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Producing Excellence

Terry Bishop

Denton, TN

Products: Organic dairy, pullets

Size of Operation: 400 head, 60,000 pullets, 185 acres

In Business Since: 1983

Farm Credit Partner: River Valley Ag Credit

Working with Farm Credit Since: 1998

It takes a lot of capital to get started in dairy farming, the equipment, the facilities and the cows themselves all carrying a price tag. Terry Bishop and his wife, Jennifer, have effectively done it twice over, once in the 1980s when they established a conventional dairy, and again in 2006 when they made the transition to running an organic dairy operation.

“We transitioned our farm to organic and we sold off all our animals,” Terry says. “Then we bought certified organic cows.” Their dairy herd now counts 400 head, including 200 milking cows and 200 heifers.

While Terry and Jennifer themselves join a growing number of consumers who see a health benefit in eating organic foods, the primary reason for their decision to essentially start over was business-driven - prices for the milk their operation produced. “Conventional dairying had been a roller coaster in terms of profitability, and we could go from making money to losing money in the same year,” Terry says. Going organic offers stable prices through annual contracts that guarantee price levels.

Both of the Bishop’s dairy operations were financed by Farm Credit, as is their newest improvement, an automated milking system that lets the cows decide when they’re ready to be milked. When each cow has a full udder, it will visit the robotic milking parlor where it will also receive enhanced feed as a reward and a supplement to the pasturage and other feed. Microchips embedded in the cows and tied to a powerful database system will provide extensive production information that will also help them monitor each cow’s health. That’s an important consideration, especially for this veterinarian who first got into farming after spending time caring for other producers’ farm animals. Terry still runs a veterinarian clinic for small animals, and of course cares for his own animals.

The dairy side of the Bishop’s operation is supplemented by their poultry operation, which consists of 60,000 pullets – hens that have never laid an egg – raised in three poultry houses. They receive the birds just after they hatch and care for them for just over five months before sending them on to a laying operation where they’ll start producing eggs.

Building a successful, diversified operation takes commitment and determination, Terry says. “It’s a lot of hard work and long hours without a lot of profit. If you don’t love it, you wouldn’t do it.”

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