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JVB Red Hot Jersey sale marks the end of iconic dairy farm
July 25, 2017

The VanBuskirk family, JVB Red Hot Jersey Farm, sold most of its herd July 15, marking the end of an iconic dairy farm in Monroe County.

There’s plenty of fresh-baled hay available for purchase this week after 180 milk cows and heifers at the JVB Red Hot Jersey farm were sold at auction Saturday, bringing an end to a remarkable long tradition for the Jim and Janet VanBuskirk family.

Virtually the entire herd of brown colored cows that produced scores of Supreme Milk Cow winners at the Monroe County Fair was eliminated after buyers from as far away as Indiana and Canada gobbled up the milking stock and heifers on the family farm off W. Sigler Rd.

The VanBuskirks’ children kept a few animals for 4-H showing, but the rest of the milking stock is gone after United Producers Inc. handled the big sale inside one of the farm’s barns.

“We got a lot of hay for sale,” David VanBuskirk, 47, said as he and his helper, Justin Vine, 18, of South Rockwood, milked about 80 of the sold cows for the last time. “We baled 7,000 pounds of hay this spring with more coming. I kept some cows that were not sellable. We’ll dry them up and use for show.”

He said he has been preparing to get out of dairy farming after the family decided in March to sell the herd. He has milked the cows twice a day since he was a youngster and knows each one personally by their registered number.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,” David said. “Of course, this has been our income, and I don’t have another job lined up yet. I have some options and I’ll be looking.”

His wife, Yvonne, was more anxious about the sale than he was. She is a substitute teacher and runs a dog-grooming business to help support their family of five. The couple have three children: Logan, 14; Jacob, 12, and Zackary, 10, all of whom show cows, pigs and steers.

“It’s going to be different,” Yvonne said. “We haven’t had a vacation in 16 years.”

Jim, 75, watched the sale from his scooter while his grandkids frolicked in the mow overhead where the hay is stored. He is the seventh generation to work on the farm that dates back to 1835, two years before Michigan became a state.

Like many of the retired farmers in the barn, he said it was not an easy decision to sell the herd.

“You can’t make any money,” he said. “Cows aren’t making anything these days.”

Frank Hawley, Jim’s grandfather, introduced milking to the family when he bought the first Jersey cows in 1929. For the past 88 years, the family has milked twice a day.

“I was 10-years-old when I started and got into 4-H,” Jim said.

Each cow was sold individually in the show ring, with Chuck Chestnut, the auctioneer for the annual junior livestock sale at the fair, working the ring.

The announcer, Russell Gammon, blared away the milking characteristics for each animal and auctioneer Paul Warner handled the bidding. Prices for the milking stock ranged from $1,000 to $2,450 or more as about 75 people in the barn watched. Jim said he was happy with the prices.

“I used to know these cows, but Dave milks them now,” he said.

Asked how hard it is to watch the herd being sold, he replied “somewhat. Some people don’t get to watch it.”

The cows bought by Canadian farmers will take longer to move because of blood tests that need to be taken before they can be shipped.

“It’s quite a process to take them across the border,” Jim said.

The VanBuskirks, who observed their 53rd wedding anniversary in February, have four grown children – Darlene (Kevin) Williams, Deanne (Drew) Buell, David (Yvonne) and Denise (Billy) Bondy. The sale was perhaps hardest on Deanne, who grew up milking cows, too, and taking care of the calves.

“It’s difficult,” she said with tears. “I’ve always been resistant to change. I started by taking care of the baby calves and didn’t start milking until I was 15… it’s hard work.”

She said her family is keeping eight milk cows plus the younger stock while her son, Stoney, a ninth grader at Dundee High School, continues showing in 4-H. The next three weeks will be busy for the Buell family because of showings at both the Lenawee and Monroe fairs and at the All-Michigan Dairy Show in East Lansing. Stoney also is wrestling competitively and will attend two-a-day practices for football this fall.

But just because the animals will no longer be raised on her parents’ farm, it “doesn’t mean we’re done,” she said.

The Buell’s other child — Skylar, a sophomore at Ohio State University — won several titles at the fair with her milk cows. She just returned from a week-long conference in Columbus, Ohio, for Jersey youth exhibitors from around the country. She is confident that Jerseys are making a comeback nationally.

“They are the more efficient breed because they take less feed to produce more fat and protein in milk,” Skylar, 19, said. “These are the components that the milking industry looks for. A lot of doors were opened for me this week.”

Tom Harvell, who grew up in Carleton and who grows grain for a living, said he had never attended a cattle auction on a farm. He said he couldn’t imagine the emotional stress the VanBurkirk family was experiencing.

“He’s milked these cows all his life,” Harvell said. “Cows are a lot of work.”

Several representatives from Calder Dairy in Carleton attended, including Rick Kleinow, who has worked at the dairy for more than 30 years. He said there aren’t many full-time dairy farms left in Monroe County.

“The only ones I know are John (Calder) and the ( Willy and Judy Sieler farm) in Dundee,” Kleinow said. “I don’t know anybody in their right mind who would buy cows and start milking.”

Bryan Reaume of Carleton also raised Holsteins and cross-bred cattle until last fall, when he began selling his herd of 85 milk cows and 85 heifers. That ended an 80-year milking tradition for three generations of his family. He still farms 800 acres and manages 105 steers.

“I really hate to see good farms like this go,” Reaume, 60, said. “I’ve known the VanBuskirks all our lives. Deanne and Darlene used to babysit our kids. Dairying is not profitable now. Five years ago, it was going real good when fuel and oil prices soared. But you knew it wouldn’t last. When you have to take money out of the bank to (make ends meet), you know it’s time.”



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