by Bill and Mary Weaver
Merrymead Farm, probably the closest working farm to Philadelphia, is an exceptional farm run by the Rothenberger family. Milking 100 cows, and having the lowest somatic cell count in Pennsylvania for many, many years, Merrymead is also a Century Farm, as well as one of the top dairies in the country, producing National Quality Award Winning Milk.
In addition its owners are able to market 50 percent of their on-farm processed milk at their farm store, and the other 50 percent, with Merrymead’s label, to four upscale co-ops that make a circle around Philadelphia.
Two generations run all aspects of the farm — three sisters; Linda Homa, Carol Snyder, and Donna Quigley; one brother, Scott Rothenberger; and one brother-in-law, Steve Quigley. The second generation is comprised of three daughters: Jewel Rothenberger and sisters Leah and Kelsey Quigley.
Merrymead also has a surprising number of well-trained, dedicated employees, from full-time workers to summer help, to fall fill-in workers. “In the fall, a lot of people who used to work here in their teens — now teachers, policemen and farmers — as well as three generations of neighbors, come back on weekends to help with the fall activities for our ‘Harvest Days,’” explained Steve. “They help to entertain the public with hayrides and activities for families.”
To keep the cows clean and dry, Scott Rothenberger, who oversees the care of the cows, planted a pasture on a hill.
The cows are fed in the barn, so their feed can be closely controlled. The feed components, stored in five large silos on the farm, have all been analyzed in a lab, and the rations are balanced by a nutritionist. Mixing the feed is now mainly a push-button operation with each component coming by conveyor belt from the silo in which it has been stored to the barn, where it is weighed and then mixed in the correct proportions in the farm’s large mixer.
Kiln dried sawdust serves as bedding on well-scraped floors. In hot weather, the cows are kept comfortable with a sprinkling system and large fans.
“The cows don’t work for us. We work for the cows,” quipped Scott, indicating the amount of time, planning and hard work that go into keeping their 100 milking cows clean, dry, comfortable, and well fed and watered.
Brother-in-law Steve Quigley, although not raised on a farm, has been working at Merrymead nearly 35 years, and is president of the corporation. Both his personality and his degrees in business and marketing from Drexel make him well suited for the job.
Steve sets a punishing pace, spending seven days a week at the farm in addition to working as Township Supervisor.
Steve is also in charge of sales for Merrymead, and in the past three years he has branched out considerably from their former 99 percent on-farm milk sales, adding four upscale co-ops near Philadelphia.
“I like doing business with co-ops,” he commented. “The trend is toward buying local, and these co-ops were looking for quality local products.”
The farm is set up to be educational and family-friendly, and to give customers and visitors a good experience when they visit. Family members are kept busy giving countless farm tours. “Our customers’ good experiences on the farm are our best advertising,” explained Linda.
To this end, Merrymead keeps a huge Duroc hog named Franklin, who is very popular with children; a pen with sheep, goats, and a donkey; and pens with a variety of breeds of chickens, as well as peacocks and rabbits. The hutches of the youngest calves are also visible to visitors, who can sometimes watch a calf being bottle fed.
The farm always keeps displays of seasonal items for sale, ranging from bedding plants in the spring, both inside and outside their greenhouse, including an unusually wide variety of herb plants, to a huge fall display of pumpkins, mums and asters galore, Indian corn, fruits and vegetables, gourds, and fall craft items. At Christmas time, the farm partners with their church to hold a live nativity program on the Saturday and Sunday nights before Christmas.
The farm expanded in 1971. “At that time, we were milking 31 cows in a tie stall barn and shipping milk out,” explained Steve. “It was my wife’s parents, Maynard and Betty Jean Rothenberger, who had the vision to open the dairy store and build a new barn. They wanted to eliminate the middleman by processing and marketing all our milk on the farm, so that they could work together with their family.”
The market has grown from selling 100 percent milk to include ice cream and an array of other popular items. Agritainment opened the farm to allow customers to watch milking through a window, take part in a 5-acre corn maze and other activities during October “Harvest Days.”
School and summer camp tours on the farm are booming. “We give an educational tour in the spring and summer,” explained Donna. “It’s called, ‘The story of Milk, from Moo to You.’ For fall school tours, in addition to our other ‘Harvest Days’ activities, we include a hayride, the story of Johnny Appleseed told by someone dressed like a scarecrow, and we educate the children about pumpkins.”
Such a complex operation requires a tremendous amount of friendly cooperation and teamwork, and the two generations of the Rothenberger family are definitely up to the job.
by Bill and Mary Weaver