Day 12: Goliath aftermath: ‘We appreciate the prayers… they are helping’

“This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold winter storm is that while Mother Nature strikes, and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.” In this space, I had planned to write Day 12 about random acts of kindness through the holidays. Telling this story seemed most appropriate as the human spirit prevails this week in the aftermath of Winter Storm Goliath’s 48-hour pounding Dec. 26-28 in the heart of the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy and beef region, bringing devastating losses…

NewMexico-Goliath02 (1)

Tio Ford sent this photo two days after the storm as the dig-out was underway at his Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico. You can see the packed snow drifts are up to the top of corral fences. Feedlanes and alleyways were a priority Monday to get animals fed and to the parlor (left) after most cows went 30+ hours without milking.

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, January 1, 2016

CLOVIS, N.M. — Last weekend’s record-breaking blizzard in the Southwest wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was 60 degrees with no winter in sight just a few days before Storm Goliath pounded its way through the southern High Plains. Breaking records as a 100-year storm, the combination of sustained high winds driving fine powdery snow — and the sheer 48-hour duration of the storm — conspired to bring devastating losses to the West Texas and Eastern New Mexico dairy region with early estimates that 5% of the region’s 420,000 dairy cows may have perished and double that percentage in losses of youngstock.

“We heard a monster storm was coming, and we were prepared for a foot or two of snow. That can happen, but no one could envision this type of disaster with high winds coming straight from the North to pile it all up around every structure,” said Dr. Robert Hagevoort of the New Mexico State University dairy extension in a phone interview with Farmshine Wednesday.

The 5% — or 20,000 head — loss figure on milk cows is “a place to start,” he said. “We are trying to be conservative, but it will be hard to know the true count until the region is completely dug-out and losses are tallied. Our first concern is getting the survivors fed and back in their corrals and the milking parlor.”

All of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas south of the Panhandle was hard hit, and the storm center appeared to be directly over the region from Roswell to Clovis to Plainview. While Hagevoort has heard from producers having lost 100 to 200 cows, two producers contacted by Farmshine in Portales and Texico report losses of 40 to 50 head, including the losses of hay barns and untold numbers of young stock.

TioFord5950“We lost some cows, but we have heard of herds losing 5 to 10% of their milking cows,” noted Tio Ford of Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico in an email response Wednesday. “People who had beef cattle on wheat pasture were really hit hard, and we uncovered quite a few deads while trying to clear 10-foot-plus drifts off the roads.” Ford’s family has been rooted in New Mexico for over 100 years. His wife Chyanne’s grandfather left the cold winters of northwestern Pennsylvania for the dryland farming and drylot dairying of eastern New Mexico in the 1950s. Her parents Doug and Irene Handy have Do-Rene Dairy in Clovis.

“The wind came from the North and everything on our dairies in this region faces south. The commodity sheds, parlors, calf hutches – all face south in the winter, so the south side of every structure was snowed in,” said Hagevoort. “The blizzard hit with the snow blowing and everything settling on the south side of every structure, snowing-in the hutches with calves inside and forcing dairies to quit milking because of the 8, 10, 12-foot drifts piling up on the south side entrances to the parlors. They couldn’t see to bring cows in.”

As the alleyways and feed lanes filled with deep drifts of wind-driven packed snow, everything came to a standstill.

The visibility became so bad that for most of those 48 hours “no one could do anything. You couldn’t see two feet beyond the hood of the truck,” he added.

The poor visibility was so dangerous that producers became lost on their own dairies. The one to two feet of snow would not be a problem, if it fell straight down, but the winds created drifts up to 12 feet high and packed so tight that cattle simply walked over corral fences and kept walking, becoming lost and disoriented. Some were buried by the driven snow.

Winter Storm Goliath began Saturday and continued “relentless” through Monday morning with sustained winds over 50 mph and gusts above 82 mph in the first 24 hours. On the second day, sustained winds of 40 mph were recorded with gusts above 65 mph.

“One to two feet of snow, we can handle that if it falls normally like wet snow, but not this fine powdery dust snow driven by high winds,” Hagevoort explained. “We still have four-foot drifts around houses in town that is packed in there heavy and the much higher drifts in the countryside require heavy equipment to dig out.”

