Four Generations Held Together by Guernsey’s
For over 50 years, in the rolling hills and valleys of northeast Missouri, there have been registered Guernsey cows on Timber Ridge Farms. Through the years, the Messer and Gates families have overcome countless obstacles and financial hardships to maintain their milking herd. Ethel Messer, matriarch of the Timber Ridge dynasty, grew up over the hill from where Timber Ridge Farms is located today in Jacksonville, Mo. In 1944, Sam Messer’s family moved into the area, and the couple married in 1950.
“It was a long ways back,” said Ethel, a spunky and sharp little lady. In 1948, when Sam was 16, he had bought 200 acres, so the couple settled there. Sam was also in the Navy, and in 1952, he left the farm to serve Uncle Sam. In the mean time, Ethel kept things going on the farm, where they had sheep and a few cows.
“I bounced back and forth between Missouri and California,” Ethel said with a chuckle. Sam’s father cared for the farm when Ethel went to visit Sam. Their daughter, Sandy, was born in 1953, and two years later, Sam returned to the farm.
“We milked a few cows, had a few beef cows, some sheep, and turkeys and chickens, of course,” Ethel said. The current Timber Ridge property was purchased in 1960. The couple expanded their milking herd to about 35-40 cows, and sold their milk to Dairy Belt Cheese.
“We milked in the parlor with buckets; it was canned milk,” Ethel said. The first time the family exhibited at the Missouri State Fair was in 1962, taking a show string of five animals.
“It wasn’t very many because it was Sandy’s 4-H calves,” Ethel said. The farm has exhibited at the Fair every year since 1962, except for one year. This August will mark the 45th year they have exhibited at the Fair. Cows from Timber Ridge Farms have graced the show rings of the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., and the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.
By 1973, the herd was up to 100 registered Guernsey cows. Sandy served as Missouri Guernsey Queen for a year, and married in 1974. The newlyweds joined the farm a year later, adding 410 acres to the farm. Sandy became part of the milking crew, and in 1978, the family bought an additional 80 acres.
The current barn was originally planned to be a freestall barn, and still has the partial concrete. After the current milking parlor was built, the herd was increased to milk 144 cows.
“That didn’t last very long though,” said Sam, a witty and laid-back fellow.
He continued that many of the cows were supposed to calve in January, and many of the cows’ teats froze. The Messers’ grandson, Brian, was born in 1980, and two years later, the milking herd was downsized to about 60 cows. The family also raised a lot of pigs during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
“It was hard in the 1980s. We’ve just been plodding along ever since,” Ethel said.
“Plodding along” for Timber Ridge Farms has included utilizing artificial insemination, sexed semen, and holding to high standards of milk production. The 1984 State Fair merited the family the Premier Breeder award, and in 1994, they won the State Fair’s first award given for milk production.
“My major highlight was going to the State Fair,” Ethel said. “We’ve had several honors.” In 1997, the Missouri State Fair Guernsey show was dedicated to Timber Ridge Farms for exhibiting the longest of any Guernsey exhibitor at the State Fair. During Brian’s last year of 4- H, 1998, his cattle won every class at the State Fair but one in the 4-H Guernsey show. Reserve Grand Champion honors completed that day’s show awards.
That fall, Brian went to college with intentions to return to the farm. Ethel took over responsibility of the 30-cow milking herd.
“For awhile, we only milked 16 cows, then twenty or so,” Ethel said. In 2000, Brian returned to the farm. The same year, Brian’s cow, Gail, won Grand Champion FFA Guernsey at the Missouri State Fair, the only time a cow from Timber Ridge Farms has been in the running for Supreme Grand Champion at the Fair.
“She was a really good cow,” said Brian, a quiet and confident young man. Brian and his wife, Peggy, were married in 2004, and their daughter, Jasmine, was born in 2006, making the fourth generation to live on Timber Ridge Farms. Jasmine has also got her start in showing Guernseys at the Missouri State Fair. In 2007, she showed at both the Randolph County and State Fairs.
“As an outsider looking in, the biggest challenge over the years for Timber Ridge Farms has been the continual change in people,” said Peggy, a soft spoken schoolteacher. “For a long time, it was just Brian and his grandparents. They struggled to do the hard work.”
Now, Brian is putting up new fences and tending to other maintenance tasks, which are a constant necessity to dairy farms that have been in existence for several decades. The young couple willingly puts in long hours and hard work to achieve their long-term goals for Timber Ridge Farms. The family hopes to put in three to five large ponds and have purchased new farm machinery. Plans are in the works for a machine shed later.
“We leased the farm to the grandson who has always lived here,” Ethel said.
In the past few years, Brian has purchased more cows, but the milking herd is currently at 20 cows. The herd maintains a rolling herd average of about 14,000 pounds per year. The couple plans to maintain a significant amount of cows.
“They’re doing pretty well for a herd its size,” Peggy said. The farm raises all of their replacement heifers, and uses sexed semen on both cows and heifers. They considered doing embryo transfer work on the Guernseys, but decided against it since it wouldn’t be a cost-efficient venture.
The entire farm is 630 acres, 60 of which are for alfalfa hay. Sam has also served as a representative to the Dairy Farmers of America annual meeting, and enjoys hunting deer and turkey. Today, the Messer and Gates families humbly carry a long tradition of breeding registered Guernsey cattle. When extra help was needed, Ethel’s twin sister, Edith, who lives in nearby Moberly, readily assists with farm chores. Sam and Ethel still have their home on the original farmstead, and have celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary. Brian, Peggy, and Jasmine live less than a mile away.
The view from a nearby hill overlooking this farm shows the family ties of four generations who live on and love the farm, the cows, and each other.