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Farming a family tradition
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Johnston Dairy Farm

Phone: (706) 247-5023
Address: 2471 Broughton Road, Newborn, 30056

Hard workers aren't made, but born.

J.H. Johnston spent the better part of his young life working relentlessly side-by-side with his father on the farm the family bought in 1940. With barely a month off the entire year, the father and son team worked, planted and harvested the land with their bare hands and two mules.

Russell's grandfather, who was 6-foot-4-inches, would fatten up to about 180 pounds during the slower winter months. By the end of the blistering summer, he weighed 140 pounds.

Unable to keep the family fed, Johnston signed up for the Air Force to help put food on his parents' table. When he returned in 1956, he purchased 17 cows and a rented a flat barn, where he would begin producing milk and establishing the Johnston Dairy Farm.

In 1977, Johnston builds a parlor barn and begins shipping raw milk to surrounding industries. By 2008, after handing the farm over to his son Russell, the farm begins to bottle its own milk.

"I have pictures of my grandfather and father, and it looks like something out of ‘The Grapes of Wrath,'" said Russell. "They just looked emaciated."

Russell, with his tall frame and grizzled facial hair, bears the same rigorous work ethic as his father and grandfather.

Today, after dealing with a regular buyer from Atlanta, Russell will have to inseminate three cows and plant 20 acres of rye grass. It is nearly noon and 750 gallons of milk have already been produced and bottled.

The 400 acre farm carries nearly 200 Jersey and Holstein dairy cows, 94 of which are lactating. The rest of the herd consists of calves or older cows. The cows are fed rye grass and a specialized mix of grains, designed specifically for their diet.

On the farm seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, Russell rarely affords a slow moment.

Walking through the barn, Russell explains how the hectic work schedule is often due to unexpected maintenance around the farm. When a cow is spotted in heat, prep work to inseminate it begins right away.

"Once they go in heat, we may have up to a couple of days to get her inseminated," explained Russell, as he opens up a liquid nitrogen tank kept at negative 350 degrees. He pulls out a small red vial containing about one cc of sperm. "This right here holds about ten million sperm cells," he says.

He places the vial into the long, thin breeding gun. After loading all three guns, he tucks them under his belt, grabs a couple of long-sleeved clear plastic gloves and heads to the breeding pen.

Bringing one cow at a time through the pen, Russell gently pats one of them on the back and says, "Alright, babies, come on down here."

He pulls up their tail and gradually enters the heated cow through her rectum, casually pulling out any excrement inside to clear the path. Then he inserts the breeding gun vaginally, maneuvering the gun through the rectal walls, coaxing it through the cervix. Once it reaches the cervix, the gun is guided into the uterus.

The heavy smell of manure that lingers over the air, even as some of it continues to excrete as the insemination process carries on, doesn't seem to bother Russell; he never flinches or winces.

"I don't even smell anything," he says as he pulls his arm and the gun out. He rolls the sleeve, covered in manure, off his arm and tosses it to the floor. Without a beat, he moves to the next cow.

"It never ends," he says. "We'll be working all the way through Christmas. That's the downside of working seven days a week. But there's an upside to that; at least I get to be my own boss.

"And at least I'll have those couple of hours on Christmas morning to watch my two boys open their presents," he added. "Then it's back to work."