At the tender age of six, Lindsey Rucks fell in love with a big-eared, brown-eyed, Brown Swiss calf Stormy Rain, the only Swiss baby in a sea of Black and White animals at the farm. Incredibly stubborn, the calf refused to drink from a bottle but Lindsey, equally determined, would not give up. Together they forged a deep bond and Lindsey’s love for the Brown Swiss breed blossomed.
Now, Lindsey is the fourth generation to farm at the family farm, Milking R Dairy, which has been in the Rucks family since the 1930’s. Owned by Lindsey’s parents, Sutton & Kris Rucks, and along with her brother Garrett, they milk 1400 cows and farm 1200 acres in Okeechobee, FL, which is located right in between Miami and Orlando.
All of the Rucks’ have a tremendous love for the dairy business and are 100% hands-on at Milking R. Sutton is the main overseer of the business and “would rather deal with cows than people,” according to Lindsey. Kris takes care of all the bookkeeping and cow records and regularly fills in wherever she is needed. Garrett handles all the maintenance and crops, as well as managing the 1200-head beef cow herd. Lindsey looks after anything calf related from newborns to young stock, takes care of the transition cows and manages the herd health program. Lindsey’s fiancé, Buck Owen, whom she met three years ago at Expo, takes care of the reproduction and milk quality on the farm. An additional 20 people are employed in various capacities, many of which have worked at Milking R for over 10 years.
The herd at Milking R is predominately Holstein, but there are also 50 Brown Swiss cows and 100 crossbred animals. Lindsey’s first 4-H project was that stubborn Brown Swiss calf Stormy Rain and her admiration for the breed has continued to grow. In the early 2000’s, the Rucks’ were introduced to Wayne Sliker of Top Acres Swiss, and a cow was purchased with his prefix. In 2006, a partnership with New View Swiss was formed when Dr. Kenny Manion visited the farm and a young cow named R&S Vances Joan caught his eye. Joan moved to Ohio shortly after and was 2nd 4 Year Old and Best Udder at World Dairy Expo that year.
Genetics is Born
In 2008 Vances Joan again graced the colored shavings, this time claiming Grand and Reserve Supreme Champion of the Junior Show. “It was a huge moment for us,” says Lindsey, who fondly remembers watching her brother lead Joan to victory. That year Lindsey also purchased Kulp Terra TA Showgirl at the Midwest Revue Sale at the Ohio Spring Show. “My mom didn’t know I was bidding,” laughs Lindsey. “That money was supposed to be for college or a car!” The investment was a wise one, as many of Lindsey’s current show herd can be traced back to Showgirl.
Also, in 2008 the partnership of Dale and
Deanna Bendig, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, entered the equation. Dale and
Deanna milk approximately 60 head, half of which are boarded animals. “Dale and
Deanna came highly recommended,” says Lindsey. “They are an incredible team and
bring a lot to the table. What started as a business deal has turned into a
lifelong friendship and I completely trust them with the care of my animals.”
Due to her full schedule and responsibilities at home in Florida, Lindsey makes
four trips to Pennsylvania per year and travels to all the shows. “I’m busy at
home and they understand that,” says Lindsey. “Plus, its cold there! We are
always texting and snap chatting, so even though I’m not there all the time I’m
never out of the loop.” Both Dale and Deanna echo Lindsey’s confidence in their
partnership saying, “it’s a privilege to work with the quality of cattle
Lindsey has bred! She’s a class act to work with and definitely has a love for
the Brown cow.”
The RAD-ical Genetics show string attends four shows per year including the New York Spring Show, Maryland Brown Swiss Field Day, All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg and World Dairy Expo. Lindsey believes that it is important to participate at shows and continue to advertise to keep the RAD-ical name on people’s radar. “Repetition is key for getting your name out and having people make the connection between you and your cows,” she says. Showing cows is also important in the current situation of the industry according to Lindsey, “our industry needs something to get excited about right now. I’ve forgotten about the crappy milk prices while I’m at Expo looking at all these pretty cows of all breeds! Showing cows allows people to come together and focus on something positive.”
