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On the way to the milking shed, we pass a white Ford pickup. "Do you want to hear the horn in my truck?" Shatto asks a girl on the tour. "Please say yes." After getting the right response, Shatto opens the truck door and presses on the horn. The truck emits a Moo! His iPhone does the same thing.
Shatto's workers begin arriving at the milking shed after 3 a.m. It takes them between four and five hours to milk 200 cows. The cows — 95 percent are Holsteins — are led into the shed in groups of 12. The workers connect the cows' udders to milking machines. The tubes pop off the teats when the flow of milk slows.
From the milking shed, the tour proceeds to an adjoining barn. A cow stands on some hay, willing to be milked by unsure hands. Most children and adults gravitate instead toward the heifers and baby bulls in a nearby pen. It's hard not to be fascinated by something born Tuesday.
The tour ends, but Shatto still has pieces of the farm he wants to show off. Last year, he built a 220-foot-long barn to protect the cows against harsh weather. In the summer, sprinklers and large fans (sold under the brand name Big Ass Fans) lower the temperature inside the barn by as much as 20 degrees. A hot cow eats less, and a cow that eats less produces less milk. "If the cows love it, I love it," Shatto says.
Sawdust covers the floor for added bovine comfort. "Most cows on factory farms stand on concrete all day long," Shatto says.
The herd has grown from 80 to 300 since Shatto Milk Company incorporated. Before, Shatto worried about being able to afford the alfalfa bill. Now he has 26 employees working in two shifts.
Vertical integration paid for the pickup truck, but it didn't cure Shatto's anxiety. He sometimes wakes at 2 a.m., gets out of bed, walks across the highway from his house to the dairy and checks on the cows or the equipment.
He's fatalistic by nature. "I'm not used to things working right," he says.
One mistake can drive a farmer into bankruptcy. For added pressure, the milk that leaves Shatto's dairy goes out in bottles with his name on it.
"Every day, I'm scared," he says.
Autumn and Spring, two week-old calves, are lying on some straw in a makeshift petting zoo at the City Market in downtown Kansas City. Leroy and Barbara loaded the calves and 60 cases of milk into a truck early this overcast Saturday morning.
The calves draw a crowd. Small children climb onto hay bales so they can reach over the fence to touch the animals. "Can I have a little pet?" a girl asks Leroy.
"Yes, or a big pet," he says.
As Leroy minds the animals, Barbara and their son, Matt, and his wife, Jill, do brisk business at the sales table. They wear canvas hardware belts to handle the cash they receive for their milk.
Matt Shatto, 30, works as an assistant city administrator in Lenexa. The Shattos' only child, he helps his parents run the business side of the operation as much as he can. Matt credits his father's work ethic for the company's success. "He works harder than anybody I've ever met."
The farm has been in Barbara's family for 100 years. Growing up, Barbara envisioned a day when she would not live among cows. "It was not my intent to stay on the farm," she says.