The Graft Family - Southeast Area

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The Graft Family keeps their cows comfortable and their land healthy

As a young kid, Adam Graft looked forward to the summers and vacations he got to spend on his grandfather’s small dairy farm in northwestern Ohio.

“Like most kids, my grandpa is my role model,” Adam says. “My favorite part about growing up was going to help grandpa on his farm.”

When he visited, Adam would help feed the calves and milk the cows. His grandpa also liked to keep a heifer for Adam and his brother to show in competitions at local livestock shows, which Adam says he has many fond memories of.

Spending time with his grandpa’s 60 Holstein cows sparked a dream and a career path for Adam. After completing his doctor of veterinary medicine degree at the University of Georgia, Adam moved west.

For four years, he worked as a veterinarian on dairy farms in the heart of California. As he spent his days working with dairy farmers and the cows he loves, he always had a dream in the back of his mind. In 2004, he moved to Georgia to finally build it: his own dairy farm, Leatherbrook Holsteins, named after his grandpa’s certified name for his registered purebred cattle.
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Chasing a dairy dream

Adam leased two different facilities before landing the 100-acre plot Leatherbrook Holsteins now sits on. While building his dairy farm from the ground up, Adam also began building a family with his wife, Jane, who grew up in the dairy industry as well. Together, they have four children, Lee, 16; Reese, 14; Emmie, 12; and James, 10.

Adam began with a single employee and has achieved success by taking a slow and steady approach to expanding the farm. He incrementally made investments and changes, all while being mindful of his cows and the land.

Adam Graft

All farm decisions are made with the environment and cow comfort as our top priorities. Every investment directly supports our cows.
“All farm decisions are made with the environment and cow comfort as our top priorities,” Adam says. “Every investment directly supports our cows. We want to minimize the effects of our hot Georgia summers and take care of the land for generations of cows and owners to come.”
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Innovation in infrastructure

Each barn, shed and office at Leatherbrook Holsteins has been thoughtfully built. With the outlook of a CEO, Adam ensures every investment — even sheds and office buildings — contributes to the business strategy.

When Adam started the dairy, he built freestall barns to house the cows, so they can roam as they please. Decked out with fans, misters and sand beds, the barn keeps the girls clean and cool, even in the heat and dense humidity of Georgia summers.

In 2017, Adam built the first totally enclosed feed center, also known as a commodity shed, in the southeastern region of the United States.

“Our feed center, which is kind of like the cows’ kitchen, is where we store all our forages and mix feed for the cows,” Adam says. “In addition to the corn and triticale grown on the farm, we also utilize local by-products to recycle food that humans are not able to consume, but cows can.”

Wet brew from a local brewery, cottonseed, soybean and canola meal, and fine pieces of straw are just a few by-products Leatherbrook Holsteins recycles from local manufacturers. The by-products are mixed into the cows’ feed for them to enjoy.

In addition to the feed center, new calf barns and pens have replaced traditional calf huts. They allow the calves to have nose-to-nose contact with one another on all sides of their pens, so they feel connected. As herd animals, cows love to spend time with their friends.

The newest addition to Leatherbrook Holsteins is for the dairy’s new additions. The new barn, deemed “the maternity ward,” for expecting cows and their newborn calves, will soon be ready for use.

Leatherbrook Holsteins’ primary milking parlor is a rotary, also called a cow carousel. It milks 80 cows at a time and allows five employees to milk 3,000 cows in a 24-hour cycle. The previous parlor used to need three workers to milk 1,000 cows each day.
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Reusing and recycling on the farm

In addition to providing clean, comfortable spaces for his cows, Adam also prioritizes taking care of his land and the environment. Recycling sand, water and manure makes an incredible impact on the farm’s bottom line and its resources.
Starting in the barn, water and sand are critical resources used to keep the dairy cows cool and comfortable. Cows make a higher volume and quality of milk when they are laying down on beds of soft sand. But buying new sand after barns are flushed clean with water can become expensive and wasteful.
A few times a day, water from the dairy’s lagoon flushes the sand and manure out of the barns and into a sand lane. Here, the sand naturally separates itself from the manure and water and is scooped into piles to be dried and reused for the cows’ sand beds.
After the sand leaves the water, the water and manure continue down the lane and are separated as the manure is pumped into a methane digester. For years, having a methane digester at Leatherbrook Holsteins was a dream for Adam. In 2020, he partnered with Dominion Energy and Vanguard Renewables to bring the dream to life. Dominion Energy and Vanguard Renewables partner to develop natural gas facilities that utilize dairy waste. 

A methane digester, also referred to as an anaerobic digester, captures methane, a potent greenhouse gas created in manure, and turns it into renewable natural gas — a favorable alternative to nonrenewable natural gas typically pumped from the ground.
“This allows us to turn a large volume of manure into a resource that benefits the environment,” Adam says. “That is obviously a huge win for us and for the Earth, but the digester also helps with odor control, which makes for a smaller footprint and better-smelling air.”
And lastly, water is recycled throughout the farm for various needs. Fresh water is first used in the milking parlor to cool the milk after it is pumped from the cows. That water is then pumped to the barns to be sprayed through soakers to keep the cows cool along with the large fans.

Including the water used from the lagoon to clean out the cows’ stalls, the same drops of water are used several times before irrigating their crops and beginning the water recycling process all over again.
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A dairy farm to be proud of

Looking back on the days of watching his grandpa milk a few cows on his small dairy farm, Adam is amazed at how his dairy has grown over the past 19 years.

“I am most proud of the overall cow comfort we have,” Adam says. “We have great sand-bedded barns and fans and soakers keeping the cows cool to make sure the hot Georgia summers don’t feel so hot.”

“But I am also proud that we’ve been able to grow our land base and become self-sufficient growing most of our own forages in an incredibly sustainable way,” he says. “We have a lot to be proud of.”