**Republished with permission from Southeastern Holstein News**
Whispering Oaks Farm
Seth and Ruth Jamison and Family
Rocky Mount, VA
By Sue Puffenbarger
Running a family dairy is not an individual endeavor. It takes a community of dedicated people and a strong family to grow and prosper. Seth Jamison grew up on a dairy farm in Franklin County, VA. For a short time he left the family farm to work for another dairyman and then to work in construction. But in 2002, the call of the dairy was too strong to ignore. With the guidance from his father, Eugene, Seth began looking for a place to start a milking operation. Their search ended at the appropriately named Pleasant Breeze Dairy in Rocky Mount. Herschel Fike and wife Shirley, the owners of Pleasant Breeze, were ready to slow down and spend more time with their growing family of grandchildren. Jamison and Herschel worked out a leasing agreement, that would allow Fike to phase out, and Jamison to buy the herd to start his own dairy. It was a terrific opportunity for a young dairyman to start a herd without a huge up-front investment. In January of 2003, Seth and his wife Ruth moved into a house right next door to the dairy and Whispering Oaks Farm was born.
When Seth started with Herschel, Pleasant Breeze was home to 50 registered Holsteins. Herschel had quit classifying but kept registrations current and was choosing bulls primarily for production and type. The herd was milked in a three stall, side opening parlor and was given some grain during milking. The cows were housed in a closed-in pack barn. They were fed free choice hay and corn silage and used a magnet feeder for additional grain feeding.
Not long after he started milking at Pleasant Breeze, Seth began to make some changes. First, he focused on cow comfort. He opened up the barn to increase air flow and installed fans for cooling. He added a feed bunk cow cooling system with soakers on timers. Next he focused on feeding. He installed a TMR mixer and discontinued the use of the magnet feeder and stopped feeding grain in the parlor. Then he updated the parlor with a low line and automatic take offs. Seth then made improvements to the existing heifer facility to allow for smaller groups and a scrape and feed alley.
Seth wasn’t necessarily interested in registered cows when he got started and wasn’t sure if he wanted to deal with transferring the paperwork. His Dad encouraged him to keep the registrations going until he had time to consider if he should continue. Seth eventually decided to schedule his first classification. Seth is a very detailed oriented person and after the discussions he and classifier, Don Alexander had about the cows that day, he decided he enjoyed having discussions about each individual and deliberating on how each cow could be improved upon. This was right up his alley!
After a decade of milking cows at the Pleasant Breeze location, Seth learned that Herschel’s son wanted to return to the farm and start a beef herd. Once again, the timing was perfect. In 2012, Seth’s father was ready to exit the dairy business, giving Seth the opportunity to move his growing operation back home. The move enabled Seth to increase the size of his herd and take advantage of his dad’s more modern facilities. During the winter of 2012, The Jamison’s renovated the home farm, builing a new pack barn that would give each cow 100 square feet of space. Cow cooling was added at the feed bunk and improvements were made to the double six parlor. A close up and calving pen was added nearby, to observe cows more easily.
After the move, Seth began to expand the herd. He kept some cows that before he might have culled, and the herd grew from 50 to more than 80. Heifers are bred for the first time at 14 months and sexed semen is used for the first and/or second service. The herd as a whole is 100% AI. Cows are fed a TMR consisting of corn silage, alfalfa haylage, ground corn, roasted beans, liquid sugar and a mineral mix. Calves are fed milk replacer in an individual stall barn.
As with many “retired” dairy farmers, Seth’s parents still help out at the farm. His mom, Rebecca, milks a couple times a week and his Dad, Eugene, feeds the heifers and helps with the crop work. The Jamison children help feed the cows and calves. Ruth is the glue that binds the farm and family together. She can do everything on the farm and helps ensure things run smoothly. The entire dairy facility is set up to make it easy for all family members to handle cows and get them moved and fed.
Looking back, Seth notes it takes a lot of time to build good cow families with deep pedigrees. He talks to other successful breeders, walk through their herds, and discuss philosophies with them. Attending sales and seeing what pedigrees are valuable is important too. He gives credit to MJR Blackstar Emory for bringing in strength and production. He tries to build off that good foundation by selecting heavily for production, components and type; with udder composite being extremely important.
Though hesitant to implement genomic testing when it was first released, he now tests all heifers and makes breeding and culling decisions based on results. Top heifers and cows are flushed on a limited basis and lower genomic heifers are used as recipients. He feels that genomics allows him to be more discriminate and choose bulls that fit best with his breeding goals.
They have purchased a number of animals to breed from. Families such as Windsor Manor Rud Zip, Mattie G from Eastview, Windsor Manor RBN Ruby and the Barbie family to name a few. Consigned to the sale of stars is Whisper-o S-Sire Z-Myla, Supersire by VG-86 Million X Zip.
A few of the foundation cows from the Fike herd that that have made an impact on Whispering Oaks are:
Fikes Blitz Salley Vallie EX-90 3E 255,127 Lifetime
Whisper-o Dce Valie Beauty EX-91 2E 120,819 Lifetime
Whisper-o Colby Echo VG-88 103,648 3.9% fat 2.7% protein Lifetime
They have many descendants from the “Vallie” family in the herd today that produce and score well. There are daughters in the herd from this family by Gulf, Plato, Mogul, Laramee, Olegant and Pirate. The Colby is just fresh and her current test was 120 lb milk, 4.0% butterfat and 2.5% protein. Seth commented that he felt the Colby’s were ‘unsung heros’. At first he thought they weren’t what he was looking for and too course, but they keep getting better as they mature.
Pictured above is an Eskdale Magenta daughter, Whisper-o Magenta Annie-Red from Whisper-o Talent Avonlea EX-90 119,475 Lifetime. This family goes back to a pair of MJR Blackstar Emory daughters, one of which was VG-86 before they lost her in her third lactation, while the other went on to score EX-92 2E with 248,556 Lifetime. They still have several daughters in the herd from this family as well. Also pictured with Annie is the family (L to R): Joanna, Ruth-holding Ida, Janae, Trudy, Thad and Seth.
In the beginning, Seth would do nearly anything for a pound of milk. Now he operates more efficiently and considers costs per hundred weight produced and cost per pound of dry matter fed. He takes a special interest in genetics, but places strong emphasis on cow comfort and forage quality. He believes good production and good breeding is not luck. It occurs when the little things are done right, over and over again.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with and watching Seth and Ruth Jamison’s family and farm grow since it began back in 2002. When I visited the farm for this article, it was a reminder of how family and community can work together to create a lasting legacy of small family farms. I am, indeed, fortunate to have a career where I work with such enthusiastic and hardworking people. I am grateful they have allowed me to be a part of their lives.
Sue Puffenbarger is a National Account Sales Manager for the Eastern half of the US for Land O Lakes Animal Milk Products. She and her husband Mike live in Franklin County VA.