A state of emergency was declared for both West Texas and Eastern New Mexico as major roads were closed for two to three days. Even two days after the storm, some country roads were still impenetrable with the kind of snow that blades on trucks can’t move.

“When the winds died down Monday morning and the sun came out, people could see what was going on,” said Hagevoort. “Cattle have walked everywhere, and people are still out finding them. They are digging the snow out of corrals to get surviving cattle back in and fed. There are these massive amounts of snow to move, and dairies have 3 to 4 loaders going 24/7 — digging out calves and moving cows back in and feeding and at some point milking again. The sheer manpower required is massive.”

NewMexico-Goliath01Milk haulers were also among the stranded, and Matthew Cook, a milk hauler from Kansas confirms that he was one in the line of trucks stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese near Clovis. “The roads were all closed, and the wind and blowing snow was out-of-control, so I pretty much hung out in my truck. Most of us knew it was coming so we had food and drink and plenty of fuel,” he said in an email Wednesday, confirming the plant was open again.

Reports indicate not much milk has been processed early this week and in addition to the long stretch of 36 to 40 hours when dairies were unable to milk, some milk in the region also needed to be dumped as trucks could not get out with it.

Hagevoort observed that folks are starting to get back to something remotely resembling normal by Wednesday and the focus on day-old calves and milk cows was shifting to the older young stock and dry cow pens.

In the early going, the Department of Transportation and other state agencies put a call out for large equipment as they are equipped for the occasional four to six-inch snows of the region.

“The focus was on people rescue missions on Monday. Dairymen were digging out dairies and their roads back to the main road in the hope at some point the main roads would be clear and they could meet somewhere,” said Hagevoort.

Dairymen and feedlot operators used their large loaders to help uncover cars with stranded motorists stuck 20 hours or more under the snow.

“It was a really rough weekend. They said we got between 8 and 12 inches of snow here, but I’m not sure how they came up with those amounts because the wind was gusting up to 82 mph,” Ford noted. His 3000-cow New Mexico dairy sits right on the Texas border. “We were stuck at the dairy with a skeleton crew for 36 hours before we were able to get replacements. Every dairy, feedlot, or farmer with a big tractor or loader had them out trying to clear the roads.”

Hagevoort4838 (1)Hagevoort noted that, “This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold storm is that while Mother Nature strikes and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.”

Dairymen are not usually an emotional lot. They focus on the business and the work and the challenges, but the emotion is raw at the loss of these animals and the sheer devastation. Amid the heartbreak of the losses, producers have no time to dwell as they put one foot in front of the other to dig out and tend cattle and keep their employees safe as everyone works together to find the lost, feed and tend to the survivors, and get the dairies operating again.

While the USDA FSA livestock indemnity program exists as part of the last Farm Bill, it is capped, so Hagevoort says it will be difficult if the large number of losses exceeds the financial compensation available through the indemnity programs.

While size doesn’t matter in terms of the impact of Goliath’s relentless strike, larger dairies may be affected by the caps in terms of receiving compensation proportional to their levels of loss. Officials urge dairy producers to document everything to sort out the help that may be available in the future.

NewMexico-Goliath03 (1)Dairies will continue to work around the huge drifts that won’t melt any time soon as the first priority is locating and securing their animals as they dig out alleys, feed lanes and corrals.

“We can look ahead at how to mobilize resources more rapidly in the future, or how to be safer in situations like this, but the truth is… no two storms are ever the same. This one packed an uncommon combination and longtime residents say they’ve never seen anything like it,” said Hagevoort.

With temps in the teens and 20s and night time wind chills down to -18 at night during the height of the storm, there will be sick cattle and frostbite issues to deal with going forward.

Producers also reported not being able to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours, and that will also impact health and production going forward.

“The cattle have seen a lot of stress,” said Hagevoort. “But we will work through it. It’s a tough thing in times like this where the milk price is below where it needs to be.”

But just like in Dallas, where Goliath spawned tornados and floods, the remarkable human spirit prevails.

