A sign near the entrance of Payton Farms tells a lot about the people who own and operate the dairy near Collinsville in Dekalb County. It reads “Payton Farms: Christ Owned and Christian Managed.”For Alan and Mandora Payton, this year’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in the dairy division, those words are indicative of their Christian faith and work ethic. With low milk prices and increased production costs, it takes a lot of faith to run a dairy, Alan said.”I wish milk prices were better, but I like that we are able to work together and spend time with the kids,” Alan said. “Mandora gets to stay home with the children when she’s not out helping me. I love animals, and I like being my own boss. It is a wonderful life and a great way to raise a family.”And Alan, 27, should know. He grew up on the farm that he and Mandora, 22, now operate with his parents, Thomas and Diane Payton who live nearby. But marrying a farmer and moving to the country was a new experience for Mandora.”I grew up in Fort Payne and never really thought about marrying a farmer,” Mandora said. “Alan is really the first farmer my age I had ever met. When we started dating, it was pretty rough on him. He’d get home about midnight from a date with me and then have to get up and milk at 3 a.m. I’m sure it’s easier on him now that we’re married.”The Paytons’ children enjoy farm living, too. That’s evident by the tractors that their son, Ethan Alan, age 2, claims are his favorite toys. Their youngest son, Avery Lane, was born July 25, and it won’t be long before he’s out working in the field, according to Alan.”When Ethan was just two weeks old, I strapped the baby carrier into the cab of the tractor, and Mandora helped me bale hay,” Alan recalled, adding that riding the tractor with him is one of Ethan’s favorite past times.Mandora helps by mowing pastures, baling hay, feeding calves and working in the couple’s six broiler houses. Alan’s mother, Diane, helps keep the children when the jobs won’t allow the youngsters to tag along.”But if there is any way we can take them with us, we do,” Mandora said. “Some people probably think it’s crazy, but they’re happy, and we get to spend more time together as a family.”The Paytons milk 95 Holstein cows twice each day. They also have about 20 dry cows and 20 heifers that were scheduled to calve in late September. The farm’s average milk production is down right now, somewhere in the neighborhood of 46 pounds per cow, namely because of the summer heat, Alan said.”We hope to get our herd back up to about 150 head of cows,” he said. “All of the cows on our farm are raised here, and that allows us to keep good records of milk production and genetic traits.”All the mature cows are bred using artificial insemination while only the heifers are bred naturally. The Paytons use a computerized feeding system that includes a responder that is attached to each cow’s neck. Individual records are kept on the amount of milk each cow produces, and using a chart from Auburn University, each cow’s feed is adjusted accordingly, Alan said.To increase efficiency in their dairy operation, the Paytons also are members of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association where they weigh and test each cow’s milk and check the butterfat and protein. They tag all the heifers and keep track of them throughout their lives on the Payton’s 850-acre farm.The broiler houses were added to the farm in 1997, and the litter has nearly doubled the farm’s hay crop, Alan said. Instead of planting silage and grain sorghum, they focus on growing the best forage, he said. Their cows also are fed a pelleted feed ration.”Feeding silage did increase our milk production, but it wasn’t enough to offset the costs,” Alan said. “We opted to have the lower milk production, but we also got the reduced input costs, so we ended up ahead.”The Paytons say they gain a lot by being members of the Young Farmers Division. Alan serves on the county board and formerly served as vice president, while Mandora is the Dekalb County Young Farmers’ secretary.”I like going to meetings and getting to know other young farmers like us,” Mandora said. “We’ve made a lot of good friends through the Young Farmers.”Alan agreed, adding that even though he’s the only young dairyman in the county, they do share a lot of common interests and concerns with other young farmers.
Outstanding Young Farm Family – Dairy Division