The typical path toward employment for a college student consists of taking classes, working an internship, writing a resume, applying for jobs, and then interviewing for jobs in hopes of landing that dream position.

Brian McGarry ’18 took a slightly different path. He never wrote a resume and never applied for a job. But he landed in the exact career that he wanted, and one in a location familiar to him.  

Following his graduation from Virginia Tech with a degree in dairy science from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, McGarry moved up the corporate ladder quickly, taking the position as a co-partner in his family’s thriving dairy business. The McGarry Dairy sits less than two miles from the Canadian border in West Berkshire, Vermont.

His parents, ready to wind down after years of grueling work on the dairy farm, invited Brian to become a partner to keep the farm in the family. They also set up a transition plan. In four years, Brian takes full control, though probably not without receiving the occasional helpful tip from mom Diane or dad Ed.

“I kind of thought about it in college as to whether I was ready to go home,” McGarry said. “My parents were ready to retire about the time I was leaving college. It was either come home, or they were probably going to consider selling. I told them I was interested, so it just made sense. I was interested, and they were ready to retire.”

McGarry’s decision to run a dairy operation runs counter to what many dairy science graduates around the country do these days. According to Alex White, an instructor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Dairy Science, most graduates pursue careers related to reproduction or nutrition—and not milk production. There is one big reason for this.

“It’s hard work,” White said. “You’re pretty much married to it for 365 days out of a year. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s not always economically rewarding. Lately, the industry has been dealing with low milk prices and high feed prices. That makes it tougher for smaller farms. You often have to find other enterprises to turn a profit.”

The McGarrys, though, have found ways to be successful with their 416-acre farm in which they milk more than 100 Holsteins twice daily. The family plays to its strengths, with each providing something beneficial to the operation.

Brian’s parents once worked for University of Vermont Extension as agriculture agents, and they bring wisdom gleaned from years of experience. Diane McGarry also possesses a background in finance and oversees the budget. Brian brings a modern approach to farming, offering new techniques and processes learned during his time at Virginia Tech and from three internships at separate dairy farms over the course of four years in college.

Some examples include the implementation of twice-a-day feedings and taking a no-till approach (in which there is no plowing or harrowing of the soil) to raising corn on the 200 acres that the family reserves for crops.

Brian McGarry with his parents at graduation
Brian McGarry (middle), who graduated in 2018, always knew he was going to get into farming, and he's positioned himself to run the family dairy when his parents retire. Photo courtesy of Brian McGarry.

“We made some adjustments with some cow management stuff,” Brian McGarry said. “We’ve done a lot of work with hoof health type of stuff. We’ve also gone to two-a-day feedings. That helped us with fat content and a little bit with production. On the cropping side, we tried no-till and manure injection [injecting manure into cropland soil as a fertilizer], and now, we’re all no-till … And continuing to keep up with research as it comes out. Trying to find new things and new products to make things a little better.”

For the most part, his parents have been on board with his ideas.

“No-till was a bit of a tough sell originally for my dad,” McGarry said. “Other than that, no, not too bad [at rejecting his ideas]. Manure injection is more expensive, so my mom, being a finance person, she balked a little bit on that, but we’ve seen the paybacks now. Between that and the no-till, we’re seeing increased yields with less fertilizer. Now, it’s going well that way.”

In addition to being efficient, the partnership has been successful. Earlier this summer, they learned that McGarry Dairy was named 2021 Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year by University of Vermont Extension and the Vermont Dairy Industry Association in cooperation with the New England Green Pastures Program. A team of judges that consists of past winners looks at production records, herd performance, conservation practices and other criteria before choosing a winner.

“I was fairly excited,” McGarry said. “My parents had put in a lot of work in progressing our farm. With me joining the team, we kind of worked together to continue that progress in all fronts — environmental and trying to improve the welfare of our calves and cows. It’s nice to get recognized for the hard work my parents and me have put in.”

The Department of Dairy Science at Virginia Tech — an internationally recognized department — also takes pride in seeing one of its own becoming so successful and earning regional recognition.

“It’s exciting for me, knowing that our students can go out and make their livings, whether they’re going back home or going somewhere else,” White said. “They’re going out and contributing back to the community. It’s a good feeling. I love to see our students go out and get good jobs, get good careers, following through, and being successful.”

The McGarry family plans on staying on the cutting edge of the dairy industry. McGarry sees a day soon when they will need to upgrade their milking facility and their heifer and calf facility. Such investments will enable them to tackle current challenges, while giving them an option for future expansion.

Despite the challenges and the overwhelming amount of time and work that running a dairy operation requires, McGarry plans on continuing his passion.

For him, cows are his calling. They attract him like, well, no “udder” to borrow a bad pun.

“I really like the farming side,” he said. “I don’t have any interest moving off the farm to do any consulting or anything. I really enjoy the cow work, especially.”

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