“People come together,” said Hagevoort. “On our dairies here, the employees stayed working two to three shifts and owners worked untold hours with them and cooked meals and washed clothes to keep them going. The combination of family farms with employees and owners working together to make it through a challenge like this… That’s the real story.”

NewMexico-Goliath04While the final tally is likely to show young stock losses to be twice that of the estimated 20,000 milk cows lost across the region, Hagevoort noted remarkable stories coming in about calves being found under 6-feet of snow — alive in their hutches.

“This is an incredible story of farmers taking care of the animals they are entrusted with, despite the fury Mother Nature sometimes unexpectedly unleashes,” read a post on Wednesday at the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension’s Facebook page.

On Monday, Tara Vander Dussen of Rajen Dairy with three facilities totaling 10,000 cows in the region wrote a post on her public Facebook page telling consumers and animal activists: “I wish you understood how much we care about our cows. I wish you knew that my husband, brothers, dads, uncles, family and friends got up this morning at 2:00 a.m. to go to the dairy in a blizzard with 65 mph winds, -16°F wind chill, lightning and 6-feet snow drifts. They had to leave their families and children (some families had no power) so our cows could have food and water. They went out to take care of our cows the best that they can. And they did this after working a full day on Christmas Eve and Christmas! They do all of this because they care about the health and safety of every animal on our family farm! I wish you knew.”

Two days and nearly 20,000 shares later, Vander Dussen started a New Mexico Milkmaid blog to communicate further on this topic.

All told, Goliath’s effect stretched across much of the U.S midsection. The massive storm included heavy rain, floods and tornados on the severe side and blizzards with snow and driving winds on the wintry side with ice storms in the middle around the center of Oklahoma.

The rains have put southwest totals ranging 50 to 150% above normal. Cold and muddy conditions are also impacting the beef and dairy operators from the Southern Plains through the Midwest Corn Belt.

BenSmith4577 (1)“It was a storm I can’t put into words or ever experienced,” said Ben Smith of Arrowhead Dairy, Clovis, N.M.” We have a lot of snow digging out still to do and a lot of cleanup to do as well. We have been milking and feeding again for two days, so that part is good.” When asked what people can do to help, producers say “the prayers are appreciated… and they are helping. -30-


FarmshineSee the original story in the January 1, 2016 edition of Farmshine 



Winter has been nonexistent so far in the Northeast where earthworms litter the ground, spring peepers can be heard, and migratory birds are confused about which way to fly. But for producers in the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy region, winter came abruptly last weekend with a vengeance never seen there before and bringing a combination of factors that would be difficult for dairy farms even in regions more accustomed and prepared for big snows. Storm Goliath pounded the area with one to two feet of fine powdery snow driven by 50 to 80 mph winds coming straight from the north and piling hard-packed drifts up to 12-feet high against every structure from calf hutches to commodity sheds to milking parlors. Estimates are that 5% of the region’s milk cows have perished — buried by drifting snow and disoriented as they wandered over the tight-packed snow drifts along corral fence lines. Dry lots work very well in this more desert-like region of the country. Manure dries up and cows stay clean. But this uncommon combination from Storm Goliath brought dairies to a standstill for 48 hours in which the visibility was so poor, producers themselves were getting lost on their own dairies. By Wednesday they were still digging out, finding and tending survivors and just beginning to assess their losses. Photo courtesy of Tio Ford, Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico.

A line of milk trucks was stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese, Clovis, New Mexico, and throughout the region dairies dumped to days of milk with many unable to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours. Photo courtesy of milk hauler Matthew Cook.

