The legacy of Embry’s dairy
By Anna Hoch-Kenney

"You're never gonna find someone who is happier with their job than Larry," Patty Embry says about her husband. Larry Embry, 52, is the third generation owner of Embry's Longview Farms in Leitchfield, one of the last two dairy farms remaining in Grayson County, where cows have been milked twice a day, every day, since his grandfather started it in 1950. Under Larry's ownership, the herd has grown from about 50 cows when he started in the 1990s to the almost 200 that he currently tends to. The industry comes with no shortage of challenges, but Larry faces every single one of them with a smile on his face.

Larry Embry, 52, can walk past any of the 200 cows on his farm and immediately tell you its number, age, and any significant personality traits based solely on its markings. He can get a cow to untwist its twisted stomach by rolling in certain directions on its back. He can tell when a mama cow needs more time to clean and mourn a stillborn calf – and he tends to give it to her, even if most experts say it's pointless.

Larry owns and operates one of the last two dairy farms in Grayson County. Every day, twice a day, since 1950, cows have been milked at Embry's Longview Farms, managed first by Larry's grandfather, then by his father, and finally by Larry – but that's not why Larry took over the family dairy legacy. "There's a lotta easier ways to make a living," Larry says and pauses. His father had told him this, and he's given the same warnings to his sons. "You gotta really like being outside. And you gotta really like cows." He smiles a little. As it turns out, Larry really likes both of those things – and that helps a lot because dairy farming has no shortage of challenges.

It's no secret that Larry loves his job. His most common facial expression throughout the day is a warm smile, even in the most gruesome scenarios. He has no shortage of interesting cow facts and is more likely to explain his appreciation for them than he is to walk up and pet one. Their relationship is one of healthy, distanced respect. "I know those cows, I know their babies, and then I see their babies come home to become milk cows, and it's generation after generation," he says.

When asked if his sons were taking over the dairy farm, Larry laughs a little. "They don't really like cows," he says and explains he'd be surprised if they ever moved back to Leitchfield at all. There's no resentment, though. In fact, that warm smile comes back stronger than ever, especially as he starts to talk about his sons: Josh is an English major whose most recent poem has been recommended for publishing by his professor; and Sam, who "can do just about anything on a computer" and is working on a master's degree in data science. "They're out there figuring out what they want to do, and I'm proud of them. You gotta do what makes you happy. You just gotta."

The era of Embry's Longview Farms may be coming to a close, but its legacy thrives stronger than ever – because it has never just been limited to dairy. Its legacy is in making it possible for people to do what makes them happiest, despite any challenges – and as it turns out, dairy farming is what makes Larry the happiest.

Larry drives a tractor around the farm every morning to deliver food to his cows. This is part of a three-hour process of blending corn silage, ground corn, soybean meal, alfalfa hay, and mineral supplements, which Larry starts every morning at around 6:00 AM. He uses a recipe specifically designed for him by a large-animal nutritionist and veterinarian, and the corn and soybeans he uses are farmed and harvested on his property. “Farmers were the first recyclers,” Larry explains with a chuckle, “we take the manure from the cow, put it on the fields to grow the crops, and then take the crops and feed it back to the cow.”

Larry, known for his grit and unwavering warmth, banters and exchanges funny stories with Roger “Doc” Thomas as “Doc” inspects all the farm’s pregnant, sick, or postpartum cows. Doc Thomas typically visits every few weeks, either for a general herd inspection or for more up-close individual check-ups on the most vulnerable cows. Doc feels inside the cow for any irregularities – a process about which the cows are surprisingly nonchalant.

Larry herds two devious cows back into their proper pen in a process that can best be described as something between a game of chicken and a familiar but fast-paced dance, all of which Larry navigates with a big smile on his face.

Larry appreciates all his cows, but some particularly stand out in the dairy farm’s history. Larry keeps several photos in an office desk drawer of some of his favorite cows over the years. Here, he shows off a 2005 photo of the one he’s most proud of – a cow he took a risk on at a 2002 auction in upstate New York and purchased for $3,000. Under Larry’s care, she proved to be an incredible milk producer, and he sold her in 2007 for a total of $4,000 – but not before bringing out a photographer who specializes in cow portraits to properly memorialize his prize cow.

One of the most counterintuitive parts of his job, Larry confides, is separating calves from their mothers – but he explains that both mother and baby’s chances of survival go up significantly if they are cared for independently. Calves are vaccinated against common diseases and are given formulas that provide extra hydration to prevent them from experiencing scours or deadly cases of diarrhea, which are common with young animals. On the other hand, mothers are observed carefully for signs of “milk fever”, a deadly depletion of calcium that can be remedied within 15 minutes using an IV if noticed. Above, Larry tenderly carries a trusting calf born the night before to his tractor to transport it to its own fresh pen.

Larry’s cows slowly and curiously inch closer and lick, nuzzle, and nibble him as he poses for a portrait, evoking a big genuine smile from the dairy farmer. Over the next five to ten years, as he gets closer to retiring, Larry reckons he’ll slowly start switching to beef cattle. Beef cattle require significantly less work, but they also aren’t gentle and accustomed to humans like dairy cows, which changes the relationship. It’s the only time in talking about the future of the dairy farm that his face saddens a bit.

Larry drives a confused baby calf to its new pen with the help of his great-nephew, Brady Howell, 5, who is visiting the farm from Louisville. It’s frequent for Larry to have kids tagging along at the farm or exploring – on any given day, you can find the child of an employee climbing bales of hay or a friend or relative dropping by to show a youngster what the big animals are like up close.

Larry checks in on the harvesting at one of the soybean fields near his house. Larry has hired his close friend and owner of the only other remaining dairy farm in Grayson County, David Strader, to harvest the soybeans in his combine. These soybeans will be sold to be processed into bean meal and then purchased back to be fed to the cows.

Larry heads toward the pastures past the house his grandfather lived in when he first purchased the property and decided to start a dairy farm. “During his lifetime, he went from arriving here in a horse-drawn wagon to having internet to using a cell phone,” Larry says, shaking his head. Larry thinks his grandfather would have wanted the dairy farm to go on for at least three generations, but Larry’s wife Patty is fast to chime in. She says that, even though Larry’s grandfather had a hard time showing it, he was immensely proud of both the farm’s expansion and Larry’s contributions to it by the time he passed away in 2007.