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New dairy operation to be built in the area

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

(Photo)
Peter Gaul, chief executive of the Tiller-Cohen dairy farm being established near Matthews, indicatees where the milking parlor is slated to be erected.
SIKESTON -- After a long absence, dairy farming is returning to this area.

This dairy operation will be somewhat different than many people might expect, however, according to Peter Gaul, chief executive of the Tiller investment group and the coming Tiller-Cohen Farm.

The Tiller-Cohen dairy farm will consist of 965 acres located a mile east of Interstate 55's Matthews interchange.

"The plan is to develop a pasture-based dairy that is self-sufficient," Gaul said. "The cows will be in pasture 24-hours a day except when in the parlor for milking. That means we don't have a requirement for loafing barns or feeding barns. This is not a confinement dairy which is what most people picture when they think of a dairy farm. One of the implications of that is that we won't have a large reservoir of manure. The cows spread this themselves by being in the field almost all of the time."

The plan also includes planting trees, he noted.

"We want to create a really attractive environment. We want to be good stewards of the land and good neighbors," he said. "That is really important to us."

The dairy farming system will "revolve around rotational grazing of pastures," Gaul said. He explained groups of dairy cows, after grazing for a period of time in one area of the farm, will be moved to another area of the pasture while the grazed areas grow back again over several weeks.

Milking will go on year-round, but mostly in the spring, summer and fall seasons.

"We we won't milk many cows through the winters," Gaul said. "Dry" cows that are not producing milk will be wintered and raised elsewhere, he said.

"This farming model is currently practiced by hundreds of farmers throughout the United States -- it's not new, it's new here down here," Gaul said. "What is new is the scale and also pasture under irrigation."

On average, similar dairy farms in Missouri typically have well under 100 cows, Gaul said.

"We're looking at establishing a 700-cow unit here initially," he said. "This location was chosen because it has higher land, well above the water table, similar to other properties on the Sikeston ridge that continue to run cattle."

Other attributes of this area which made Tiller decide to locate the operation here include "suitable climate, soils and water that will support this farming system," Gaul said. "Another attraction to this area was the availability of alternative feeds, crops and byproducts."

Cottonseed, for example, is a great feed for cattle, he said.

"This is a fabulous area for grains and these things," Gaul said. "This will complement cattle farming and pasture, which will remain the key ingredient in their diet."

Gaul said Tiller's intention is to have locals employed in both the development and the operation of the plant, Gaul said. "Because this is a new innovation to the area, we are using experienced people for the development and construction working alongside locals," he said.

The experienced personnel are from New Zealand, Gaul's home before moving to Dexter earlier this year. Following a transitional period, once the plant is up and running there will be about six to eight full-time positions along with occasional part-time jobs available. "We anticipate this farm will be fully staffed by locals," Gaul said.

Currently construction crews are putting up perimeter fencing. Plans are to break ground in October for the few buildings that will be located there -- a milking parlor and barns for storing equipment and feed and for raising calves.

Gaul said they intend to milk a small number of cows this winter to test and troubleshoot the system before going into full production in the spring.

The University of Missouri specialists and Extension support personnel "have been tremendous to work with," Gaul added, as they have an interest in irrigated pastures and seeing dairy farming reintroduced to this area.

The Tiller Cohen Farm is a U.S.-based limited partnership with a mixture of U.S. and overseas investors, according to Gaul, with most of the U.S. investors being from this immediate area.