And when a man’s business is dependent upon the activities of the animal kingdom, his plans are never a sure bet.
“It’s completely unpredictable,” said David Wright, owner of Wright Dairy in Alexandria. “I never know what I’m going to wake up to in the morning. There might be a cow with a breached delivery I’ve got to assist.”
Wright reopened his dairy Saturday morning for the first time since the end of June, when he closed it to perform repairs and maintenance. But many of the hundred or so customers who came through the door to his market Saturday couldn’t find what most expect to find at a dairy: milk.
Only 13 cows in Wright’s herd have calved in recent days, with 12 more overdue to give birth. With so few cows producing milk, Wright is yet to bottle his first gallon. But with customers running low on products like butter and cheese, Wright decided to open up to sell those products that have been curing while his shop has been closed.
Customers were in the market Saturday perusing Wright’s available wares.
Katye Keys of Hokes Bluff saw the sign for the dairy had returned as she drove by and stopped in to stock up on a variety of cheeses. “I love this place,” she said as she checked out. “I’ve been coming here for years.”
Many were told to return next week, by which time the dairy will likely have milk bottled and stocked.
Despite the delay in production, Wright Dairy is far from behind the normal milking season.
According to Keith Cummins, a professor in Auburn University’s Department of Animal Sciences in the College of Agriculture, peak milk production in the Southeast usually isn’t in full swing until mid-October or early November.
Wright generally has cows producing milk year-round, but he scheduled his herd to be dry during the summer, the ideal time for a dairy to shut down if there needs to be one.
“This is actually the first time that I have not been responsible for milking cows in close to 40 years,” said Wright, who took over his father’s operation in Ragland in 1973 before he opened his own dairy.
“It was pretty odd waking up in the morning and not having any cows to milk,” said Wright, 62. “It was actually a pretty good feeling.”
When the dairy is back up to full production, it will be bottling between 1,000 and 1,200 gallons of milk per week.
Wright said his operation is a little different than most because he handles it from the ground up. His herd mostly grazes, and he plants the grasses in his pastures, handles the cows and breeding operations, milks the herd, and processes the milk and other products all in one operation. He said he just planted 90 acres of annual rye grass for winter grazing, which will be the primary food source for his herd of about 90 milking cows and 90 heifers and calves.
“He’s innovative, trying to push the edges,” said Cummins. “He’s got one of the better managed herds in the state of Alabama … He’s pushing to be really, really good and really, really early. Something happened and he’s back a little bit.”