DRAPER — Hurried commuters exit I-15 on a major thoroughfare, passing strip malls, restaurants, shops and ... milk cows — their pungent odor strangely out of place in the heart of Draper's urban bustle.

"People drive by and ask, 'why did they put a dairy farm in the middle of the city?' " said Scott Day, who runs Days Dairy Farm with his father, Henry Day. The dairy has been in the family for four generations.

But, as the city has grown around the farm, it's become increasingly difficult to operate, Scott Day said. Days Dairy Farm is scheduled to relocate to Payson as soon as the family's new facilities are completed, possibly by next March.

The land is currently zoned for agriculture, with a master plan that it be developed commercially on 12300 South, where the dairy sits, and developed residentially north of 12200 South.

City planners will support the development once they receive an application to rezone all of the land because development is part of the property's stated goals, said Margaret Pahl, a senior planner.

But, for city planners to approve, the developer needs to be able to show an overall plan for the entire property, including plans for streets that access both 12200 South and 12300 South, Pahl said. The new property owner recently had his request to rezone the north end of the property denied because he couldn't show more than one viable access to the area.

The farm's projected move has sparked complaints among some residents who worry that developing the land will increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

But, members of the Day family say they're looking forward to the move as a chance to "better" themselves.

Henry Day, who grew up on the property as well as raised his family there, said he's seen the family's land sold off a piece at a time. In addition to running the dairy, he's had to rent land to farm the past several years.

Days Dairy Farm now covers roughly 25 acres, five of which make up the dairy operation.

"I like Draper, but Draper isn't what it used to be, so I'm not sad about leaving," Scott Day said.

He pointed to a framed photograph hanging on a wall in the barn that shows the dairy farm years ago when it was surrounded by open fields. Only a few homes sprinkled along 12300 South were neighbors.

"That's what it was like when I was in high school," Scott Day said.

He reminisced about riding motorcycles with a buddy back when they could cross what are now busy roads without looking in either direction for oncoming vehicles.

Now, he mused, he has to pause in the middle of the road while trying to cross it because there's so much traffic.

"No, I'm not sad about leaving Draper," Scott Day said. "Draper's left what I like a long time ago."

With the loss of Days Dairy Farm in March, Salt Lake County will find itself entirely devoid of milk cow dairies.

There are 350 dairies in Utah, compared with about 2,000 20 years ago, said Kyle Stephens, deputy commissioner for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

The number of milk cows has held steady at 88,000, but "Ma and Pa operations" with 20 or so cows have given way to larger dairies, Stephens said.

Selling the farm wasn't a hastily made decision for the family. It's something they've anticipated for the past 20 years, Scott Day said. All anybody had to do was watch Sandy City encroach on the countryside to know that Draper was going to follow suit and mushroom out like it has.

But, the Day family couldn't just up and sell their farm.

"Ten years ago, I don't think we would have gotten enough money to relocate," he said. "It's like a chess game where you're waiting for an opportunity to move."

The Days needed to bide their time until they could make enough money off their sale to purchase new land and build up-to-date facilities.

"Don't jump too quickly, hold on as long as we could — that was our objective," he said.

In the meantime, the Day family has had to make do in a metropolitan area.

Managing manure is the biggest obstacle for most dairies in urban areas, Day said. The farm has handled the dilemma by using several acres of their land to compost the manure, which they then sell. City officials have also helped by allowing the farm's clean-up water to flow into the sewer system for a fee.

Still, Scott Day said he didn't think the dairy farm could survive beyond five or 10 more years in the city.

"People drive by and say, 'oh what a cute dairy farm,' " he said. "It's easy to drive by and look at the dairy farm, but it's another thing to have to make it in the middle of the city. We're not hobby-farmers. This is our livelihood."

Surrounded by sprawling suburbia, the family now has to drive 40 to 50 miles to buy feed for the cows. The extra travel, coupled with higher fuel prices have increased their costs, gouging their already stretched finances.

On top of that, the farm's revenue has held steady, given that the price of milk hasn't gone up since the 1970s.

People who are upset about the farm relocating need to realize that the dairy farm is going to continue and it's going to be in a better location, Scott Day said.

"If they realistically feel like this is a place where a dairy farm should be . . . they don't have any idea of what it takes to run a dairy farm and what it takes to sustain ourselves," he said.

Obsolete dairy equipment makes it hard to stay competitive, fueling the incentive to relocate and start over, he said.

The dairy houses several dilapidated buildings including a barn, built in 1922, and concrete silos built shortly after. Neither has been used within the past 30 years, said Scott Day, who refers to it as "an old garbage collection."

"These buildings mean absolutely nothing to me because they are so much more labor intensive and inefficient," he said.

The family plans to salvage and reuse anything they can, but they're more than happy to leave most of it behind.

"The real business is the cows and we're taking them with us," he said. "Them animals are what's sentimental to us; the rest of this is just how we run things."

The cows are descendants of the farm's original "O-Day" herd, Scott Day said. They've been in the family for so long, they are family.

Each one has been carefully raised for two years before it can be milked. The Days have roughly 180 heifers and 230 milk cows, 200 of which are currently producing milk.

And so, for the Day family, a modernized version of the dairy will continue in Payson with all the history and heritage that matters to them, surrounded by countryside that looks more like their original surroundings.

The way Payson's growing, it won't be more than another 20 to 30 years before the Day's 157 acres there begin to be invaded, but by then it will be time to modernize again anyway, Scott Day said.

"Who knows if the family will want to stay in the business still," he said. "It gives you an exit plan, an escape."


E-mail: sbills@desnews.com