by Sally Colby
Layne Klein’s father left Minnesota during the dust bowl years and headed for Pennsylvania. That was in autumn 1935, when many farms were for sale.
“This farm was originally 58 acres and cost $5,800,” said Layne, describing the family farm in Easton, PA. Over the last 50 years, the Klein family has remodeled and expanded the farm, and today, they farm about 500 acres including rented ground. This autumn, Layne, his wife Beth and their family will celebrate the farm’s 85th anniversary.
Layne said the herd was initially grade Holsteins, but as he got older and became more interested in cows, he started purchasing purebred Holsteins. “In 1990, we remodeled the whole barn because the cows had gotten so big and the stalls were way too small,” he said. “We went from stanchions to a really nice tie-stall barn.”
Klein Farms started with DHIA in the 1980s, and Layne served as a junior director for Sire Power. “That piqued my interest even more in bulls and cows,” he said, adding that his father started using AI when it was first available. “The first herd average we had after 12 months was over 19,000 pounds.” Layne and Beth’s son Jake became interested in the farm, married Amanda, and both are involved on the farm today.
Things were going well for the Kleins until Nov. 1, 2002, when Layne was working with a sick cow in a box stall. The cow fell sideways on him, breaking his leg. “I was laid up for about four months,” said Layne. “At the time, the economics weren’t good. We were short of feed and milk prices were bad. We decided to sell the milking cows to another farmer in Berks County.”
While the Kleins no longer had the milking herd, they still had heifers and other young stock. “As those heifers started having calves, we were milking one, then two cows, feeding calves, then milking three cows,” said Layne. “We were feeding calves and throwing milk away – we didn’t know which way we were going to go.”
As Layne recovered from his injury, he and Beth realized there were better options for milk than simply discarding it. They considered making cheese, but in 2003, there wasn’t a lot of information for small, on-farm cheesemaking. After some searching, they found kits for making small batch cheeses at home. Beth spent the next year in the kitchen perfecting the science of cheesemaking.
“We put a creamery together over the next year,” said Layne. “We remodeled a building and got a 200-gallon vat pasteurizer. The vat is a refurbished bulk tank with a jacket around it, and we pump steam to heat the water to heat the milk. We chose steam over electric because we also make ricotta, and to make ricotta, milk has to be heated to 195º. It’s hard to get that high with electric with a 200-gallon vat. The steam boiler also makes hot water, which is needed in the creamery.”
The vat allows them to make soft cheeses they can sell immediately. “Hard cheeses like gouda, cheddar, Colby Jack, Romano, gruyere, are all made of raw milk,” said Layne. “The law says they have to be refrigerated for 60 days before they’re sold.”
After starting the cheesemaking enterprise, Layne’s sister Lori was trained to make cheese. “She’s an outstanding cheesemaker,” said Layne. “She makes bleu, gruyere, parmesan, Romano, mozzarella, mozzarella-pepperoni roll and an Italian herb roll.” The Klein Farms creamery also churns out mozzarella tubs, 15 flavored cheese spreads, yogurt and drinkable yogurt. In addition to selling dairy products directly from the farm, Klein Farms markets cheeses and raw milk via 43 wholesale accounts.
Pennsylvania allows the sale of raw milk, so the Kleins added that to their product line in October 2004. Layne said it isn’t difficult to get a raw milk license – it’s a matter of an initial inspection and three raw milk tests over a two-week period that meet state standards. “They’re looking at somatic cell count and coliform count below 10,” said Layne. “Once we have a license, milk is tested twice a month by an independent lab.”
The Kleins had already been sending beef animals to a USDA facility for processing, so they continued offering beef cuts to customers. “We opened a store on the farm in October 2004,” said Layne. “We only had milk, eggs and meat to start.”
Since customers had been requesting ice cream, the Kleins made another addition to the product line, and April 2020 marked four years of making and selling ice cream in the new store. “We don’t make milkshakes or sundaes,” said Layne. “It’s just ice cream in cups or cones. We use real fruit, 14% fat and no artificial coloring. That’s what makes ice cream good.” Layne added that ice cream is a recession-proof business, and sales remained brisk during COVID-19 restrictions.
The farm includes 100 acres of hay ground for haylage and small grain (triticale and rye) silage for heifers. New hay seedings are started with oats and the first cutting is chopped and ensiled for heifers. Alfalfa haylage and high-moisture shelled corn all goes into a TMR.
“The biggest buzzwords here are local and fresh, and we made a commitment to GMO-free crops,” said Layne. “That has brought us business.” Layne said it’s easy to purchase conventional seed without added traits for on-farm rations, and he also sells GMO-free grains at a premium price.
The registered Holstein herd is still the backbone of the farm, and cow care and comfort are priorities. “We aren’t in a hurry to breed heifers at 15 months,” said Layne. “It’s closer to 17 or 20 months. We have good conception rates for both cows and heifers.”
A freestall barn is divided to accommodate two groups: cows that are switched to the freestall barn for milking and dry cows on the other side.
Calves are raised in a hoop house structure on a stone base, open on both ends with side ventilation year-round.
Klein Farms’ location helps keep them visible. “We can see New Jersey from the farm,” said Layne. “We have a lot of customers from New Jersey and New York City, and we also get a lot of customers from all over who are vacationing in the Poconos.”
Visit Klein Farms Dairy and Creamery on Facebook.