Building on Solid Foundations
Lindsey has built her herd from the foundation families of three Brown Swiss legends. Kulp Terra TA Showgirl EX-93 3E, purchased as a Fall Calf in 2008, is the daughter of Blessing PR Shirlan EX-93 3E. Sired by Turmoil, a Snickerdoodle son, Showgirl has a handful of top 10 finishes at Expo and All-American nominations to her credit. Showgirl was the dam of three animals in Lindsey’s Expo show string this year including RAD-ical Carrier Peep Show, 5th Fall Yearling, RAD-ical B Showbiz-ETV OCS, 8th Winter Yearling, and her current favorite RAD-ical Showring Ready-ETV, who was 1st Senior 3 Year Old, Best Udder in class and Honorable Mention Intermediate Champion. “It was a dream come true,” says Lindsey. “We’ve Bred & Owned class winners at Expo before but never bred a milking class winner, which has always been a goal of mine.”
The Bo-Joy Ensign Gredel EX-94 5E (EX-94 MS) family brought Lindsey Top Acres Pilot Gaiety OCS EX-92 2E. Gaiety is an HM All-American with three records over 30,000lbs of milk. She was Grand Champion at the Southeast National Brown Swiss Show in Louisville, Kentucky in 2010, and 1st Aged Cow in Harrisburg & Nominated All-American in 2011. Gaiety is also the granddam of RAD-ical Goliath Good Luck VG-89 (EX MS) who was 1st Senior 2 Year Old & Best Udder at this year’s Expo for owners, Terri Packard and Cindy Warner of Maryland.
Peach Kist Total Tango EX-91 (EX-92 MS max)
has been a regular in the RAD-ical show string in the past 2 years. Her
granddam is GS Ensign Tootie EX-94 3E, often a runner-up to Snickerdoodle, and
nominated All-American multiple times. In 2016, Tango Reserve Intermediate
Champion at the New York Spring Show and Honorable Mention Intermediate
Champion at Expo, earning her Reserve All-American Senior 2 Year Old honors. She
followed that up by capturing Intermediate and Grand Champion at the
All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg and Reserve Intermediate Champion at Expo
in 2017, and was Reserve All-American Senior 3 Year Old. Tango’s progeny
include a March 2017 daughter by Cadence and September 2017 daughters by
Another favorite, Top Acres Braiden Wiza is a daughter of Top Acres Supreme Wizard EX-95 2E, who comes from the famous Whizzbang family. In 2017 Wiza won the ‘triple crown’ for Lindsey with Junior Champion victories at the New York Spring Show, Harrisburg and World Dairy Expo. She made Expo history that year after winning Junior Champion when her mother, Wizard, claimed Grand Champion honors as well. Wiza is now VG-87 and has exciting September 2018 Carter calves on the ground.
Lindsey is a longtime admirer of Wayne Sliker’s Top Acres herd and appreciates the advice he’s given her over the years. “It has been an inspiration to witness the progress of Lindsey Rucks in the Brown Swiss breed,” says Wayne. “Starting as an ambitious junior member, she has now become a major competitor in the showring and an accomplished cattle breeder – always with a smile on her face!”
Dreams for the Future
World Dairy Expo has been home to a lot of memories for the Rucks’ family over the years and since their first trip to Expo in 2006 they have had All-American nominated animals each year. 2018 was no exception as Lindsey says it was fantastic to see two cows with the RAD-ical prefix pulled out in a lineup of four, for Intermediate Champion. “Bringing home two banners last year for Junior Champion and Reserve Intermediate Champion was an amazing moment for us,” says Lindsey, “but having milking class winners with the RAD-ical prefix has been the goal.” She admits that the ultimate dream is to breed an Expo Grand Champion and have more class winners along the way, as well as bringing out a string that is entirely home-bred. “I love Ken and Peter, but its sure nice to beat them once in a while,” Lindsey says with a smile of fellow Expo competitors, Ken Main & Peter Vail of Elite Dairy, New York.
