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Local dairyman fulfills childhood dream

Article posted in Kentwood News Ledger

Inspired by his paw-paw Durward Stewart who row cropped farmed, raised replacement heifers and ran a slaughter house in Tangipahoa, Stewart always knew he wanted to be involved in farming.

After working in a variety of plants for about 12 years, but buying and selling replacement heifers on the side, Stewart always wanted to start milking. After selling enough heifers, Stewart was able to build his own dairy barn over the same sight his grandpa used years ago.

On a small dairy farm nestled just off Highway 440 in Tangipahoa, Stewart LeBlanc and his family began their adventure in the dairy business. Inspired by his paw-paw Durward Stewart who row cropped farmed, raised replacement heifers and ran a slaughter house in Tangipahoa, Stewart always knew he wanted to be involved in farming. "I can remember standing on the truck seat going with paw-paw to check his heifers and thinking this is what I want to do," Stewart recalls.

Stewart worked in a variety of plants for about 12 years, but was buying and selling replacement heifers on the side. "I always wanted to start milking but never had enough property in one place to get started," Stewart said. "I had several places leased but they were scattered here and there." However, that all changed when land became available on the family homestead and Stewart's parents Jim and Linda LeBlanc purchased it. "When my parents purchased the property that joined our home place this helped me tremendously," Stewart said. "I remember going home and telling my wife Tara that I was ready to take my shot in the dairy business. She has always supported my dream of starting a dairy and that has meant so much to me. She knew how much I wanted to farm and open my own dairy," he says.

Stewart went on to recall selling enough heifers to build his barn trying not to borrow money if at all possible. He decided to build the new barn over the old slaughter house once used by his paw-paw. "I wanted to build my barn over the old slaughter house so I would be able to tell my children oneday that the milk room of the dairy barn is where their great grandpa used to kill hogs," Stewart says.

Once construction began on the barn, Stewart says word spread like wildfire. "I couldn't go anywhere without someone asking me if I had lost my mind," Stewart says. "But I was determined to make it." He remembers one particular trip to the auction barn where a lady asked if he knew who was building the dairy barn in Tangipahoa. When he told her that he was the one building the barn, he said, "I don't know who turned more red, me or her." Stewart finally began milking in April of 2008. LeBlanc like most dairymen milk holsteins. He has raised about 150 heifers from baby calves with the help of Mildred Day who he says has helped him a lot with raising the calves. "I could not have done this without the help of so many," Stewart said. "I remember receiving my first milk check and thinking, I finally made it," he says.

Things were going well for Stewart and his family until 2009 when milk prices absolutely plummeted and input cost skyrocketed. "I remember lying in bed thinking maybe the lady at the auction was right. Maybe I was crazy." But, with dedication and the help of family and friends in the dairy business, Stewart and his family survived 2009 and have just about caught up from what he calls "the times of '09." Stewart says his operation is a little different from most because he still sells replacement heifers. "Since not all dairymen raise their replacement heifers and need a few extra cows they can come to the dairy and watch them milk and purchase the heifers right there," Stewart says. "I am very fortunate to have a good friend in the dairy replacement business that lets me milk fresh cows until they can be sold. This works well for both of us but sometimes it can be a little tricky since I never really know how many cows I will be milking at a certain time," he said. Stewart says the most important thing he has learned since entering the dairy business is to keep a calculator in his overalls. "I am constantly figuring costs and attempting to save as much money as possible," Stewart says. "Entering the dairy business has definitely been a challenge but one I have enjoyed."

As for the future of the dairy business Stewart says, I can honestly say I enjoy what I am doing and wish more young people would get involved in this field. There are so many ideas people are working on to help the dairy industry and our local dairy farmers.

Stewart is married to the former Tara Jones of Liberty, Mississippi and they have two sons three-year-old Charlie and two-month-old Sawyer.

Most days are pretty busy around the LeBlanc dairy farm. Still there is time for family and Stewart says the hard work has paid off in a quality of life that would be envied by many. "I enjoy being able to spend time with my family and dairying has enabled me to do that," Stewart says. "Hopefully one day my sons will share the same passion for the dairy industry that I do."