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Top farm family grateful for opportunity
Troy Milford inspects a feeder in one of the family’s chicken houses, which raise broilers for Pilgrim’s, a supplier of Chick-fil-A, in north Forsyth. - photo by Crystal Ledford

Three years ago, Troy Milford made the decision to leave his day job as a director of marketing and sales for an electrical engineering firm.

Rather than stepping into another position with the typical 8-to-5 routine, Milford’s decision led him to one that every day involves getting his hands dirty, rising before the sun and often not finishing until after it has set.

While that may not sound appealing to some, for Milford it was “coming home.”

“I’m living the dream that I had since I was a little boy,” he recalled Monday at his family’s Waldrip Road farm. “My goal had always been to work on the family farm full time and I thank the Lord for being able to do that.”

For him, farming is a tradition that began with his grandfather, Jack Milford, and is continuing with his 21-year-old son, Matt.

“My grandpa started farming here in the early 1900s, so it’s been a part of our family for a long time,” he said.

With the help of his father, Dempsey, the three generations together tend the family’s 40 acres in northeastern Forsyth.

“There’s just nothing in the world like getting to work out here every day side by side with my son and my dad,” Troy Milford said.

That passion led to the Milford family — which also includes his mother Evelyn, wife Rita and daughter Sarah — being named the 2013 Farm Family of the Year for Forsyth County by the Upper Chattahoochee River Soil & Water Conservation District.

The district includes Forsyth, Dawson, Habersham, Lumpkin and White counties. Every year, a family is named tops in their respective county and all are honored during the district’s annual banquet.

This year, that event will be Nov. 14 at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

Each farm family selected for the honor uses outstanding techniques that preserve natural resources.

The Milfords’ operation consists of six chicken houses, in which they raise broilers for Pilgrim’s. Troy Milford said many of the chickens end up being sold to Chick-fil-A restaurants.

Each year, the family raises about seven flocks, each with 140,000 chickens, for Pilgrim’s Canton location.

In addition, they have about 80 head of cattle on their property. They sell several calves each year to other farmers and beef retailers.

As for the family’s conservation practices, the Milfords installed a stackhouse in 2004. The building is used to properly store poultry litter on a temporary basis until it can be spread on pastures as fertilizer.

Earlier this year, a larger stackhouse was added to handle extra litter from two additional chicken houses the family built.

A comprehensive nutrient management plan is also used to oversee litter applications on pastures. And the family uses rotational grazing of cattle, heavy-use areas and overseed pastures with wheat and winter rye.

“Our heavy-use feeding area down in the pasture is a 40-by-40 concrete pad. So when it’s real nasty, the cows are actually on the concrete so it doesn’t erode the ground nearly as bad,” Troy Milford added. “And all around our barns, we’ve got mats and gravel, so they don’t cut ruts in the ground bad.

Matt, who graduated from North Forsyth High School in 2010, has embraced the family business.

“You can’t beat it,” he said. “There’s nothing better. I guess if you didn’t grow up in it, you probably wouldn’t like it as much. But when I was a little I was up here every day … so I just grew up in it.”

As did his dad, who said he has vivid memories of helping his grandfather care for his chickens.

“It was a lot different then than it is now,” Troy Milford said. “My papa had to stoke fires to keep [the chicks] warm. Today we just turn on the gas.”

Working together, the family overcame an obstacle earlier this year when Troy Milford underwent a kidney transplant after waiting a couple of years for a donor.

He had spent more than three years on dialysis while battling polycystic kidney disease. His match to a donor came as the family was beginning construction on its new chicken houses and stackhouse.

“My dad and son really stepped up and kept everything going well on the farm while I was out of commission,” Troy Milford said.

Also an ordained Baptist minister, he noted that the family’s faith helped greatly during his battle with kidney disease. “The only thing I can say is the Lord’s blessed us. He’s done it all,” he said.

As for his former job, does he ever miss it? He doesn’t seem to.

“Look out there,” he said while overlooking some of the family’s rolling hills. “You can’t beat our office. You get to see God’s creation every day.”