The dividing line between suburbia and rural agriculture dissolves along County Road 9 where the Buffalo Creek housing development and La Luna Dairy face each other at the city limits of Wellington.
Jon Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore feed and milk 1400 dairy cows on 60 acres of land at La Luna Dairy. They were made aware of the impact their expanding operation had on the town of Wellington a few years ago. “We went from 500 cows to three times that many and from 14 to 60 acres of land,” Slutsky explained.
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Townspeople watched tall construction cranes assemble new buildings, and when the breezes blew just right there was the unmistakable odor that goes along with raising that number of cattle.
“Back then we were part of an agricultural culture that said, ‘We’re separate from you. Leave us alone,’” Slutsky said. “But we soon changed our minds. Wellington is our home, a place we love, and we didn’t want to be pegged ‘the big bad dairy.’”
Slutsky and Moore began to fine-tune their operation. They built a new and more efficient waste system. They cleaned up the place and began to devote attention to air quality. Slutsky worked so hard at making the changes that in 2007 he was appointed to the state of Colorado Air Quality Control Commission and served until 2012.
In 2006, determined to contribute in other ways to improving his hometown, Slutsky became one of the founders of the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce. “Ag needs to be a good corporate citizen and neighbor,” he said. “We want to make the state a better place.”
One of the ways the dairy owners contribute to the welfare and education of the community is the invitation they issue each fall to every eighth grade student at Wellington Middle School. At 9 am. on Oct. 3, 160 kids—excited by the fact that it was Friday and that they were out of school for a few hours — descended on the dairy for an experience some of them could only vaguely imagine.
In a long line beginning at the edge of the dairy property, the school kids made their way down a muddy road west to where the work gets done. They visited the pastures where the cows are fed and cared for, the sheds where they are milked and the tanks that store thousands of gallons of milk. Twice every day a tanker truck pulls up and sucks 6,000 gallons into its stainless steel belly for the trip to a milk processing plant in Greeley.
For the kids who are growing up outside of town, this field trip may not be extraordinary — they’ve always known where their glass of milk began. But for others it’s an eye-opener — especially when they come-face-to-face with the milk producers and figure out where the smells and piles of manure come from. It’s the very best kind of on-site learning.
There was a time when Slutsky, a New York native who grew up in California, and Moore, a California girl studying anthropology in college, made a decision to move to Fort Collins. Slutksy brought along a degree in biology and Moore intended to complete her education at Colorado State University.
Failing to find a job booking entertainment acts, something he loved to do and had experience with, Slutsky settled for a janitorial position at CSU, rising through the ranks to a managerial position during a seven-year stint in the job. The pair began raising goats. Moore fell in love with them and enrolled at CSU with a new major — animal science. She augmented the family income with a typesetting job.
They decided to pursue raising goats as a business but funding for such an enterprise was nowhere to be found, so instead they leased the Volsky Dairy Farm in Waverly. They learned the business by doing it. Along with one part-time employee, they cared for and milked 64 cows.
Before long, La Luna Dairy, which had been in operation since 1946, came up for sale and in 1985 they took the plunge. Today the employee roll has grown to 27 and Moore is largely freed from her role as business manager. She loves the freedom she has to pursue quilting.
Raisa, the couple’s daughter, now 26, grew up at the dairy and has carried an agricultural gene into her career teaching life lessons through gardening to children in Philadelphia.
Slutsky has never been sorry that they switched from goats to cows. While he pegs the financial aspects as the most difficult part of the business, he’s clearly happy about the work he does each day.
He explained that like most dairies in the state, he has a contract to sell his milk to Dairy Farmers of America, a coop that sets the price he receives. When feed prices are reasonable and demand for milk is high, there’s a profit to be made.
But when times get tough, he cannot control prices and his only path to profitability is to increase efficiency. “I have to buy feed and I have to pay my employees,” Slutsky said. “If not, the cows won’t thrive and they are my assets. When feed costs are about a third of the whole, that’s good, but there are times when feed costs me two-thirds of my budget.”
Slutsky has never forgotten his commitment to making his community and state a better place. Today he serves on the Colorado State Water Quality Control Commission, an entity that regulates every aspect of surface water in the state. It’s a job where critical decisions affecting the entire state are made.
Slutsky is pleased to contribute his time to the Commission, though if he let it, it could become a full-time undertaking. And all those dairy cows are still in need of his attention every day.