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Franks family stands strong after rough blow

PD Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 20 November 2013

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Ginny Franks looks around her farm on a sunny day in early May, pointing out the empty clearing where a freestall barn had housed her Brown Swiss herd.

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“We’ve still got some fences down, and we’re trying to rebuild,” she says. “But Mother Nature has been nice to us while we’re getting things back together.”

Mother Nature had most assuredly not been nice to the Franks family and the community of Waynesboro, Georgia, two months prior.

A tornado tore through the farm, wiping out the freestall barn, blowing away several calf hutches and uprooting the equipment shed, ruining all equipment underneath.

Ginny and daughter Whitney had stayed out of harm’s way in the house, which luckily the tornado had avoided. When husband Jimmy arrived home from a Farm Bureau meeting, he alerted Ginny that the freestall barn was no longer in place.

The family went to work, crawling through the debris to try to save their herd. Franks ended up losing two of her Brown Swiss cows to the storm itself, then a few older cows within a few days due to stress.

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She anticipated having to cull a few others this fall, predicting that the continued stress would wreak havoc for reproduction.

Struggles before the storm
Fifth-generation dairywoman Franks used to run a large dairy on the other side of town about 20 years ago. Already owning a small herd of Brown Swiss, Ginny and Jimmy jumped at an opportunity to buy a farm and have their own place.

“I take care of the cows,” Franks says. “Jimmy was a beef guy, but luckily he supported me. He does the nutrition and field work, and I do the cow work.”

Ginny shares her love for cows, and in particular the Brown Swiss breed, with her daughters, who enjoy exhibiting the cattle at local, state and national shows.

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But enjoying the cows and staying in business were not one and the same. In 2009, after years of watching the price of milk dip below the cost of production, the Franks family decided to invest in bottling equipment.

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“Neither one of us knew what we were doing, but we knew we had to do something,” Franks says. “We had to be able to control our own prices.”

The first batch of milk was processed on January 30, 2010.

“We refer to things in life as B.P. – before the plant,” Franks says. “Things are twice as hard now. There’s just so much more to do and not a lot of labor to do it.”

The product line includes milk, ice cream, butter and Greek yogurt. Nine hundred gallons of milk are delivered four times a week to Atlanta Fresh, a company that specializes in Greek yogurt.

Products such as ice cream mixes are delivered to other restaurants and bakeries in the Atlanta area. The dairy also supplies milk to several convenience stores and bakeries in Savannah, Augusta and Statesboro.

“Local farmers markets have helped us get the word out about our milk,” Franks says. “Putting the plant in helped to keep our farm in business.”

Be careful what you wish for
All the equipment is “vintage,” Franks says, and comes with its own unique story. But given her recent experiences, she’s not hoping for an upgrade any time soon.

“I’ve got to quit wishing for things,” she says wryly.

In 2008, Ginny and her daughters were discussing the need for a larger cattle trailer, right before show season started. Daughter Morgan was driving home with the empty trailer to pick up another load of cattle to be shown at the Georgia National Fair.

She ended up going toe-to-toe with a semi-truck. Though she suffered only minor injuries, the old trailer was totaled, and the family had to invest in a new one.

A similar ironic conversation happened just before the tornado.

“I was wishing for a new freestall barn,” Franks says. “We had modernized our old one, but we could never get the air quite right.”

Though it wasn’t quite the way she wanted it to happen, the devastation of the storm also provided the farm with an opportunity.

“I’ve had some time to reflect since it all happened,” she says. “I think God knows how to guide you to where you need to be.”

Ginny counts her local community as one of the things she’s most grateful for during those times of reflection.

Neighbor support
Friends and neighbors of the Franks family jumped in quickly following the storm to help. A local dairyman who also had registered cattle was one of the first responders, and he alerted the congregation of his Mennonite church.

That night, many of them helped dig through the rubble to rescue cows. The next morning in the light of the day, they came back to help sort through what was left. Cows could be milked in the parlor, but the feed trough was trapped underneath the roof of the freestall barn.

They spent several days picking up metal and repairing fences. Others pitched in to help dig through and recover six months’ worth of feed on the farm.

Local FFA students who lease animals from the Franks family often came out to take care of the calves and to help build pens after the hutches had been blown up to a mile away.

“You just don’t realize how blessed you are until something like this happens,” Franks says, tears welling up in her eyes.

But it wasn’t just the neighbors who wanted to offer their support.

A man from Virginia sent the Franks family $1,000, while a Savannah distributor donated another $1,000.

“Other people asked us how they could help, and we told them to just support us by buying our products,” Franks says. “There are more needy people out there besides us.”

Moving forward
The new freestall barn is almost complete, and the herd moved in at the end of October.

“Milk production has been a struggle, but hopefully it’s back on track,” Franks says.

Ginny is thankful that daughter Whitney has shown interest in the farm, but worries about what she’s signed up for.

“She’s trying to help us keep the plant going, but she’s already working 18-hour days, and it’s so hard to keep people and find people who want to do this kind of work,” Franks says.

While the farm does have a few employees for milking, running the plant and deliveries, it’s still mostly family labor.

Youngest daughter Meridith is in her second year of college and comes home each weekend to help with the markets and farm chores.

Son Chance is an engineer in Athens and returns home on the weekends to help weld and complete projects on the equipment and buildings. Daughter Morgan, a new mom, helps when she can as well.

“I’m the only one left in my family who’s still dairying,” Ginny says. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m the crazy one.” PD

Visit their website to learn more about Franks’ operation.

PHOTOS
TOP RIGHT: Despite the long hours and stress of running both a farm and a milk plant, Ginny Franks (right) hopes her daughters Meridith (left) and Whitney (center) will want to be involved in the operation.

MIDDLE RIGHT: Ginny Franks is thankful the building that houses her dairy family’s milk plant suffered the least damage during the storm. Photos by PD Editor Emily Caldwell.

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Emily Caldwell
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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