In New Mexico and West Texas, the humidity is very low and dry lots are the way dairy cattle are kept. Loaders are needed to dig through the 8 to 12-feet tightly packed drifts that have piled up in corrals, feed lanes and against the south side of every structure from fences to parlors to calf hutches. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Finding and feeding young calves and milk cows was priority one when the storm ended Monday morning. Calves had been buried in hutches under 6-feet of snow pack, but stories are coming in that a surprising number are being found alive. Officials estimate a 10% loss of young stock throughout the eastern New Mexico and West Texas dairy region from Storm Goliath. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Dairy Carrie also blogged on this with stories from four dairies here

Day 11: In the hope and restoration business

12 Days of Christmas… with a twist

Day 11: “He was born in a stable, the Lamb of God, and laid in a manger with shepherds the first to see Him. Understanding the significance of Jesus’ birth will be part of The Star Barn’s future… God is into resurrection and restoration, and that’s what we’re going to do in order to use these buildings to be shared with others.”– David Abel.   Read on to learn how restoration and hope bring together The Star Barn, Ironstone Ranch and Brittany’s Hope

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, December 5, 2015

ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. — If you’ve traveled from anywhere in the U.S. to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, you’ve no doubt passed The Star Barn — one of the most painted and photographed barns in the U.S. This historic landmark has languished and deteriorated for years in a quest for funds for a proper restoration of the icon from the 1800s.


Enter David and Tierney Abel of nearby DAS Companies Inc. who have purchased The Star Barn and will use their own money — no grants or tax dollars — to restore it all, after first moving it to their Ironstone Ranch, 10 miles away as the crow flies in Elizabethtown, Pa.


David and Tierney Abel (left) and Mark and Jamie Shoemaker

The former dairy farm, turned fruit farm, turned Christmas tree farm, is now an “events with a purpose” reception venue that will be the new home for all nine buildings of the original John Motter Star Barn — including a rebirthed replica of the original farm house, pond and springhouse that were removed in the early 1970s when Route 283 was built right through the property on which they sat.

My connection to this story began when our middle son Ryan Bunting married our new daughter-in-law Vanessa Rice — daughter of Vernon and Jeanette Rice of Strasburg — at Ironstone Ranch on October 12, 2015. The bride and her attendants prepared for the big event in the original 1812 farmhouse the Abels first restored on the 150-acre farm.

The wedding was in the orchard with two roaming miniature donkeys photo-bombing the ceremony. IMG_0730xAnd the reception was held in the beautifully restored 1860 pine and brick barn original to the premises. While in the orchard doing family portraits between the wedding and reception, I learned from my 95-year-old grandmother Dorothy Jacobs, who still lives just across the street from the Ironstone Ranch at the edge of town, that my grandfather Bernard “Ace” Jacobs, a friend of an earlier owner, hunted there every year. Yes, it’s a small world.

As the wedding party, which included 12 children — the largest number of children ever in the four years of 80 weddings per year at Ironstone — prepared for their grand entrance, the farm’s manager Mark Shoemaker told wedding guests about Ironstone Ranch and its mission.


Children are at the center of Brittany’s Hope Foundation, which receives all net profits from Ironstone Ranch. These 12 children in the Bunting-Rice wedding party in October received the royal treatment from the folks who run the reception venue and ranch. In fact, chief operating officer Mark Shoemaker handed a cowboy hat to Connor Messner, 6, (my grandson) for instant confidence as he escorted Lydia Rice, 8, as the lead-off pair in the reception at the 1860 pine barn restored on the premises.

With a skeleton crew of seven full time and two part time employees, a stable of carriage and pleasure-riding horses, a few Longhorn cattle and the mascot miniature donkeys along with 250 acres of grazing, hay ground and wooded riding paths, 100% of the net profits from weddings, corporate events, and other meetings and entertainment are funneled into Brittany’s Hope Foundation.


Named for the daughter the Abels lost in a car accident 16 years ago, Brittany’s Hope facilitates adoptions of primarily special needs children from around the world and also funds orphanages in many locations, especially Viet Nam, Kenya and Ethiopia. To-date, Brittany’s Hope has facilitated over 900 adoptions. David and Tierney, themselves, have 17 children in their blended family, 12 of them adopted.

So what has this to do with The Star Barn? Plenty.

“My wife saw The Star Barn and reached out to the preservationists,” said David. “We’ve evolved into barn chasers. I thought, if this goes through (buying The Star Barn), God definitely has a plan for it.”

There were plenty of hoops to jump through from the purchase and permits to the logistics of moving, and even getting permission to keep The Star Barn on the historical registry at its new location.


The Ironstone Ranch is currently completing the restoration of an old 1812 barn moved there from nearby Bainbridge.


