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Cream of the crop

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Coulter family wins state's quality dairy award

By The Staff

By Jimmie Earls

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Sun Staff Writer

The next time you pour milk on your breakfast cereal, put a slice of cheese on your ham sandwich, or dish up a big bowl of ice cream, think about where the milk came from to produce those products. The judges at this year’s Kentucky State Fair know where the best milk produced in Kentucky comes from, and that’s Coulter Family Dairy in Springfield.

Coulter Family Dairy was chosen Kentucky’s Top Quality Dairy Producer at the Dairy Recognition Banquet on Aug. 15. The Dairy Products Association of Kentucky and the Kentucky Dairy Development Council sponsor the award, which started in 2002 and is presented annually to the Kentucky dairy producer who best exemplifies quality milk production.

Out of Kentucky’s 1,100 dairy producers, a list of 15 nominees is chosen. The final three nominees are invited to the award banquet at the state fair. Four categories of milk quality criteria are judged including bacteria levels, somatic cell count, preliminary incubation levels and state inspections.

Owner Kevin Coulter has been around dairies all his life.

“I helped my daddy carry milk when he had bucket milkers. I could only carry half a bucket, about a gallon and a half, so I was pretty little," he recalled.

In business since 1984, Coulter Family Dairy is indeed a true family operation. Coulter and his wife Margaret handle all the milking on the dairy, while their daughter Abby does a lot of the calf feeding. Occasionally they employ temporary help, especially when it comes to their five acres of tobacco, which is contracted to Philip Morris. The Coulter’s even grow their own feed for their cattle.

Coulter has received a lot of help and support from past state inspectors George Scott and Don Bonzo, as well as current inspector Douglas Wade. Dr. Phil Billings has also been supportive as the dairy’s veterinarian.

The family’s win at this years banquet is a triumph over tragedy. Earlier this year, the Coulters lost five cows and one bull to a lightning strike on the farm. The cows were lying under a shade tree when a storm approached. Lightning struck the tree and killed the cattle underneath. To compound the damage, the cows were with calf, so the calves were killed as well. Coulter estimates he suffered a loss of at least $10,000 with that lightning strike.

Even more tragic was the loss of their daughter Emily in 2004 in an accident while working on the farm. She loved the farm very much and her presence there can still be felt.

Coulter Family Dairy can produce up to 175 gallons of milk per day, which is sold to the Dairy Farmers of America, Inc, a co-op which markets most of the milk produced in Washington County to Winchester Farms Dairy in Winchester, Ky. Winchester Farms Dairy is one of the dairies used by Kroger, who packages the milk products for their chain of stores as well as other grocers including Save-A-Lot.

When the winners were announced at the banquet, Coulter and his family were surprised when a dairy from Taylor County won third. Kevin figured they placed second, but when the announcers started talking about the county the second place dairy was from, and it wasn’t Washington County, the Coulter family went into a state of disbelief.

“We’ve been nominated in the past,” added Coulter. “I figured we were out of our league to win. She (Margaret) looked at me and said, 'I guess we’re going to win this thing.'”

Coulter says he’s limited by the amount of land he has to raise feed for the cows and doesn’t have room for more facilities. If he increased the size of his operation, he’d have to depend on hired labor and that’s something he’s not interested in doing. Remaining small helps him keep a closer eye on the quality of the milk, and you can’t argue with his success. Coulter Family Dairy has been consistently running one of the best dairies in Kentucky. Although the dairy is small in comparison, the judges at this year’s competition have chosen quality over quantity, and Coulter’s is simply the best.