by Sally Colby
When children are raised on farms, they often want to return and continue the family legacy. In such cases, the family usually must increase herd size, acquire more land, or figure out a value-added enterprise that works for their situation.
About eight years ago, David and Betsy Herbst and two of their children went through the process of determining how to keep the farm moving forward with the addition of two families. Daughter Jeni had earned a degree in dairy science and ag business from Delaware Valley College and wanted to return to the farm, and son Andrew studied ag machinery and agronomy at SUNY Cobleskill and wanted to work with the crops.
“We talked about starting a creamery for several years,” said Betsy. “Jeni and Andrew said they were serious about the creamery, so we sat down with our consulting team — our vet, the nutritionist and our financial advisor.”
Today, the family-owned Misty Meadow Creamery in Smithsburg, MD, is a thriving business offering milk, cheese and ice cream along with a touch of agritainment.
Betsy says she and David attended four different courses as they explored the new business venture, and learned everything from how to make ice cream to managing the ice cream dipping area. Although they were told the ice cream wouldn’t be good because it was being made from non-homogenized milk, their ice cream proved otherwise.
All milk that will be bottled or used to make ice cream goes through low-temperature vat pasteurization, 45 gallons at a time. “Milk is heated to 145 degrees and held at that temperature for 30 minutes,” said Betsy. “Then we cool it to 45 degrees, and we can bottle it at that temperature.”
Misty Meadow makes their own ice cream mix, which is not the norm for creameries. “We use five ingredients,” said Betsy. “Sugar, our own pasteurized milk, cream, stabilizer and powdered milk. We have more than 50 flavors, which evolve throughout the seasons.”
Betsy says one goal of the creamery was to make sure they offered something for everyone. “If someone can’t tolerate dairy, we have non-dairy sorbet, and one of them is sugar-free,” she said. “We also have gelato that has no added sugar, and frozen yogurt in two flavors: key lime pie or wild berry.” Misty Meadows also sells meat and eggs from the farm.
While much of the 480-acre farm is devoted to growing crops for silage and grain, some is used for grazing paddocks. Hay is either chopped and ensiled or baled. The farm’s eight-acre corn maze is also a source of grain corn. Cows have TMR in front of them at all times in freestall barn, and also have access to pasture. Heifers raised in a rotational grazing system. The slatted floor barn has a one million gallon underground storage tank to hold manure for twice a year spreading.
The 140-head milking herd is primarily registered Holsteins, with several Brown Swiss that were Andrew’s 4-H show cattle. Betsy says Jeni participated in 4-H dairy cattle judging, and has been picking bulls since high school. She’s interested in looking at cows with a focus on how to improve that cow’s daughters, and also tracks herd progress through DHIA testing. All cows and heifers are in the aAa® (Animal Analysis Associates) program, which helps Jeni achieve her goal of improving cow daughters. With the help of a heat synchronization program, cows are bred once a week, and a clean up bull in the heifer group ensures more confirmed pregnancies. The herd veterinarian visits every other week for pregnancy checks and to monitor herd health.
Cows are milked twice a day in a double six herringbone parlor. The herd is divided into two groups, and with two people on milking duty, it’s easy for one person to milk while the other moves cows. First calf heifers and fresh cows comprise one group, with older and later lactation cows in the second group.
Many family members are involved in the creamery, all working toward making sure visitors have a pleasant experience. “Families come out and spend several hours here,” said Besty. “They come for ice cream and the kids play. We have families that come every week, and they love to come out for the corn maze.”
The Herbsts use Facebook to keep customers informed about topics such as new ice cream flavors and special events. Betsy says she started something called ‘the name game’ which has turned into a popular draw for the farm. “In winter months when it was slow, I started the name game,” she said. “I pick a different name every day, and if it’s your name, you get a free single dip ice cream that day. People started to complain on Facebook that their name wasn’t picked, so now people can drop their name on a slip of paper into a jar.”
In addition to selling dairy products from their on-farm store, the family attends several farmers markets where they take bottled milk, ice cream and cheese. The creamery is one of eight dairy farms on the Maryland Ice Cream Trail, which includes dairy farms that make and sell ice cream on the farm. The trail was initiated by state Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance last year to encourage the state’s third largest ag commodity. Consumers can obtain a passport and have it stamped each time they visit a creamery. “People are looking for something to do on weekends,” said Betsy, “especially with kids.”
Visit Misty Meadows Creamery on Facebook and at www.mistymeadowfarmcreamery.com.
by Sally Colby