In order to achieve her goals, Lindsey continues to make the mating decisions for her herd, with some advice from Dale and Deanna. Service sires like Carter, Wizdom, Tequila, Cadence and Winning Formula are used, as well also older bulls like Supreme, Braiden and Total, who have worked well on her cows in the past. Striving to find the right combination of sire stacks and bulls from proven cow families, Lindsey aims to keep the strength that the Brown Swiss breed is known for. “I want clean boned, wide-pinned, flat-rumped heifers that are stylish and turn into cows with high, wide rear udders that produce in the tank as well as the show ring,” says Lindsey.
Although she purchased a lot of genetics initially to build up the herd, outside purchases are rarer now. “I still make the odd exception because diversity is important,” says Lindsey. “There can be new opportunities with new cow families.” One of her more recent purchases was the 1st Milking Yearling at Expo this year, Round-Hill Braidn Wanita, who she owns with Jenna Hoffman.
Participation in a rigorous IVF program at Trans Ova in Maryland has also allowed Lindsey to advance her own genetics quickly. Recipients are sent up to Maryland and once they are confirmed pregnant, they head back to Florida to be raised on Milking R’s automatic calf feeders, a first in the state. Once calves are on the ground Lindsey decides what to consign to various sales and what will head to Pennsylvania to enter the show herd.
With her Swiss herd thriving in Pennsylvania, Lindsey continues to focus her attention on her family’s operation. “It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to continue our farm with my family. Seeing a calf born or a sick cow get back up again never gets old for me,” she says. At Milking R, plans are in the works to diversify the business by making ice cream and bottling their own milk, while continued emphasis is placed on cow comfort and “working for the cows, not the other way around!” Participation in the Fuel Up to Play 60 program and other initiatives to promote dairy products in Florida are a priority for the Rucks family as well.
Lindsey’s continued goal of breeding quality animals to grow the Brown Swiss breed, coupled with her family’s passion for dairying in Florida, is what drives the Rucks’ family legacy. This will definitely not be the last time we hear about Milking R and RAD-ical Genetics.
Location: Okeechobee, Florida
Milking: 1400 cows (1250 Holstein, 100 crossbred, 50 Brown Swiss), double 14 herringbone parlor, 2X milking and 80lb average, even in the heat of summer
Facility: 2 freestall barns, new transition barn (built 2015), calf barn (built 2014); everything sand bedded
Breeding Goals: small to mid-sized cows with high components, good F&L, emphasis on teat placement and teat length
Land: 1200 acres (corn silage, different haylages & grass varieties – whatever grows in a hot climate!), hay is purchased
Cows: TMR of corn silage & forages with added citrus bi-product (pulp from oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes depending on the season). Citrus adds natural sugar, reduces need for molasses and makes the ration smell good!
Dry Cows: TMR haylage, grass silage, pasture
Heifers: pasture, heifer ration, TMR haylage and grass silage
Close up cows: corn silage, hay & DCAD (to help reduce milk fever)
Calves: 12-15L of milk replacer fed with automated milk feeders, weaned at 52 days (Brown Swiss Calves wean at 90 days!)
- collaboration with the State of Florida built 100 acre reservoir – group of staging lagoons that are gravity supported so all the water on the farm is recycled for irrigation
- freestall facility is a flush barn
- members of feed mill (co-op) for bulk commodities to keep prices down
- have diversified the business by added a hauling company for feed, sand etc. – starting to produce their own ice cream with plans to bottle milk in the future
Fuel Up to Play 60
- National Campaign that partners with the NFL
- 18 Florida farms participating in the campaign in partnership with the Florida Dairy Farmers (FDF), the check-off program in Florida, which handles all the promotion of dairy products in the State
- Fuel Up to Play 60 encourages youth to consume nutrient-rich foods like dairy and achieve at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day
- program is in 70,000 schools nationwide (2/3of US schools)
- potential to reach up to 36 million kids
- combines the excitement of the NFL with challenges and rewards that inspire kids to get active and eat well
Written by Amanda Poelman, BC