At the DAS Company warehouse, home of Stewardship Missions a few miles away, the dismantled iconic 65-feet-tall, post-and-beam 1819 antique barn with its Cathedral architecture that sat for centuries along what is now Fruitville Pike near downtown Lancaster, lies bound in cataloged clusters under a coverall waiting its turn for restoration at Ironstone Ranch.

But the focus right now is The Star Barn. The work to bring the 9-building complex to its new home for restoration began October 27, when the cupolas came down, the main cupola weighing 13,900 pounds! They are being restored to their former glory, with the main cupola expected to take 18 months, including hand-forging of new weather vanes as they were in the 1800s by craftsmen in Rhode Island.


This 13,500-lb cupola is the distinctive main cupola of The Star Barn and will take 18 months to restore, including the hand-forged weather vanes being recreated in Rhode Island to their original 1800s design.

Later this year or early in 2016, the barn itself will be moved to Ironstone Ranch. Piece by piece, it will be taken down and cataloged, then pegged together and raised manually with gin poles just as they did in the 1800s. Tickets for this event are expected to be available on a limited basis for those who want to see The Star Barn raising.

This story gets even more interesting.

David Abel explains how The Star Barn cupolas have the fleur-de-lis pattern, representing the Trinity and the sovereignty of God over every building. Furthermore, the stars on the barn were placed there as a sign of hope for the nation after the Civil War.

“God is into resurrection and restoration, and that’s what we’re going to do in order to use these buildings to be shared with others,” he said.

The nine buildings of The Star Barn complex will be placed as in their original setting with the three-fold purpose of being a working farm, an event venue raising funds for Brittany’s Hope, and a living parable for visitors to visualize many of the agriculture-based parables of Jesus.

“He was born in a stable, the Lamb of God, and laid in a manger with shepherds the first to see Him. Understanding the significance of Jesus’ birth will be part of The Star Barn’s future,” David explained. “Shepherds would know when a lamb is born. The living parables will help people understand why shepherds know and search for the Lamb. There are a vast number of parables, and we are compiling them all. So often, Jesus used agriculture to teach us God’s beautiful truths. We want to bring that to life, and The Star Barn will be a key part of that.”

It will include a thrashing floor, oxen, sheep and goats, a vineyard and 1800 time-period antique farming equipment the Abels have begun to accumulate for working the land.

“People will see in the thrashing floor the separation of wheat and chaff. In the vineyard, they will see the unpruned vine growing wild and beautiful onto itself with no fruit, and by contrast, the vine pruned by the Master’s hand beside it bearing fruit,” David explained. “We’re doing this for a purpose. People will come to see it and learn why Jesus used farming, trees, stones, vines, livestock, in His parables. We can share this gift and tell the story. Everything we do with the restorations must be God-honoring.”

Not to mention, when all the barns they are in the midst of restoring are completed, Ironstone Ranch will become a destination where visitors can see 1800s German agriculture practices and architecture with historical and biblical significance.

The Abels anticipate the process of restoring the entire Star Barn complex to take two years, including the re-creation of the original pond, farmhouse and springhouse. For these portions of the complex, they will use pictures and time-period catalogs to make replicas of the original structures. The house will become a 12-bedroom structure to provide lodging for special events.

Mark Shoemaker and his wife Jamie once operated a hay and horse farm in Schuylkill County. Today, they manage theIronstone Ranch.

“When Mark and Jamie came into our life, they made it their goal to make the property beautiful. It’s ours to share with others. God put us together and they’ve put their heart and soul into this,” said Tierney.

“God is weaving a tapestry here,” David added as they talked about their plans for the ranch, the Star Barn and Brittany’s Hope. While the Ironstone Ranch is set up as a for-profit corporation, all profit after operating costs goes to the non-profit Brittany’s Hope Foundation, created in January 2000 for the purpose of advocating for orphaned special needs children longing for the love of a family.

In starting Brittany’s Hope, the Abels reflected on their daughter’s dream of helping children with special needs “come home to loving families.”

“Out of death, comes life,” said Tierney. “The gift of Brittany’s life has not ended. Through this foundation, she touches so many lives.”

