BILLINGS — Life has changed over the past century on this tract of more than 500 acres.
Homes have been built, lives lived.
Computers are now commonplace in the daily operation of the farm.
Technology may have changed, but one thing has stayed the same: family.
Today, Brad Groves and his brother, Todd, are the fourth generation on this Christian County farm. Their wives and kids, along with their grandma and parents, call the dairy farm home.
It's what they grew up with. It's what they live every day. And, unless things change drastically, it's how they'll die.
They were born dairymen, with Ozarks roots reaching back 100 years to a land purchase that established a family's way of life.
Changes over the past century
Brad Groves and his father, Lonnie, prepare for the second milking of the day at Groves-View Dairy. The barn, filled with computerized milking machines, is much different from the one Lonnie grew up with, where milking was done by hand.
A computer identifies cows by ear tags as the animals enter the milking barn. The system tracks production for every cow, every milking. The Groveses have 540 head.
As the two prepare for milking, using a variety of disinfectants and clean cloths, they talk about the history of the farm. The family has been preparing its application for century farm status from MU — a program that recognizes Missouri's working farms of a certain size that have been in a family for 100 years.
This is the Groveses' year to get the double-sided metal sign denoting a century of existence by the entrance to their farm.
"You'll drive around and it's pretty amazing," Brad said. "It's pretty darn neat to have them hanging up."
The land the farm sits on, a few miles south of Billings, was originally deeded by the government to the Pacific Railroad on June 10, 1852. The plot's deed follows with a handwritten list of owners, including Lonnie's great-grandfather Jake Lenzinger who, with his wife, Regine, bought the land on Oct. 21, 1913.
Lonnie's grandpa, Walter Lenzinger, then bought the land under a payment system in 1915 — $50 a year to Jake Lenzinger until his death. The World War I veteran died in the winter of 1954 or '55, Lonnie says.
"After he died, then Grandma wanted us to come down here, and then she gave it to Mom (whose husband, Jack, brought the Groves name to the farm) and then she gave it to me and (Lonnie's brother) Darrell," Lonnie says. Lonnie bought out Darrell's part of the farm.
Lonnie remembers milking about a dozen cows by hand when he was younger.
"When I was in high school I was going to get in the Air Force," he says, while moving dozens of cows through the milking barn. His mom talked him out of leaving so he could stay and help her while his dad drove a tractor-trailer over-the-road.
Lonnie was introduced to his wife, Donna, by his grandmother. They married mere months later. He says he couldn't show her their new home, one of two houses on the property, right away since he was raising chickens in the kitchen and storing grain in other rooms.
"I had to move all of this stuff out," he says with a laugh. The couple, who is going on their 50th anniversary, is still living in the same home.
The farmhouse had no running water and a wood stove when they moved in, he says. Donna fondly remembers fixing up the home after their marriage in 1964.
"We were happy — young and dumb," she says. "I'd rather be out here than in the city. I love it."
"It's bred into you"
Dairy farming is demanding: Cows are milked twice a day, feed needs to be mixed, and there are countless other chores.
At one point in late winter and early this spring, the Groveses had 46 calves scheduled to be born in 30 days. Someone has to check on the livestock overnight and be available to help with the birth.
"It's bred into you, I guess," Brad says.
It took three people to help birth a calf weighing about 30 pounds more than it should. Typical calves weigh about 70 pounds.
After the birth, the mother cow will walk around the newly born calf licking blood off of it to protect from predators, says Todd Groves, Brad's brother. Most calves will stand an hour or two after birth.
The calf is given just a few quarts of its mother's milk and is then separated.
The Groveses lost one calf this year and nearly lost another in the past week that wouldn't breathe when born, Brad says. They worked with it and it lived.
Brad has spent nearly his whole life involved with the farm. He spent some time working at a local factory before devoting himself full time to the family dairy operation.
"I quit college to come back here," he says. "You're not going to get rich, but it's a way of life."
Even after his dad, Lonnie, was kicked by a bull, sending him to a Springfield hospital by helicopter, Brad didn't question his choice of livelihood.
The bull broke four ribs, punctured a lung, gashed his head open, and injured his spine in five places. Lonnie says he died twice before doctors could revive him. He bled eight pints of blood.
"I really shouldn't be alive," he says.
It took 26 bolts, four wires and two plates to help him heal. His feet didn't touch the floor for seven months. Pool therapy got him back to the farm and working.
Lonnie jokes they'll remain on the farm "until we go broke."
The industry fluctuates greatly, Lonnie says.
"You'll have a one good year and two bad years," he says.
Technology changed life, operation
Groves-View in the early '90s was among the first U.S. dairies to adapt computerized milking and measurement, Brad says. The system had to be certified by the government before it could be considered an accurate measurement of production.
The farm averages 12,500 pounds of milk daily. Monday saw the most production in the farm's history, Lonnie says — 14,548 pounds.
The Groveses' operation today stands as an example of a typical American dairy farm. While not the biggest in southwest Missouri, the farm differentiates itself through technology, including embryo transfers in order to breed the best milk producers.
"It takes a lot of time and a lot of money," Brad says. "The elite farms out there do it."
The Groveses commonly host groups wishing to learn about genetics and operations. Earlier this year, a group from a Middle Eastern country visited at the U.S. government's invitation to observe the embryo operation and other aspects of the farm.
Looking forward, Brad and Lonnie say the farming tradition will likely continue with grandchildren.
"I'm willing to bet one or two of the kids will stay," Brad says.
Lonnie says some of the grandkids in their early teens can already back up trailers better than the adults.
"Farming is a lot like marriage — you are together for better or worse, richer or poorer, till death do us part," Brad says.