Skip Navigation Links
  Skip Navigation Links  

‘It’s all about family’

Barhams pursue dairying from different angles
Story and Photos by Glen Liford 11/18/2020


Bill Barham, left, and his brother Rick, AgCentral Farmers livestock specialist, discuss changes at the family’s dairy at Calhoun. Bill operates the dairy with his son, Tanner, but Rick still pitches in to help when he can.
1 of 2
view all thumbnails for this gallery
Ed and Julia Barham moved their family from Illinois to the Sweetwater Valley in the early 1900s in hopes that farming, specifically raising tobacco, might provide for a better life for them and their four children — three boys and a girl. 

It’s certain the roots the Barhams sank deep in the fertile ground of lower Spring Creek took hold and thrived. From those meager beginnings, the family found its future in farming.

One of the boys, Clyde, grew up and started a Jersey dairy with just a few cows, milking in an “old flat-stanchion barn” that still stands on the farm. Two old-fashioned 12-by-40-foot silos from the same time period still stand watch over the property.

Clyde's sons Allen and Charlie took over the dairy's operation after they came of age.

Allen's sons Walter, Rick, and Bill and their sister, Betty, were all raised on the dairy. The Barham family members have been staunch supporters and members of the dairy industry now for the better part of a century.

“While we were in high school, Bill, Walter, and I would get up and feed calves before we caught the bus to go to school,” says Rick, who is now a livestock specialist for AgCentral Farmers Cooperative in Athens.

The boys grew up working alongside each other on the dairy, and even after attending college, they returned to the farm to live. Betty, resides in Chattanooga and works at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Walter, the oldest Barham brother, attended Hiwassee College in Madisonville. After graduation, he returned home and began working in the family business full-time.

Rick, a UTK alumnus with a degree in animal science, chose a different career path and went to work at McMinn Farmers Co-op in Athens, now known as AgCentral Farmers. He still has a love of dairying and works closely with the Co-op’s dairy customers and other farmers to help them be successful.

Bill came back to the farm after a year at college, too. He says the experience taught him that school wasn’t for him, and his dad’s declining health made Bill’s choice to return to the farm easier. He and Walter farmed together for some 20 years before Walter’s health forced his early retirement.

Today, Bill operates the dairy with his son, Tanner. They milk around 240 cows and feed a TMR (total mixed ration). The Barhams have remodeled and continued to improve the operation over the years. The Jersey herd produces an average of more than 15 pounds of milk per cow better than their dad averaged when the boys were growing up, says Bill.

Tanner graduated Chattanooga State Community College in 2012 with an associate’s degree in diesel mechanics and business. He felt the degrees would be helpful in the family business, and ever a pragmatist, says the degree also gives him options if he ever needs to leave the dairy business.

 “Mom insisted I get a degree,” says Tanner. “But dairying is what I have always wanted to do.”

Rick is still involved with the dairy, too, says Bill, noting that his brother helps out on the family farm on the weekends.

“He usually does AI (artificial insemination) work, sometimes milks, and pitches in when there’s a project like chopping silage or baling hay that requires everyone to participate,” Bill explains. “It’s sort of like we have our own nutritionist on staff.”

Rick’s son, Brad, is a regional marketing manager for Premier Select Sires, and provides advice as the family seeks to improve their herd’s genetics.

“We’re a family farm,” says Bill. “Everybody works, everybody helps. If something happens to one, we all pitch in to pick up the slack.”

The industry has suffered some devastating blows in recent years, but the Barhams have persevered. The family has dealt with changes in demand for their product and how they sell to market.

“Technology has made things easier, but has also brought a new set of challenges,” Bill points out. “And certainly, less labor is available to help on the farm.”

 Still, the family tradition is strong, and the Barhams are committed to keeping the farm going. Tanner’s son, Turner — who is only 2 years old — will be the fifth generation of Barhams to work the dairy if he chooses to do so, and Bill would like him to have that option.

 “Before I remodeled the dairy barn, I looked at Tanner and said, ‘Is this what you want to do?’ And he said, ‘Yes,’” Bill recalls. “If he didn’t want to do it, I wasn’t signing my name to the note. But if this is what you want to do, then it’s what we will do. It makes me proud that he wants to keep dairying.”

Keeping Up
Market watch
National ag news
Career OpportunitiesCareer opportunities
Catalogs & brochures
Get in touch
Education & more
Programs & projects
What's New?
This document copyright © 2021 by Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. All rights reserved. Legal Notice