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When he was a little boy, David Corbin always wondered what other children did at 4 p.m., because just when all the other children were starting to have fun, the Corbin family would load up and go home to milk cows.
"All the time when I was growing up, I didn't think I'd ever want to do this," Corbin said. "But it's something that's in your blood, it's hard to understand."
Son of Martha Corbin and the late Bradley Corbin, David and his brother Roger took over the family dairy about 22 years ago.
Nearly every morning, Corbin is awake and getting ready 15 minutes before his alarm goes off. If the morning milking doesn't start promptly at 4 a.m., Corbin knows it won't be long before about 261 cows start bawling. And he is just as anxious to get back when it's time for the second milking at 3 p.m.
"It don't make any difference if there's snow out there a foot deep, it don't make no difference if it's storming like the dickens ... it don't make no difference if one of us dies today," Corbin said. "Those cows have still got to be milked."
Every year, the Taylor County Cattlemen's Association looks throughout the county for a family-oriented business that does an outstanding job with their farm.
Cattlemen's Association President Jason Miller said Corbin's pride in a quality product as well his dedication to helping improve the dairy industry makes his family the ideal recipient of this year's Finest Farm Family Award.
"He's an outstanding member of the community and is well-deserving of the award," Miller said. "My hat's off to him and all the dairy farmers for all the work and dedication they do to producing America's milk."
Miller and Taylor County Fair Board members Utah and Helen Canada presented the Corbins with the award at the fair last Tuesday. The Corbins received a sign for their farm, a plaque and a $250 prize.
Taylor County Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources Pat Hardesty said Corbin has helped make strides for the dairy industry by his participation in dairy housing and reproduction trials.
"The Corbins are respected for not only being good neighbors, but also doing an excellent job in their dairy operation and in the industry," Hardesty said.
Corbins' Dairy is one of three farms enrolled in a research trial through the University of Kentucky that is studying the effectiveness of monitors that track a cow's activity to determine if she is in heat versus bringing a cow into heat using hormonal injections.
Corbin said he is aware of an increasingly negative public perception of hormone use in cows. However, according to Corbin, hormonal injections have an important place in the dairy industry.
"In certain situations, certain cows won't cycle right," Corbin said. "And if you don't help them, you're just as well signing their death warrant because they have to have a baby. That's what rejuvenates and brings the milk production back up."
Corbin said some consumers are also concerned about traces of antibiotics in the milk supply. But according to Corbin, "it ain't happening."
Cows treated with antibiotics can't be milked until the medicine leaves their system. The dairy industry requires each load of milk to be rigorously tested for antibiotics and bacteria, and even trace amounts are unacceptable.
"I can take one of them tubes of medicine, and probably ruin 10 tractor trailer loads of milk," Corbin said.
Corbin said he takes it a step further by testing the milk himself before it leaves the dairy. It costs about $5 per day, but he said it's worth the peace of mind about not having to worry about getting a call in the middle of the night to let him know his milk supply is contaminated.
If he discovers the milk is contaminated before it makes it onto the truck, Corbin said he can call the company and they will reimburse him 75 percent of the milk's price to pour it down the drain.
"But if it gets on that truck and that truck tests bad, I just bought a load of milk, $15,000, just like that," Corbin said. "I've got to buy everybody's milk on that truck, not just mine and then I can't sell any for three days."
Because the repercussions are so costly, Corbin said antibiotic contamination is a very rare occurrence.
Corbin also checks his account with Dean Foods a couple of times a day to check the quantity of milk shipped as well as its quality. Because dairy cows are sensitive to even the slightest hiccup, a broken water trough can affect the milk supply in less than 24 hours.
Corbin also keeps electronic records of his own that allow him to monitor production from just a few days ago to several years ago.
"The only way you can know how you're doing and how to make improvements is you have to know where you were at 10 years ago," Corbin said.
And because of advances such as artificial insemination that allow breeding for higher production and longevity, Corbin said the quality of a herd must constantly improve in order for a dairy to be successful.
"You may not be expanding, you may not be building new barns, but somebody that's working at the dairy can tell you there are improvements being made in lots of places," Corbin said.
Being able to multitask and plan ahead are also crucial to the success of a dairy, Corbin said, especially when it comes to steady milk production. He said he must "beat the clock" to get a cow bred before her milk production drops too low in order to compensate for the $9 per day it costs to feed her.
Yet while high-stress levels are a normal aspect of operating a dairy, Corbin said the benefits are also great.
"There's a certain satisfaction when things are going good," Corbin said.
Knowing that a happy cow is a productive cow, Corbin also takes pride in the little things he can do to "spoil" his herd, such as feeding them supplement pellets made from Florida orange peels.
"It's not just about the money, it's your responsibility to care for them animals," Corbin said.