Soil Health Heroes - Andy Cooper
Andy Cooper is the seventh in our series of Profiles of Soil Health Heroes. Andy Cooper is unique in that he operates grass-base full-time dairy. That is the cows meet most of their daily needs by grazing instead of intensive feeding of silage and hay. The Cooper Dairy is in Cannon County, near Morrison, Tennessee. Andy is the son of Mr. Ray Cooper (No-Hay Ray).
I believe it is essential to share the history of Mr. Ray in order to appreciate the evolution of rotational grazing to the present day dairy farm. The farm was recognized as a Century Farm in 2002. Although Mr. Ray's father milked cows, Mr. Ray never operated a dairy. The farm was operated as a cash-grain farm in the 1960s along with about 40 beef cows. Mr. Ray was one of the early adopters of no-till, late 1960s. In the 1980s, he transitioned to beef cattle enterprise. He sowed most fields to permanent pasture and hay with some wheat. Like most beef-cattle farmers, he fenced his fields and bought hay harvesting equipment, including disk mower, tedder, and round baler. The farm was predominantly in wheat, Kentucky-31 fescue, and orchard grass. He produced 400 - 600 round bales of hay per year. The farm is approximately 300 acres with 264 acres of grass (pre-dairy). He managed about 120-cow herd.
Mr. Ray constantly evaluated his operation and was noticing that major input costs were in hay production and harvesting. Mr. Cooper is known to try new things and open to change. He once said change comes upon us, and we as humans are resistant to change. Ray believed that we need not be afraid of change. With that attitude, he took a 25-gallon portable tank, some poly wire and couplers and began seeing what he could do on 5-10 acres. This is a lesson on any changing management practice, start off small, and master it before expanding. Mr. Ray kept looking at decreasing profits from higher input costs from hay. He was always reading and looking for new ideas. He came upon Jim Garrish, former Director of University of Missouri Forage Research Center. With his research and better technology in electrical fencing, he kept increasing his acres in rotational grazing.