And there’s more in store…

At the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show in January, Ironstone Ranch will have a booth near the butter sculpture where they will display The Star Barn 1/12th scale model layout for the “living parables” farm.

“God gives each of us gifts, and one of David’s is vision,” said Tierney.

“We see what can be accomplished when we cooperate with God in the unfolding of His vision as it grows and is unveiled and then confirmed by circumstances and people along the way,” David added with a smile. “We’re just walking out the vision He has for us here.”

David Abel started DAS Companies in the late 1970s with $200 selling stereos and CB’s at Lancaster County’s Roots and Green Dragon markets from the back of his father’s station wagon and the garage of his grandmother’s home. Today, DAS Companies is a global supply chain with many lines of products in truck stops all over the country. The business fuels the stewardship and mission they have undertaken.


Horses graze in mid-November at Ironstone Ranch. This hayground will become the new home for all 9 buildings of the original Star Barn. It will remain on the National Registry of Historic Places at its new location, which has its own historical significance. During the Civil War, this was a staging area for troops, and after the war, the Liberty Bell traversed the land on its way back to Philadelphia from Harrisburg, as did President Lincoln’s funeral train as it passed between the two cities.

Ironstone1100xMichael Kleinhans, project manager, talks about The Star Barn’s future at Ironstone Ranch and the booth near the butter sculpture at the 100th Pa. Farm Show in January where a scale model of the plans for the 9-building Star Barn relocation, restoration and “living parables” farm will be on display. Photo by Sherry Bunting

A Christmas event at Ironstone December 5 raised thousands for Brittany’s Hope and the Water Street Rescue Mission. Stay tuned for more on The Star Barn from the 100th Farm Show in January.

Days 9 & 10: Paying it forward…

12 days of Christmas with a twist…

By Sherry Bunting

Days 9 & 10: We have all heard about the paying-forward at coffee shops and drive-throughs. I recently heard of a woman randomly giving cash to shoppers at a local department store. Isn’t that what Christ did for all of us? Isn’t that what God did by sending His son to be born among us that we may live? In my more than 30 years as an ag writer, what I have witnessed in the agriculture community is the profound, largely anonymous and often selfless way this community prays it and pays it forward as seen with two families — beloved cattle breeders — one suffering a tragic loss, the other continuing their over 19-month journey with an inspirational little girl. The  links in the story below take you to ways to help these two families to feel their love returned to them in abundance.  (Portions reprinted from Milk Market Moos in the Dec. 18, 2015 edition of Farmshine.)


Since Farmshine did not publish on the week of Christmas, I began last week’s column, with gratitude, wishing readers a Merry Christmas, a holiday of light piercing darkness.

Thank you for your hard work, your care and pride in your cows, your passion for producing a quality, wholesome and nutritious product we can enjoy and benefit from… and above all the way you rally to help one another in a time of need.

We see this repeated time and again, and recently, as farms in Pennsylvania suffered great losses of cattle from events such as a fire and a collapse as well as in other regions  storms and floods.

Farm families rally to help each other pick up and move forward. When one is injured, others are there to help take those steps forward. And, when one is lost, others are there to remember, and to stand with their families.

During this holiday season, enjoy the fruits of your labor beyond the tangible. While margins in farming are razor thin, it is the wealth of the spirit to be thankful for when the going gets tough.

The barn is a magical place this time of year, the humble earthly place where God presented to mankind His gift of unmatched love and mercy. The opportunities I have to feed a few head of livestock here at home are daily reminders that nothing beats the feeling of putting down fresh feed as the sun sets and watching the animals eat, then lie down and chew cud.

Wishing you and your families a blessed Christmas with some time to enjoy making new family memories while also reflecting on, and holding close, the memories of the loved ones who’ve gone before us.

I think of Jeremy McDonald’s family as he passed away unexpectedly last week in an accident. In 2007, I had the privilege of visiting with him at the family’s Century Farm near Middleville, Virginia and writing about his passion for cattle. His family’s beef, dairy and produce farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley represents four generations of passion for cattle and the land, and especially his Shen-Val Brown Swiss.

