Andy CooperMorrison, TN
Cannon County Soil Conservation District
Andy Cooper runs his grass-based, full-time century dairy farm, Cooper Diary, in Morrison, Tenn. Although Andy’s grandfather milked cows, Andy’s father Ray never operated a dairy. Instead, he was one of the early adopters of no-till on his grain operation in the late 1960s and had transitioned to beef cattle by the 1980s.
Cooper graduated from Middle Tennessee University in 1998 with a major in finance. He became a mortgage broker and opened his own title company. However, he always enjoyed life on the farm and loved watching his dad make advancements in grazing research. He began researching to shift his father’s beef herd to dairy and, in 2008 when real estate and dairy markets were both down, he began to transition the farm. When the dairy industry crashed the next year, he went to the bank and financed his swing-12 parlor and Jersey cows.
With his operation, Cooper can milk 150 cows in an hour and a half. His barn is scrapped daily to a 16,000-gallon waste water pit, which is pumped once a month through a portable Irripod system. Fescue grows around the barn, absorbing any nutrients that might not be collected in his pit. Through working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Cooper installed cattle lanes to safety transfer his cattle to their pastures without any resource degradation.
Andy knows, just as his father taught him, that a full-time grazing system needs to be focused on smaller cows instead of typical Holstein cows, which are heavier and dominant in the traditional commercial dairy industry. His cows average around 800 pounds which, he says, allow for easier milk production.
While the cows harvest the forage themselves, they do receive daily supplements of soybean hulls, hominy and cotton seed. Cooper categorizes his grazing into six ‘grazing seasons’ to make it more conducive to producing milk. His cows graze cereal rye in the early spring, fescue later in the spring, sorghum-sudex in the summer, oats in early fall, cereal rye and stockpiled fescue in the late fall, and stockpiled fescue in the winter.
He routinely rotates his herd and has diversity within his ‘grazing seasons’ to assure good root growth, preserve soil carbon, and distribute manure. Cooper spends a lot of time with his cows, saying, “happy cows give lots of milk.” His happy cows have, in turn, made him a happy farmer.
Updated August 2019.