ATHENS (WAOW) -- Keith Poch starts his day at a quarter to six, feeding his 65 cows and spending hours on chores around the barn. His wife Nina works right beside him. Their day ends at seven at night.
Keith Poch says "We both put a lot of love into this and try to do the best job we can. You know you get addicted to it, and it's almost like your family a little bit."
They spend so much time with these cows. They've named every one of them. But the Poch's say the perk is they can be home with their two daughters.
Nina Poch says "Who can see their kids before they go to school and when they come home off the bus and the kids can come into our job anytime? In that way, we are very spoiled."
Family is the driving force behind Lake Breeze Dairy as well, but this farm boasts 3,000 cows. Financial Manager Brian Gerrits says his kids weren't interested in the lifestyle of a traditional farmer.
Gerrits says "They weren't interested in working 365 days a year and seven days a week, and quite honestly it was starting to wear on me as well, so we looked at doing something like this as a way to stay in the business that we're very passionate about and have a business that we can pass on to the next generation."
Five families joined forces to run this large-scale operation. As the financial manager, Gerrits spends most of his time in the office working a 7:30 – 5:00 p.m. schedule. Still, with 35 employees and a lot of high tech equipment, there are challenges.
Gerrits says, "If you don't do it right, you can be in a heap of trouble financially, so that's what we try to focus on here is being not only large scale, but operating at a very high level."
Employees prep the cows for milking. Then a machine does the work, sensing when the cow is done producing and detaching on its own. A transponder identifies the production and dietary needs of each cow.
"The milk weight is taken and that data is sent to the computer, and the computer has the ability to take cows and sort them out based on the milk weight," Gerrits says. "If there's a deviation from what her normal average would be, those cows would be sorted out so that our staff could look at those cows and make sure that they're okay."
Pregnant cows are also separated. Gerrits says about 15 calves are born each day on the farm. They're sent to a specialist who cares for them until they are old enough to come back and milk. Contrast that to the Poch farm, where 8-10 calves are born each month and kept on the farm the whole time.
"They're out here for two months," says Nina Poch. "Actually, they're on the bottle. Ours are on the bottle for one day. Then they go to the bucket. And then about the second day, they move out here, and this becomes their home."
The Poch's say their daily production is up from 74 to 90 pounds since they started a decade ago. Lake Breeze sends out 4-5 semi truck loads of milk per day. They say they're making money, and planning to open a second even larger dairy.
Gerrits says, "We have another generation of farmers that are here that want to move up the ladder and we have people that are at that skill level."
It's a stark difference that intrigues the Poch's.
"Expansion has come up. I think about it periodically," Keith Poch says. "It might make things easier. It adds debt and that's kind of why if it's just the two of us, we'll avoid it. We're on a goal with our debt of where we want to be."
They say if they were to make any changes, they'd consider milking their current cows more often. When it comes to dairy farming, the Poch's say size doesn't matter.
"What matters is the product that we're producing is safe," says Nina Poch. "It doesn't matter what size your farm is, you know? The milk just has to be safe."