As fellow Brown Swiss breeder Allen Bassler puts it: “His love for cows was extra special. He had a great eye for dairy and beef. I got to watch him judge with Wayne Sliker at World Dairy Expo. It was so nice to see this event happen in his life.”

Jeremy was 39, but had already left quite an impact on others who describe the quiet and professional way in which he helped other young people find their passion for farming and registered cattle.


A devoted husband to wife Missy, loving father to son Tyler, and cherished son to Gary and Sharon, Jeremy will be missed. Halfway to its goal, A GoFundMe site has been set up for his family.

To me, nothing says what this industry is made of more than the way folks have rallied to support and champion the recovery of Reese Burdette. That kind of support is the glue that makes the dairy family, worldwide, a special one.

The healing power of love, for sure.

In June, I wrote in Farmshine about the visit of Reese’s special cow, Pantene, to Johns Hopkins in downtown Baltimore where Reese has been since May 26, 2014. Reese has been away from home for over 19 months since she was saved from a house fire that day by her grandmother Patricia Stiles. Having suffered burns on over 35% of her body, Reese has undergone countless procedures, including being in a medically induced coma for four months.

She pushes herself in physical and occupational therapy. The special visit with Pantene was a target for working hard in therapy.


“When the therapist asked Reese to stand longer or take more steps, it was all a build-up for ‘being strong when you see Pantene,’” Jackson explained.

“Dairy did good! This family makes a lasting impression,” Jackson observed. “Reese has brought the dairy community together like I have never seen before. She has made us all believe in the power of prayer. She has made us believe in miracles. She inspires us every day.”

The family has spent two Christmas Day celebrations in the hospital with their Reese as she recovers.

The Team Reese Blood Drive for the Red Cross had generated over 500 units of blood in its first month and another 400+ people pledged or donated blood in Reese’s honor last June, alone. The family wanted to give back by asking friends and family to help replace the blood she has needed over the past year. The Red Cross celebrity blood drive has picked up Reese’s story, and many celebrities are sharing it in the hopes of getting even more people to donate blood. Donations in her honor can be pledged online at SleevesUp for Team Reese on Facebook.

People ask what they can do to help the Burdette family, specifically, in their long journey… A giveforward fund continues for the family and Team Reese T-shirts can be ordered online


Day 8: Seeking a cure for PSP

12 days of Christmas with a twist…

Day 8:  Alzheimers, Parkinsons, ALS — the names of brain illnesses so recognized. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy lay hiding, and for most of us, virtually unknown. We were introduced to it in 1994, but not by its name until 1997.

At the time, every doctor my father saw treated him as though he was merely depressed. When he couldn’t run, they told him to walk. When he couldn’t swing a golf club, they told him to take up tennis (tongue-in-cheek with a laugh of course). When he lost his forever-job with Donnelley at the age I am today, they said it was downsizing.

But he knew. I knew. My children even knew. They saw it. He, in fact, was pulled over for a sobriety test, when he failed to keep his balance with not one drop of alcohol in his system for 30 years. That is when the doctors paid attention and he was referred to a kind and good doctor in the movement disorder clinic at Johns Hopkins. He charted a path.

Every year on this day, December 22, I remember Dad (George F. Curry, Jr.) with a donation to Cure PSP.  Check it out.

Dad loved life. In his later years before the illness, he was an avid runner, taking in everything from 5k’s to marathons—even running 5 miles to work and home each day (10 miles total).

He called running his “natural high.” He never missed a day of work for illness. He was a fanatical about health.

That was the first thing PSP stole from his life.

The illness began—nearly imperceptible at first, blanketing his life by an unexpected autumn snow, falling before its time.

Even after the brain illness claimed his ability to walk and talk, Dad always believed he would get better, but he didn’t.

In those last few years, I was back at the newspaper and we had added a new monthly livestock edition to the weekly mar1010280_10201554909858736_666872292_nket report. How his face would beam when I’d bring him a copy. Dementia was setting in, but he fought with all he had to hold it back. Dad would help me from his wheel chair to apply the address labels—a rote activity that he accepted as a blessing—a feeling of worth in his final days. We worked quietly.

