The Butler Family

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Ben and April Butler are the Secretary Couple for the 2017 Young Cooperator Advisory Council, as well as members of Southeast Milk Inc. The Butler family has been dairy farming for more than 80 years. Today, the operation exists in Highlands County, 70 miles south of Orlando and 70 miles from either coast, directly on the Kissimmee River. Ben’s parents, Robert and Pam, own Butler Oaks Farm. For the past 12 years, Ben has served as a manager alongside his younger brother Will. They manage the 1,100 cow milking herd, which is housed in a free-stall management system. Butler Oaks milks mainly Holstein cows, with a few Brown Swiss and Jersey-Crosses. Along with raising all replacement heifers on site; we grow all of our forage needs. The family also has a beef cow calf operation.

Butler Oaks has undertaken seven major environmental projects to control the phosphorus and other nutrients on their farm. Today, all the water on the farm is collected and treated or reused.

What do you like the most – and the least – about working as a dairy farmer?

What we like the most is working everyday with my parents and brother, teaching our daughter what was passed onto me: that the employees, farmers and the cows are the life blood of this industry; to be proud of the nutritious product we provide to our community and country; and the pride of seeing our finished product in the store.

What we like the least is the fact that the importance of milk to human nutrition is way under appreciated. To constantly have to prove yourself and actions to fact-less and crude criticism is exhausting. Don’t get us wrong: We don’t have a problem with critics, they challenge you to be more responsible and efficient, but constantly having to prove yourself against wrong information is disheartening. Those groups and people just bring down the good people in this industry for their own gain. Most of the general population does not understand the 24/7 operation that takes place to produce just 1 gallon of milk.

Also, while it’s nice to raise Hannah on the dairy, it is 24/7 operation, so there comes a time when we miss school functions, family time and everyday happenings. Therefore, we have learned to make farm time, family time. We love to RV, so a lot of times we staycation on the farm. We camp in the RV, build bonfires, roast marshmallows, shoot skeet, ride around in the jeep and hang with our friends and family. It makes it feel like we are away, but we never leave the dairy.

Describe how the work on the farm is shared or divided up in your family?

My parents, Will and I make up the management team. I primarily manage the adult cows, as well as milking, reproduction, nutrition and environmental compliance. I also directly lead the employees. Mom manages the finances and Will manages the forage and heifers. Dad is the daily confident, advisor and motivator, not to mention the best cowhand and equipment operator on the farm.

April and my sister-in-law Lauren both have day jobs outside of the farm, but are constantly helping in the community and agriculture industry, including volunteering, judging and speaking. They are always available for work on the farm on nights and weekends.

How do you think your farm’s business plan will change 10 years from now?

We hope to be farming on the same land and growing the herd to remain relative and profitable, but more importantly, to be active in the industry, guiding and directing the direction of it and mentoring those just starting out. Goals are important, but they are only as good as the actual work put into them.

During those days when things aren’t going well, what do you do to keep a positive attitude?

It takes a lot to get me down. After kicking a bucket or two, I always turn to my dad. Dad has been dairy farming for a long time, so he always knows what to do and say. Then I look for guidance from my wife, my brother, my mom and prayer. I do my best to make the right decision for our dairy, the industry, our employees and our families. Getting into the truck, driving and listening to some classic rock or old country music provides me with my thinking, strategizing and planning time.

What would you be doing if you were not a dairy farmer?

We would be helping others to better themselves or accomplish their goals, like supporting other dairy farmers at the university level through teaching, extension and research. We could also work with policy makers to advocate for farmers. The population needs to understand that the dairy industry is full of good people doing their best to provide nutritious products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Dairy farmers are everyday individuals who love their families and those who receive their good, healthy, nutritious milk. It’s truly a labor of love. 

We will always support our FFA and 4-H youth. Without those programs, we would not be the people we are today.