Dairy Producer Shares Perspective on Getting Started, Managing Costs and Building First-Generation Herd

Abbie Evans of A Joy Swiss in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania may have grown up in multiple generations of dairy farming, but she has worked with her husband to build their first-generation Brown Swiss herd and start their dairy operation from the ground up. Right on the Pennsylvania and New York border, Abbie and her husband raise their 40-cow herd on a farm that they rent.

They have been building their herd for the last seven years, but in the last year and a half, they began selling raw milk. With a small farm stand, they sell approximately 50 gallons of milk a week directly on the farm.

“I’ve really always wanted to sell milk. Our location is also pretty ideal if you want to do on-farm sales. We’re pretty happy with how it’s going so far,” Abby shared.

Abbie is open about the challenges and learning curves they have faced while starting this new venture. Remaining flexible with hours for customers to visit the farm and re-fill their containers, while having enough time for their other responsibilities with milking and managing the herd, can be tough. She says they aren’t afraid to learn and adjust along the way.

“We’ve tried to expand our hours to be more people-friendly, we try to be available as much as we can, and we try to have milk available all the time. But we’re also operating a farm,” she said. “The other challenge is, how much do we jug today? We have to be careful with it because if we jug too much, we have to throw it out if it’s there too long.”

To keep their herd happy and performing well, they have also taken advantage of multiple grants that allow them to invest in cow comfort. With the Dairy Excellence Grant through the Center for Dairy Excellence, Abbie and her husband installed new tunnel fans in the barn.

“There was no ventilation in our barn at all beforehand, so we [used the grant] to install three new tunnel fans. The air is definitely a lot better, and I think we’ve seen a big difference in the amount of flies in the barn as well,” Abbie explained. “It was definitely a big help for us to be able to do that. Our list of projects for that type of stuff is never-ending. People really need to take advantage of the grants. Take the time and fill out the application.”

While starting their dairy operation from scratch has been time and learning intensive, Abbie says the rewards of connecting with their community are worth it. A Joy Swiss hosted an open house last year where families could purchase local milk, pork and eggs, and meet the cows and calves.

“We really enjoy getting to meet new people, showing them where their food comes from, and letting them actually interact with the cows. That’s pretty rewarding for us,” Abbie said.

What’s her advice for younger farmers who are starting from scratch and working to create a profitable dairy business? Abbie’s first suggestion is to be savvy and focused on your finances.

“It’s a lot of sacrifice, and you have to be financially smart. You have to have some sort of side enterprise. There are some people who can manage [just milking cows], but for us, we buy 99% of our feed so I can’t imagine an equipment payment right now. We’re careful about over-extending ourselves financially,” she shared.

She also touts the beauty of a side enterprise to help with financial management, paying bills, and laying the foundation for your operation.

“Aside from selling our milk, my husband and I both do a lot of side work. We market and sell a lot of our cows for their genetics. It has really saved us in the last three to four years. It has helped us to be able to pay bills,” she added. “It’s a lot sometimes, but when you’re getting started and getting your building blocks down, it’s some of the things you have to sacrifice. I think a lot of people don’t realize that when they first start.”

To learn more about the Center’s Dairy Excellence Grants to enhance cow comfort and drive efficiency on your operation, click here. To learn more about getting started in dairy farming, click here to view our free Getting Started Guide.