn’t new for Williams. She was 8 years old when she started milking about 15 Guernseys beside her mother on their 300-acre farm in Renick, Mo., where her father raised row crops. By age 12, she was handling the evening milking alone. In the late 1970s, however, her father sold almost the entire herd due to the expense of upgrading the barn and kept only a few cows for milk and raising calves.
“My dad wanted to put the pasture and hay land into row crops because it was more profitable than milking cows,” Williams says. “I never quit wanting to milk Guernseys and longed for the day I could. I loved the cows and their disposition; they were always so easygoing. I never lost my passion for them, even when I left home, moved to Florida and started working at a nursing home facility there. I loved it so much that I even took on a part-time job as a relief milker for a local dairyman while I worked full time and went back to school to work toward a degree.”
Even after 15 years in Florida, Williams says the urge remained to start her own dairy. While there, she tried to start one up, but the local milk co-op said they would only pick milk up for a small producer if they were willing to pay an additional stop fee, as dairies in Florida had at least 150 cows. Williams says since she was only planning to milk 30 to 35 cows, the fee was not financially feasible.
“When I was offered my job in Joplin, I knew this was my chance,” she says. “I knew how to milk and care for cows; I just wasn’t sure how to get started. DFA was with me the entire time, and the support I received from my rep was amazing.”
Williams admits working a full-time job and managing the dairy leaves her no room for a social life, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If someone special eventually comes along, they better know how to fix their own dinner,” she laughs. “The cows, calves and everybody else eats before I do. I do this because I love it. Isn’t that why we’re in this industry? I love my Guernseys and can’t imagine doing anything else.”