Doug and Pat Aukema started Aukema Dairy Farm as first-generation farmers in New Jersey, then later moved to Chenango Forks, NY to farm there. But Doug wasn’t new to dairy farming — he had grown up on a dairy farm in Holland.
In November of 1991, when Brian was 16, his father Doug was injured in a serious farm accident. Brian handled the majority of the farm work for a while, but the family made the tough decision to sell the herd three months later.
The accident left Doug severely disabled, and the family didn’t know whether they’d ever get back to dairy farming. But in June of 1993, the family purchased registered Holsteins and Aukema Dairy was up and running once again.
“That’s the herd we have today,” said Brian. “My dad was able to function fully at that time. He made a great recovery, and is able to perform most farm tasks today. Milking cows is good physical therapy.”
After graduating from high school, Brian went to SUNY Morrisville to study ag business, then to Cornell for a B.S. in animal science. He had been very involved in 4-H and had numerous projects throughout 4-H, which led to a permanent career. “My passion has always been education and working with youth,” he said. “Everyone thinks there’s a big secret about agriculture — there is no secret about agriculture. We’re as transparent as we can possibly be, and teach people about it.”
Brian began working as a 4-H educator in his county and began studies for his master’s degree in vocational education. His brother Jim was working on the dairy farm, but also had an off-farm job. Brian eventually took a position with Broome County as the 4-H lead. He also married his wife Crystal, a fellow Cornell graduate, a high school ag teacher, who shares his enthusiasm for spreading the good word about agriculture. “We’ve always had passion for educating the public,” said Brian. “When I was in 11th grade, I wrote a paper about my dream of offering public tours of the farm. So even in high school I had this idea of what my dream and passion was.”
In 2008, the family started to consider other options for the farm, and looked into ice cream production. However, that venture would be prohibitively expensive, so they explored the idea of a micro dairy. “The equipment was reasonable and we’d be able to start small,” said Brian. “We did more research, visited other creameries and created a business plan. We received a low-interest loan for equipment for our processing plant and the store through the regional economic development council.”
After receiving the loan in late 2012, the family remodeled a section of the farm’s machine shed to create a processing room and a store. Brian worked with the local milk inspector and the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets to make sure their plans met regulations. He obtained the necessary licenses to operate, and spent a day at SUNY Morrisville learning how to make cheese. “We make fresh cheese curd,” said Brian. “I also took a class at Cornell in vat pasteurization and cultures, and found some people who are willing to help.”
The goal of the micro dairy was to bring people to the farm and teach them about farming and local products, and also add value to their milk. The Dutch Hill Creamery on-farm store is stocked with cream line milk, chocolate milk, yogurt and cheese curd. Local eggs, goat milk soap and maple syrup from Crystal’s family are also available. Dutch Hill also has several wholesale accounts and sells at a farmers’ market.
“When we started, milk prices were pretty good,” said Brian. “But now prices aren’t good. We still ship 80 to 90 percent of our milk, depending on the season. Processing is a small niche to bring people to the farm.”
Today, the Aukemas milk about 60 cows with a herd average of 22,500. Bulls are selected for longevity, feet and legs, strong udders and dairy character. Doug selects the sires and Brian does the A.I. Jim handles feeding and crops, Doug and Brian share milking duties and Crystal cares for the calves. Barbie, Pat and the rest of the family pitch in where they’re needed. The farm includes 180 owned acres and additional rented acreage for growing crops for the TMR.
Dutch Hill Creamery started processing milk in mid-May of 2013, so they’ll soon be completing their fourth year. Brian had already initiated the Broome County Farm Tour, a venture to open farms to the public, in the fall of 2012. “We were the only dairy farm,” said Brian. “We have only guided tours, partially for safety reasons but also because the focus is on education. “I don’t want people to just see it, I want them to learn what everything is.”
During the tour, visitors learn about various aspects of farm life, from the cost of farm equipment to calf care and how cows’ diets are balanced; all in terms they can understand. “I’ll tell them a cow eats a garbage can full of food — about 100 pounds,” said Brian, “and that cows have four stomachs and we have one. I’ll talk about we send our feed to a lab every two weeks to have it analyzed. We also talk about how stalls have been engineered over the years so cows are comfortable. People have no idea how much science has gone into all of this.”
The milk house is included on the tour, and visitors learn how the calf hutches keep calves warm during winter and cool in summer. “We talk about colostrum and milk replacer, and how the calves wear blankets in winter,” said Brian. “We always walk by the manure pit and talk about how farmers are true environmentalists and that manure is gold, and how we try to keep as many nutrients as possible on the farm.”
Dutch Hill also hosts tours for legislators and local elementary and high school classes. Brian credits his wife Crystal, his brother Jim, Jim’s wife Barbie and his parents for making sure the tours run smoothly.
The family was recently awarded the Dairying for Tomorrow Community Outreach Award through the American Dairy Association North East. Aukema Dairy Farm is a Dairy of Distinction.
“Our goal is to have happy cows,” said Brian. “Happy cows aren’t just in California.”
Visit Aukema Dairy and Dutch Hill Creamery online at www.dutchhillcreamery.com.