by Sally Colby
For many consumers, that question is never really answered. But Pine View Dairy, a popular stop for cyclists, tourists and locals in Lancaster, PA, draws customers who are interested in both the animals and the dairy products they produce.
Rhoda Shirk, marketing manager, explains the background of Pine View Dairy and the retail establishment. “The store was started about 45 years ago,” she said. “The two Hess brothers started the store on a family dairy farm. They did everything themselves and one of their wives ran the store. They’ve been doing milk processing and making ice cream from the beginning. At the time, the herd wasn’t as large as it is today, so they’d process milk more often in order to have the quantity necessary to keep customers supplied.”
The Hess brothers eventually sold the business to the Charles family, who now own and operate it. The arrangement worked out well for the Charles family because they already had a family dairy farm and several children who wanted to remain on the farm, and the purchase enabled them to expand.
Rhoda says one of the unique aspects of Pine View Farm is that they originally packaged milk in bags. “It’s a lot more common in Canada and some other countries,” she said. “In the beginning, that’s all they did — they didn’t have any plastic jugs — they only had bags. Around the time they switched ownership, they changed to bottling milk in jugs.”
Today, the milking string includes 250 cows and 245 replacement heifers. Herd manager Darren Charles selects sires based on production, longevity and health traits. All breeding is done A.I., and most herd sires are high-end young genomic sires. Cows are milked three times a day in a GEA double 10 parallel parlor. Darren said it takes about three hours to complete milking and the cows produce an average of about 85 pounds/day. Cows are equipped with activity monitors, which allows tracking of heats, identifying impending health problems as well as performance in the parlor.
Crops are grown on 200 acres, most of which is double cropped. The goal of crop production is to produce sufficient inputs for a consistent TMR. “We grow corn silage over the summer and plant rye in the fall to grow over winter and spring, then harvest the rye as a forage before we plant corn,” said Darren.
Milk and ice cream are the main dairy store products, but customers are seeing more variety as the store expands its selections. The home farm also includes a hog operation, so customers can pick up pork products as well as other local products. “A local bakery sells bread here and another sells cookies and desserts,” said Rhoda. “We make sandwiches so people can stop in on their way to work and buy lunch. We also have dried fruit, snack foods and flowers.”
Ice cream has been a staple at Pine View since the beginning, and Rhoda says that the farm store is packed in summer. Ice cream flavors include about 16 to 18 standard flavors throughout the summer, with several featured flavors each month. “That’s how we introduce new flavors,” said Rhoda. “Some of our feature flavors turn into regular flavors when they’re popular enough. When we’re trying out new flavors, we generally bring them in for about a month, see what kind of response we get and go from there.” In winter, ice cream production is cut back, although all flavors are available in half-gallons year-round.
One of Pine View Farms’ unique ice cream flavors is espresso Oreo caramel, which is made with espresso beans ground by a local roaster. Another popular flavor is butter brickle, which Rhoda said isn’t easy to find. “We also have a black raspberry that does extremely well,” she said. “We use real raspberry puree in it.” Other dairy favorites include eggnog during the holidays and rotating featured milk flavors. “Right now, the featured flavor is raspberry, and we always have chocolate,” said Rhoda. “We rotate strawberry, raspberry, orange cream and mocha.”
The farm’s location just south of Lancaster city can be both negative and positive, and the family has chosen to use the location to their advantage. “We have quite a few tourists in summer, but they aren’t our bread and butter, said Rhoda. “Our main clientele are people who live fairly close or commute past us and stop in for lunch or groceries. In the summer, we’re more of a destination, especially in conjunction with other activities around us.”
Rhoda said the first 60-degree day in March or April brings people in. “Those are the hard days because we can’t predict,” she said. “We know May, June and July are going to be busy, but we can’t predict that first nice day.”
Although Pine View Dairy doesn’t do a lot of school tours, they’ve made their calf barn open to the public. “People can go over and pet the calves,” said Rhoda. “That’s a huge attraction for families. They can watch the calves being fed, and the big window in our milking parlor looks out into our patio where people eat ice cream. People can also watch during milking time.” Rhoda said that informational boards placed around the farm help provide information to visitors.
A poster in the milking parlor outlines the procedure, and at the calf barn, visitors learn what calves eat and how they grow. “We get all kinds of questions in the store,” said Rhoda. “The store is mostly staffed by high school and college students, and they don’t necessarily know the answers to all the questions. We developed a brochure that has the answers to most of the general questions we get most often: Are we organic, do we use GMOs, are the calves for veal?” Rhoda said that if a visitor’s question isn’t answered by the brochure, a staff member will make sure the visitor has an opportunity to ask the correct person on the farm to get an accurate answer. “We stress education on the farm and we know people come here with questions,” said Rhoda. “They come from cities and have never seen where milk comes from. We take the education aspect seriously.”
Pine View Dairy has an active social media presence and enjoyed a flurry of activity when twin heifer calves, one red and white and one black and white, were born. People watched as the calves grew up on the farm all the way through being milked, and the twin heifers just freshened for the first time. “People had a lot of fun with the naming,” said Rhoda. “For months after that, people sent us messages asking about the calves.”
Visit Pine View Dairy on Facebook.