Generational dairy farms with purebred cattle play an important role in preserving and promoting good genetics. In the case of the Ferry family’s Dreamroad Jerseys, paying close attention to superior genetics has paid off.
Today, sisters and generational dairy farmers Becky Ferry and Sandra Scott are operating the dairy farm started by their parents, Phillips and Sue Ferry.
In the mid 1980s, when the Ferrys’ herd included both Holsteins and Jerseys, their milk check reflected multiple component pricing. With the potential for an improved component-based milk check, the Ferrys traded 15 Holsteins for 25 Jerseys, and that was the start of the family’s 100% Jersey herd.
In 1990, the family moved to their current location in Johnstown, NY. Becky said the farm they purchased had been vacant for three years and required numerous repairs and upgrades. The stalls in the tie-stall barn had been designed for Holstein show cattle, so one priority was to reconfigure the stalls to accommodate the smaller Jerseys.
“Over time, Jerseys have increased in size,” said Becky. “We had to fix the stalls again to make them large enough for larger Jerseys.”
But there’s a fine balance between dairy cattle size and return on investment. Becky cited a sustainability study, funded by the American Jersey Cattle Association, first conducted in early 2000 and recently updated. The study collected data on Jerseys and Holsteins and compared costs and returns, including potential cheese yield, to determine the true efficiency of Jersey cattle. The results showed that Jersey cattle continue to remain an efficient breed.
When Becky and Sandra took over the farm in 2016, they became fourth-generation farmers (the second generation on the Johnstown farm). While the sisters manage the farm, Becky said her father continues to make mating selections for the herd, focusing on the Jersey udder index and sorting sire options by milk production, fat and protein. He also considers other traits such as structure, which influences longevity.
“Jerseys are somewhat finer-boned than other larger breeds, and the Jersey [breed] has strict standards for feet and legs,” said Becky. “They’re also working to make sure the breed isn’t becoming post-legged or sickle hocked, which appraisers consider.”
Thanks to Phillips’s keen eye for good cattle, the Dreamroad herd was recently awarded the Master Jersey Breeder Award by the American Jersey Cattle Association. According to the association, “the Master Breeder Award is bestowed annually to a living AJCA member, family, partnership or corporation that, in the opinion of the Board of Directors, has bred outstanding animals for many years and thereby made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Jersey breed in the United States.”
As a pasture-based operation, Dreamroad Jerseys graze from May through late October. The Ferrys worked with NRCS to develop a pasture plan for the farm, including 28 paddocks supplied with water through a gravity flow system. In spring, when pasture growth is rapid and lush, the milking herd is rotated through 18 paddocks while heifers and dry cows graze the other paddocks. In autumn, when regrowth isn’t as rapid, cattle are rotated through all the paddocks. The herd is turned out to graze at night and return to the tunnel-ventilated tie-stall barn for the day.
“Thirty years ago, we had to graze down the pastures to clean them up and get new grasses growing,” said Becky. “At this point it’s a grass-based mix.”
Cows graze a different paddock each night, rotating through the paddocks about eight or nine times throughout the season depending on weather conditions and pasture growth. Pastures are mowed when necessary.
The Ferrys raise crops for a TMR that’s fed when cows return to the barn in the morning. “We have about 90 acres of corn, 100 acres of alfalfa/legume forage for baleage and another 200 acres of grass for dry hay,” said Becky. “We also sell a lot of small square hay bales.”
She noted that the ability to make baleage is an advantage in spring when weather conditions aren’t ideal for properly curing dry hay. A mineral mix is added to the TMR and cattle have access to free-choice bicarb and trace mineral salt in the barn.
To accommodate various age groups, the Ferrys added a heifer barn adjacent to the main barn. In autumn and winter, dry cows and pregnant heifers are comfortable on a bedded pack. Tie-stalls are equipped with mattresses and topped with shavings.
The Ferrys sell some show calves to youth who want to get started showing purebred dairy cattle. “We take kids with us to shows and help mentor them,” said Becky. “Sandy is president of the state Jersey club and is involved in scholarship programs, and I was recently named for a second term on the Board of Directors for the American Jersey Cattle Association.”
When Becky and Sandra took lead roles on the farm, they realized the milk check wouldn’t always provide sufficient income. They had been selling Jersey beef for a long time, so they started a 24-hour self-serve farm store two years ago. Customers can purchase beef, pork and Cabot products as well as baked goods and other local products.
Although the Ferrys first sold farm products from a small shed at the end of a dead end road, their customer base has grown. “We started inexpensively, but we’ve had enough growth that we needed a bigger space so we’re renovating an older barn,” said Becky. “We’ve had enough of an increase in sales to merit doing this.”
In addition to farm-fresh products, Dreamroad Jerseys offers glamping on the farm on several private tent sites. Becky said it’s a great opportunity for non-farm guests to experience agricultural life.
In addition to operating the farm, Sandy works for USDA-FSA and Becky is the agricultural economic development coordinator for the Montgomery County Soil & Water Conservation District.
The Ferrys continue to enjoy exhibiting Jersey cattle and improving their herd. “We sell breeding stock, but the milk check pays the bills so our cows have to milk,” said Becky. “Our slogan for the farm is ‘we show milk cows.’”
Visit Dreamroad Jerseys online at dreamroadfarm.com.
by Sally Colby