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Award-winning dairywoman retired from teaching to continue her husband's dairy

Published on 09 April 2009

For Loretta Lyons and her husband, dairying was “a way of making a living and wanting to farm.” Loretta certainly never expected her passion for agriculture to lead to a national competition.

Loretta and Hade Lyons purchased their first 150 acres in 1961, a year after they married. Less than three years later, they were milking about 30 head, while finishing their college degrees. Throughout the next several years, the Lyons milked cows, worked full-time as schoolteachers and raised three children.

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In 1976, Hade passed away and Loretta was faced with a decision – sell the cows or continue dairying. With the help of her children, Loretta chose to stay in the dairy business by switching to raising replacement heifers. This decision also meant giving up her teaching career.

Exciting news
Lyons’ dedication to agriculture earned her the Kentucky Farmer of the Year Award in 2008. She was the first-ever female Kentucky farmer to be selected for this honor.

Lyons says she was surprised to receive the award, mostly because she considered not filling out the 13-page application. When she was named top three, she thought she was only competing against two other farmers. She was actually competing with eight other farmers across the state of Kentucky.

The award selection committee came to visit Lyons’ farm and told her she would know if she had won by the end of the day. She had joked with the committee, saying she would be sure to keep her cell phone turned on.

By 6 p.m. that evening, Lyons says she figured the competition was done and breathed a sigh of relief. She drove herself to her grandson’s high school graduation ceremony.

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“Then my cell phone rang, and my heart backed up. I thought, ‘Surely that’s not them,’” Lyons says. “But it was, and they told me that I had won. Both my hands flew up off the steering wheel, and I almost had a wreck!”

Lyons says she was surprised, excited and humbled – all at the same time.

Because she won Kentucky Farmer of the Year, Lyons was entered into the Swisher Sweets Southern Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition. She and her farm were evaluated in August, and she was able to take her family to the Sunbelt Ag Expo in October of 2008.

Advice for young dairywomen
Although the title went to Arkansas farmer Brian Kirksey, Lyons says she was proud to represent Kentucky and to be the first female in the competition.

“It makes me feel like I’m opening doors for other women,” Lyons says. When she went to college, Lyons said women typically had three options of career paths – a nurse, a secretary or a teacher. Today, Lyons says women have many more opportunities, including farming, but they need to be willing to put in the work.

“If a woman wants to go into dairy farming, she needs to be ready to work hard and make changes that need made,” she says. “Be ready to be tied down seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

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Lyons says it’s also important for young women to be active in community and dairy advocate groups. Lyons was a charter member of the Women in Ag organization in her area and served as a board member for six years. She is also active in the Kentucky Farm Bureau and the Kentucky Master Farm Homemaker program.

Family comes first
Lyons also believes women need the support of family and friends. She says one of her most important accomplishments throughout her life is that she’s been able to remain close with her children and grandchildren. She believes the decision to keep farming helped keep her family together.

“Before Hade passed away, he always told me that if something ever happened to him, I wasn’t supposed to sell the land until I knew whether or not the children wanted to farm,” Lyons says. “I never dreamed that would become a reality.”

As she continued to farm, Lyons says she always tried to make decisions based on what she thought Hade would have wanted for the farm.

“He wanted to buy all the land around his farm. He loved getting it and cleaning it up and making it look good,” Lyons explains. “And he always found a way to make it happen.”

About 10 years ago, Lyons says she found out about a piece of land that was being auctioned off the following day. She says she didn’t ask anyone for help and didn’t discuss it with anyone.

“When I saw it, I thought Hade would be mad at me if I didn’t go see if I could buy it,” Lyons recalls. “I thought, ‘Just do it,’ so I did.”

When Lyons knew she had the last bid, she says her “knees were knocking and heart a-thumping,” but she felt it was what Hade would have wanted.

Another way that Lyons chose to honor Hade was with the farm name, Hade’s Triple K Dairy. Triple K represents Loretta’s and Hade’s three children: Kerry, Kevin and Kela. The name Hade is especially meaningful to the family. Hade was named after his father, Kerry was given the middle name Hade, and one of Hade and Loretta’s grandsons is named Hade.

The operation today
Lyons is still active at Hade’s Triple K Dairy, although most of her responsibilities now involve record keeping rather than baling hay.

The family raises about 800 to 900 replacement heifers for a farm in Indiana. They receive about 100 to 120 heifers every two to three months and raise them until the heifers are bred. The animals are then sold back to the original farm.

The family also grows most of their own crops using rented and purchased land of about 1,150 acres and produce timber on about 185 acres.

In order to continually evaluate goals and farm procedures, Lyons says the entire family has breakfast together every Saturday morning, which she prepares.

Lyons is also responsible for running errands and keeping the farm in order.

“It’s hard work, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work,” Lyons explains. “I enjoy being tired when I go to bed. It makes me sleep well!”

Emily Caldwell is a freelance writer in State College, Pennsylvania.

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