Meet your neighbor: Eighth generation dairy farmer John King works around the clock

Mackenzie Moore • Jun 25, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Beyond the curved country roads in Piney Flats lies one of four remaining dairy farms in Sullivan County. King Dairy Farm LLC was established in 1778 — before Tennessee was even a state — after receiving its first land grant.

John King, who will be the eighth generation dairy farmer, watches the world wake up as he sips on his coffee and prepares for the day’s tasks.

“My day starts at 5 a.m.,” King said. “I get up and start thinking about what I’m doing. I drink my coffee, and by the time I drink that coffee, I’m ready to rock n’ roll.”

The clock reads 5:30 a.m., and he is already out the door tending to the cows and responsibilities on the farm, which varies day-to-day. King’s father, Steve King, farms over 1,000 acres of land — including 270 acres of corn and 230 dairy cows— so he and his son keep busy with farming.

Agriculture is an umbrella term that encompasses the many duties one must master to care for hundreds of animals and thousands of acres.

“I do a little bit of everything,” King said. “I’m anywhere from a mechanic to a veterinarian, a plumber, electrician, herdsman, operator. ... I could keep going on and on.”

King graduated from Sullivan East High School in Bluff City in 2009, which was one of the most trying years for Tennessee dairy farmers. He observed his father as he matured on the farm, and as he grew, so did his love for farming. He started working on the farm regularly at 16 years old.

“It’s in my blood, I guess you could say,” King said. “But my dad ended up saying to me, ‘This is something I really don’t want you going into right now.’ I said to him that as long as he’s gonna farm, I’m gonna farm. All these bad things could be going on, but I still love to be outside taking care of the cows.”

King landed a welding scholarship toward the end of his high school career, and after he graduated, he advanced to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Elizabethon, where he obtained his welding degree. 

“It’s another trade that I’d have just in case things ended up falling out here at the farm,” King said. “And I end up using it all the time right here.”

To those who may not be aware of the strenuous responsibilities of running a dairy farm, King asked consumers to remember the local dairy farmers while strolling down the milk aisle.

“I can tell you this: It’s 365 days a year, seven days a week with no day off,” King said. “It’s hard work every day. It’s determination every day. You have to love it to do it. You have to love the cows. It takes a special, special person to do it. There’s a lot of sweat that goes into that gallon of milk.

“So, drink lots of milk and support the local dairyman.”

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