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1206 PD: Jim and Laura Lee Albers of Covenant Dairy

Brandon Covey Published on 11 December 2006

Jim and Laura Lee Albers decided to leave the hustle and bustle of Chino, California, in September 2005. Their move to the west Texas town of Dalhart made Covenant Dairy a pioneer in one of the fastest-growing dairy regions in the nation.

Currently, the dairy milks nearly 2,000 cows and is working toward reaching its capacity of 2,400 cows milked three times a day in the dairy’s 72-stall rotary parlor.

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Jim takes great pride in the genetics of his herd. He oversees mating (100 percent A.I.), uses top bulls and keeps about 250 registered animals. Facilities are set up for Holsteins, but there are also a few crosses.

Heifers are raised off site but locally, and on-site corrals have been discussed. The herd is 73 percent first-lactation cows. (Their goal is 40 percent.) They are grouped by age and stage of lactation and are housed on open lots with straw and shades for cow comfort. The dairy’s state-of-the-art maternity barn is manned 24 hours a day, where precise records (including a calving ease score) has helped push the dairy’s death loss under three percent. The dairy does not tolerate yelling at or hitting cows.

“The herd represents the way we treat them,” Jim says.

Corrals at the dairy are scraped, and lanes are vacuumed. The dairy runs manure through a separator, and it is used on local farm ground.

Jim says that one of the dairy’s biggest struggles has been rapid employee turnover. He says it’s a common problem with dairies in their rookie year and expects his turnover to decrease soon. At present, the dairy has 24 employees. However, the farm’s manager isn’t even on payroll.

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“His name is Jesus Christ, and He’s on-call 24-7,” Jim says.

In fact, the dairy’s mission statement is: “To produce large volumes of high-quality milk in the most efficient manner possible while glorifying Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, Christian music is played for cows and milkers 24 hours a day.

The dairy’s name was inspired by Exodus 34:10: “And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD.’”

Jim and Laura Lee both grew up in Christian homes. They have three children, and they say they allow Jesus to guide them daily. Adrianne is a freshman at Oral Roberts University. Josh is a junior in high school and enjoys working on the dairy, hunting and playing drums for the family’s church; he plans to build an adjoining dairy in the near future. Katelyn the president of the freshman class at her high school and enjoys cheerleading, volleyball and playing piano. Laura Lee’s parents, Harry and Phyllis Geith, also are active on the dairy. Harry does the temping and treating of fresh cows; Phyllis is the office manager, where she treats others to breakfast and shares The Word with anyone she can.

Shortly after their move, Jim began searching and praying for just the right herdsman; they were blessed with the addition of Nelson Machado, who had also came from California. Nelson and his wife, Lisa Marie, also have three children: Isaiah, 6; Raquel, 4; and Isaac, 2. They have another on the way.

Nelson also has seen the Holy Spirit moving on the dairy. Being in charge of all employees, he has seen six come to the Lord (and two later got married). He can’t hide his joy when he talks about overhearing employees witnessing to each other. Each of his monthly safety meetings is opened with prayer, and he’s working on starting a monthly Bible study group on the dairy. Nelson’s passionate attitude also spills over to the business side of things. He’s quick to notice the slightest changes and improvements in employee and cow performance.

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Both Jim and Nelson make it a point to know employees’ names and care for them. All get Christmas gifts and a bonus. This year, they are planning a Christmas party with the families.

Jim likes to tell the story about what happened late one night when some cows got out. He and his son, Josh, started trying to round them up at about 1:30 a.m. Though their efforts couldn’t have been seen from the road, an unfamiliar pick-up truck pulled in and began herding and shining lights exactly where needed. Then, without having to ask, the driver of the vehicle knew when the task was complete and left. When they got back home, Laura Lee wasn’t too surprised with their story since she had prayed that they would have extra help. Jim remembers the make and model of the pick-up truck their “angel” was driving that night. He jokingly says he hasn’t reported it to the company yet for advertisement royalties.

Experience and enterprise are no strangers to Covenant Dairy, either. Jim’s grandfather came from Holland, and Jim has two brothers that still dairy in California. Josh would be the family’s fourth-generation dairyman. Nelson, who was born in South Africa, has two brothers and a nephew that work on the dairy, as well.

Jim and Laura Lee love the people and the pace of life in Dalhart. Nelson was impressed when a man in a local store remembered him from five months earlier. They were drawn to the area by the same promotional video from the High Plains Dairy Council and are excited about the growth of the dairy industry in the area. Corn silage is readily available, and Nelson points out one of the perks of being an early bird. “Pretty soon, we will have to look for feed. Right now, they’re offering,” says Nelson.

Not to worry. Though they believe God’s plan for them has required some patience, the folks of Covenant Dairy have weathered many changes, and they say their trust in the Lord has never wavered. They believe they’ve been blessed. So when Laura Lee says, “I’ve been praying for the price of milk to come up,” the dairy’s employees have faith it will. PD

Brandon Covey for Progressive Dairyman

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