Dogwood Lane Dairy, owned by John and Kathy Myers, looks like what many consumers believe a dairy farm should look like, with an old stanchion barn and cows grazing in the fields.
The farm was established by John’s grandfather, who started milking Guernsey cows on the Worton, MD, farm in 1923. While John was still in high school, he bought out his grandfather’s herd.
“He knew he wanted to milk cows,” said Kathy, describing her husband’s career path. “There were a lot of Guernseys in the area at the time, and this farm has always had Guernseys.” Although the Myerses added several Holsteins at one point, they found Guernseys were more economical to maintain.
One trait of the Guernsey breed is the potential to produce milk with A2 protein, which some people have found easier to digest. When Kathy submitted hair samples to test individual cows for the A2 trait, the majority of the herd was positive.
This trait is the reason the Myerses were able to regroup after their co-op contract was cancelled. The family wanted to use a small portion of milk produced on the farm to make cheese and butter, but the co-op wanted 100% of their milk or none at all.
The Myerses had already discussed building an on-farm creamery to process and sell milk and other dairy products. “We started talking about this in 2015,” said Kathy. “We wanted to offer cheese, butter, milk and ice cream.”
Kathy recalled the week of their last milk shipment to the co-op – the same week the first batch of cheese made from Dogwood Lane Farm milk came out of the drying room. The Myerses had been milking 100 cows but decided to reduce the herd as they developed a direct marketing plan. Today, they’re milking 55 to 60 cows.
The Myerses currently send fresh A2 Guernsey milk to two cheesemakers and a buttermaker. Their long-term plan includes processing milk and making ice cream on the farm. “We now have control over everything,” said Kathy. “It’s hard but at least we have control.”
The family is currently building an on-farm creamery. “Through the creamery we can make and sell kefir, chocolate milk, whole milk and soft cheeses,” Kathy explained. Since the family choose to construct the creamery without obtaining loans, the completion date is unknown, but they have secured some of the necessary processing equipment as well as permits and are steadily working toward their goal.
For now, Dogwood Lane products are available through several farmers markets where they sell butter, beef, dog treats, handmade Guernsey milk soap and cheeses. The selection of raw milk A2 cheeses includes extra sharp cheddar, cracked black pepper Colby, applewood smoked cheddar, garlic and chive, Swiss and gouda. Kathy also maintains a home delivery route for dairy products to four Maryland counties.
John and Kathy’s sons Paul, 22, and Henry, 24, are on the farm and are integral parts of all aspects of its operation. Many who frequent farmers markets are young and seeking premium products, which puts Paul and Henry in an ideal position to sell at the markets. “Customers are drawn to two young men who are trying to start a business,” said Kathy.
From the time Dogwood Lane Dairy products first appeared at markets, Kathy found customers were interested in learning about the properties of A2 milk. “I spent a lot of time in 2019 and 2020 teaching people at farmers markets about A2,” she said. “Now we’re on the other side of COVID, we’re doing more markets and people are coming to us for A2 products.”
Customers can also purchase Dogwood Lane Farm products at the Guernsey Depot, a store in nearby Chestertown. Kathy explained this effort is aimed at becoming closer to the community and developing a relationship with local residents. “I would like to move that store back to the farm,” she said. “That way I can do more on the farm.”
The Dogwood Lane herd is maintained on pasture 24/7, which is how the cows have been kept since the herd was started. “We have big loafing sheds and a 29-stall stanchion barn,” said Kathy. “They come into the barn for milking.” While cows are currently milked twice a day in a pipeline system, the Myerses are considering adding a robotic system after their creamery is completed.
In addition to pasture, cows receive a forage-first diet of silage and hay with minimal grain. The Myerses grow all their own crops, including corn, soybeans and hay. They also roast their own soybeans to grind for feed.
To continually improve the herd and maintain A2 status, the Myerses breed cows in several ways, including natural cover, embryo transfer and AI. Exceptional bull calves are retained and raised with steers. After bulls mature, they’re pulled out as needed for breeding. The use of AI and embryo transfer helps to improve the herd. The Myerses have collected embryos from the herd and have purchased embryos to introduce new Guernsey bloodlines.
When selecting cows as embryo donors, John and Kathy choose cows that best fit their vision of ideal animals for the farm. “They have good feet and legs, good udders, good components and they aren’t too big,” said Kathy. “When cows are too big, they have to stand in the gutter because they’re too big for the stanchions. A mid-size cow works best for us and they last longer.”
Both Paul and Henry are interested in staying on the farm to continue what was started years ago. “When Henry was in high school, he said he wanted to bottle milk and sell it to the community,” said Kathy. “He had no idea that was his father’s dream too.”
When John and Kathy discussed the idea with both sons, the dream started to become reality. Kathy said the business the family has developed selling Guernsey products is what will help their sons as continue farming into the future.
Visit Dogwood Lane Farm online at dogwoodlanedairy.com.
by Sally Colby