“We have in Tennessee a large presence in processing. We have the largest ice cream plant in the world in Covington, Tenn. ... We have one of the largest yogurt companies in the world in Nashville,” Davis said.
Davis got into the dairy business to supplement his income as a teacher in Philadelphia.
“The dairy industry in Tennessee has really changed over the last few years,” said Davis, who is president of the Tennessee Dairy Association.
In the 1950s, there were thousands of dairy farms in Tennessee.
“Everybody made their living by milking a few cows and grew some tobacco,” Davis said. “Today there are 383 (dairy farms).”
Today, Davis works full-time in the dairy business. His farm, Davis Brothers, milks cows three times a day.
Davis said each cow produces 7 to 8 percent more milk by the farm milking three times a day.
“It has really become a family operation,” Davis said.
His daughters have both graduated from Virginia Tech and gotten jobs in the dairy industry.
His oldest daughter and her husband work at the Davis farm, which has about 10 employees.
Some may see working on a dairy farm as low-paying work, but “all my guys are making at least $27,000 a year,” Davis said.
At Davis Brothers, the emphasis is on taking good care of the cows, he said. Each cow has a sand-bedded stall with a fan making sure they stay cool. The feed given the cows is inspected by a nutritionist twice a month.
“We keep records on everything. A cow coughs, we know it,” Davis said.
The farm also follows a nutrient plan and specific governmental guidelines. These regulations include ensuring that rain or other runoff does not leave the property.
“We are environmentalists,” Davis said. “If I don’t take care of my land, it’s not going to take care of me.”
Cows at the farm are not fed hormones. Milk does not contain antibiotics. However, Davis said there is a hormone in milk that is naturally produced in a cow.
“Milk is the most regulated product on the grocery shelf,” Davis said.
He said the milk is tested for any harmful substance. If milk tests positive for anything that shouldn’t be there, it is rejected by the processor and returned to the farm.
Davis said it is illegal in Tennessee to sell raw milk. While some in the dairy industry may be in favor of raw milk, Davis said “there is a big risk” of someone getting sick.
Milk is very nutritious because of the vitamins and minerals it contains, Davis said. He said many have been turned off to milk because of the fat content.
“The USDA makes us say milk is 2 percent, but if it were any other product it would be [labeled as] ‘98 percent fat free,’” Davis said. “They’ve taken all the fat out of the milk and kids are hungry, so they are eating even more calories and they are obese ... if they would just leave things alone and provide a good product for kids, the problem would take care of itself.”