Alta Mae Core has rolled with the changes during a lifetime in Kentucky's dairy industry
Things have changed mightily in the dairy industry, both in Kentucky and nationwide, in the nearly half-century since the curtain was raised on the Kentucky National Dairy Show and Sale.
Although she was only 3 years old during the inaugural event in 1963 and doesn’t remember it, Alta Mae Core is sure she was there. She recalls the 1964 Kentucky Nationals because her dad, A.J. Keightley, sold a champion cow that year, Sleeping Jester Kate.
“I just remember being there and in the pictures,” Alta Mae said. “I’m old, but I’m not that old.”
In the years since, Core’s family business, Keightley’s Jerseys, has changed right along with Kentucky’s dairy industry. The name changed to Keightley and Core Jerseys 25 years ago when she married Jeff Core and the couple bought their own 250-acre farm near Salvisa, Ky., about five miles from the Mercer County farm where she grew up near McAfee.
“Keightley and Core is kind of the same [as Keightley’s Jerseys]; it goes back to those roots,” Alta Mae said. “A lot of the bloodlines trace back to my family’s farm.”
Alta Mae said one of the biggest changes she’s seen in Kentucky’s dairy industry over the past 49 years is a sharp reduction in the number of family farms.
Kentucky had about 544,000 dairy cows in 1963, according to the Kentucky office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The 1964 Census of Agriculture reported 58,689 Kentucky farms had milk cows, but fewer than half of those farms (26,247) reported whole milk sales to plants and dealers.
In 2010-11, those numbers had dwindled to 78,000 dairy cows on 875 dairy farms.
“There are a lot more commercial dairies that buy and sell than there were back then [in 1963],” Alta Mae said. “That’s the biggest difference, really.”
But she believes the quality of Kentucky’s dairy cows has improved over the past five decades.
“All the breeds, as a whole, are better than what they were then,” Alta Mae said. “Genetics have to constantly improve. Breeding programs have to keep up with the times and make it [farming] profitable.”
Keightley and Core Jerseys milks 60 to 70 cows per day and has a herd of about 150 head.
Alta Mae retired after working 30 years for the Kentucky Department of Revenue in Frankfort. “I paid for our hobby of milking cows,” she quipped.
In addition to working on the family farm and serving as a nationally-renowned dairy judge, Alta Mae serves on Kentucky National Show and Sale Board and Kentucky Fair Council.
Alta Mae’s father grew up on a farm with dairy cows. His brother, Bill Keightley, was the University of Kentucky’s longtime men’s basketball equipment manager who was nicknamed “Mr. Wildcat.”
“They grew up on a farm in Anderson County and milked a couple of Jersey cows,” Alta Mae said. “They had a job picking up milk cans before school.
“I guess that’s where my dad got his interest. It’s a family thing; it’s all in your blood.”
Alta Mae’s children and grandson all followed her into the family business.
“My kids are grown, but all of them are somewhat involved in some form or fashion,” she said. “They still help when we go to shows and fill in when we need to be away.”
Son Brady Core works for Select Sires Inc., but he still lives at home and is involved in the farm. Youngest daughter Brittany is a bookkeeper for the farm. Oldest daughter Brooke Powers is married, but her son, 4-year-old Jackson, has calves, “so he’ll be involved,” Alta Mae said.
“Our only concern right now is he likes the Holsteins and we have a Jersey herd,” she said. “So there may be some changes made.”
Top right: Alta Mae Core, center, was 4 years old in 1964 when this photo was taken during the second Kentucky National Dairy Show and Sale in Louisville. Her father, A.J. Keightley, back, smiled proudly as his champion Jersey cow, Sleeping Jester Kate, received her award.
Bottom left: Alta Mae Core of Salvisa, right, is recognized for her work as co-chair of the Kentucky National Dairy Show and Sale 50th Anniversary Celebration Committee by Katherine Wheatley, dairy coordinator in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Division of Show and Fair Promotion, April 13 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. (Photo by Chris Aldridge)