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Estes Dairy

First-generation family farm enters the dairy world at full speed
The Estes Family continues a new family tradition one lap at a time

The word quit is not in the Estes family’s vocabulary.

Kerry Estes didn’t quit when he faced three droughts in a row. He didn’t quit when he couldn’t breed the first group of heifers he took a chance on. He didn’t quit when people told him he wouldn’t make it.

Through it all, he remained committed to being a first-generation dairy farmer.

“It wasn't the picture-perfect startup, but we just had to sink our teeth in and say, ‘We're determined to do this’,” Kerry said.

Kerry grew up helping his grandfather on his farm, then went on to get a business degree and work at his father's metal fabrication business. But farming was in his blood and he couldn’t let it go.

"Everyone said, ‘You can't get started farming and make it,’ and the stubborn side of me came out. It was just my passion to farm, it was always in the back of my mind,” he said. “My heart was just on the farm."

Kerry and his wife, Christiana, started the dairy in 2005. Today, their four children — Damon, Kylee, Laura and Jason — are also involved in their dairy farm near New Palestine, Indiana.

Each family member has his or her favorite part of the operation, but they all have the same desire to be involved in the dairy, whether it's before or after school, during the holidays or over school breaks. Kerry’s oldest son, Damon, just started working full time on the farm and is expecting a third generation soon.

“My biggest drive is not for my kids to be farmers, believe it or not,” Kerry said. “I want my kids to love God, love their families and be committed to just spending time together.”

The family milks a crossbred herd mostly comprised of New Zealand Friesians, Swedish Reds and Danish Jerseys, breeds that have been developed in grazing situations. While they are fed a total mixed ration feed, Kerry said rotational grazing continues to be important to them.

“We've got every color and pattern in the book,” he chuckled. “We're kind of a hybrid-type dairy. We just found that there are some wonderful grazing days and then there's some not wonderful grazing days. We graze until the heat of the day and bring them in to try to give them the best of both worlds.”

After a rocky start, the Estes family conquered several hurdles many thought they could not. Conquering those hurdles continues to drive them every day.

“We've had flooding, we've had record cold, we've had record heat. We've had the worst milk-to-feed price ratio in history, even worse than the Great Depression. We've had COVID, hauling issues, just about everything. And God just keeps providing,” Kerry said. “It's our job just to do our job. We come out here and try to keep going every day."

Kerry experiences the best of both worlds, working in agriculture with his family and advocating for agriculture off the farm as the 2023 Indianapolis 500 Milk Person. Each year, the Milk Person carries out the “Winners Drink Milk” tradition in the Victory Circle, giving the iconic glass bottle of milk to the winner with over 250,000 people watching in-person and more worldwide.

Last year, Kerry was the Rookie Milk Person and said the experience blew him away.

“You're on the track with the drivers and their wives as the national anthem is being played and then it all culminates in giving the winning driver their bottle of milk,” Kerry said. “It was eye-opening to me. It's all so, so neat to see. There's so much rich history and tradition with the race and dairy farmers.”

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