Farm Talk

June 4, 2013

Fort Scott dairy leader optimistic about future

by Frank J. Buchman

Parsons, Kansas — “There are a lot of exciting things on the forefront of the dairy industry.

“We are promoting new things to increase healthy eating habits for children through the ‘Fuel Up to Play 60’ program with the National Football League and fast food chains to incorporate milk and dairy products in diets.

“Sales to third world countries look promising to expand. So, milk price potential is bright, and the future will be there for those who milk cows. Yet, there will likely always be tight profit margins to contend with.”

Contagious optimism was apparent as Lynda Davis Foster talked about her activities with the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board.

While her partners, husband Gary and son David, were planting corn, it was noon before Foster had time in her busy life as a dairy farmer to share thoughts about their livelihood, and the industry she serves so tirelessly.

Milking cows comes first at the Fort Scott farm, and Foster gets her fair share of those duties, although she’s considered a “relief milker,” not obligated all times, but generally available.

Her main “duty” is management of “everything,” from cow milking, rations, health, production and breeding to detailed records.

Besides the national board, Foster has served close to a dozen other dairy groups, such as: Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas Dairy Association, Kansas Dairy Marketing Advisory Board, the Kansas Holstein Association Board, Midwest Dairy Association, etc.

Additionally, Foster is a 4-H leader and superintendent of the dairy show at the Bourbon County Fair, which carries a special significance to her heart as well.

Foster was recently announced Kansas’ Dairy Leader of the Year. She’s the first women to earn that distinguished title, and doesn’t take it lightly. During the award acceptance, Foster lost her composure when talking about what it meant to her to have her portrait on the wall at Call Hall, where she’d studied dairy science at Kansas State University three-and-half-decades earlier.

From a dairy family, Foster’s parents, Conrad and Beverly Davis, were in a three-way partnership, with her grandparents, William E. and Florence Davis, and her Uncle Don and Aunt Kay Davis.

“My job was feeding the calves and helping gather the cows on horseback. I really didn’t get into milking duties until I got older,” Foster reminisced.

Active in 4-H, Foster actually started out showing beef cattle.

“There was always a large dairy cattle show, with some of the best cows of just about every breed represented.”

“We had dairy cattle at home, so I just decided to show them as well as beef,” reflected Foster.

After attending Fort Scott Junior College, Foster transferred to K-State, undecided on her major: “mathematics, music or dairy.”

“When my grandfather passed away, Uncle Don got a job away from the farm, and there was an opportunity to return home to milk cows, so I majored in dairy production,” she said.

Highlights of those two years included being on the K-State Dairy Judging Team, coached by department head C.L. Norton, credited by Foster as another lifetime inspiration.

However, most important of her KSU days turned out being the mechanical engineering student next door. “Gary came to work at the farm one summer, and we were married the following year,” Foster smiled.

Following their graduations in 1977, the couple returned to the farm to milk cows. “We actually calved out 100 heifers and started milking, January 1978, in an old stanchion barn. That just wasn’t adequate, so we had a new double-six herringbone barn built and in operation a year later,” she said.

The grade-A dairy features commercial Holsteins with complete lineage and detailed Dairy Herd Improvement Association records. Presently 150 cows, both milking and dry, are in the herd.

The Fosters’ sons David and Adam grew up involved in the dairy operation, and both have now graduated from K-State. “Adam taught ag a few years, but now works near Kansas City, while David is a partner on the farm,” Foster added.

“There are four in our work force. Rachel Sutterby is the most loyal employee, helping with milking all of the time. She does a wonderful job,” credited Foster. David’s wife, Addi, and their three daughters, six and under, are a major asset, too.

“Thirty-six years ago, our top cow gave 75 pounds of milk, and we thought ‘wow,’ how can we beat that? Today, we have had a cow produce 158 pounds in a day, and the herd average is 73 pounds.

“Feed quality, weather conditions and other limiting factors affect milk production, but the future will continue to be bright. With our sons and grandchildren, I expect this dairy operation to go into the fifth generation,” she concluded. £