14 years ago today we said goodbye. As PSP patients often do, Dad succumbed to pneumonia as over the course of 7 years, he lost first the ability to move his limbs, then his mouth (speech), then his eyes, then his digestive tract, then his lungs. When they removed him from the ventilator at 7 a.m. on December 22, 2001, we sang Christmas carols at his bedside. He organized the Christmas caroling at the First Baptist Church every year and dearly loved singing in the choir. His lips moved as he tried to sing along.

Expecting a few hours to linger, his strong runner’s heart continued to beat until 7 that evening. The day was sunless, until evening, when light broke through the feathering clouds to reveal cold, bare branches—awaiting new life.

Progressive Supranuclear Palsey (PSP) lay obscured to most. My father participated in many screening trials to help find a cure for others… Every year on Father’s Day and on December 22, I remember Dad with a donation to Cure PSPConsider it.


Day 7: Farm Toys for Tots

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 7:  The outstanding generosity of hundreds of farmers and ag folks inspired the first ever Farm Toys for Tots (purchasing farm toys and delivering them to Toys for Tots.)

santa2015-12-21 14.54.26 (1)

Santa comes in all shapes and sizes. For 70 years, Santa has come for up to 7 million children via the Marine Corps-sponsored Toys for Tots. This year, hundreds of farmers made sure trucks, tractors and other farm toys will be under some of those Christmas trees via Farm Toys for Tots.

With a GoFundMe campaign, they raised $7,025 and enlisted the help of 21 volunteer elves to deliver the purchased Farm Toys to Toys for Tots locations in more than 20 states “from sea to shining sea.”

The GoFundMe campaign for Farm Toys for Tots is completed for 2015. Organizer Diana Prichard tells the whole story … how it began, how it evolved, and gives all the stats at her “Righteous Bacon” blog right here !

Meanwhile, with 4 days ’til Christmas, the TOYS FOR TOTS Foundation could still use donations as they bring toys to 7 million children annually.

TOYS FOR TOTS is a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas. The program was founded in 1947 by reservist Major Bill Hendricks. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity located in Triangle, Virginia, serves to fund, raise funds for, and support the program.

FARM TOYS FOR TOTS: Plans are being made to continue the campaign to bring Farm Toys to Toys for Tots annually!




Day 6: Purpose-driven bond is Feeding America

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 6:  Food banks say the most requested and least available item is fresh milk. Dairy producers have set out to change that, just as the North American Meat Institute ‘meating the need’ partnership provides fresh meat and poultry, and produce growers donate 800 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables annually — along with canned and boxed donations from many citizen sources — provide 3 billion meals to the 46.5 million Americans (including 12 million children) who face hunger and rely on the Feeding America Food Bank system. Farmers and ranchers have a purpose-driven bond with their land and animals, and thank God they do. Look for links in this blog post to help!


By Sherry Bunting

Nothing against a plate of cucumbers, but there is something intangibly dynamic about this relationship-of-purpose between man and beast. It is a purpose-driven bond, and on farms and ranches, it is a working relationship.


Farms have had to expand over the years to survive with multiple generations operating larger farms together. But size doesn’t matter when it comes to the principles of caring for land and animals. Farmers and veterinarians use today’s advances to make the purpose-driven life of animals ever better.

What it comes down to is how we look at animals as a culture — the acceptance of animals as being useful to man, and of our role to protect and foster those animals in their service to man.

Beyond caring for the cows, farmers also care about their consumers and are the first to donate the fruits of their labor to the disadvantaged among us. Simply put: Farmers don’t like to see hunger. They constantly improve their practices to efficiently produce wholesome food that is affordable.

But hunger persists in America. Over 46 million Americans, including 12 million children rely on Feeding America food bank donations each year. Milk is one of the most requested and least donated items.

Leave it to farmers to pool their resources to help change that.

At the upcoming Pennsylvania Farm Show, a milk can for donations will be placed near the famous Pa. Dairyman’s milkshake stand for visitors to join with the companies and producers that are helping to “Fill a glass with hope.” In order to provide fresh milk, the cost of transport, refrigeration and distribution to families who rely on the Food Bank are part of what it takes. Those donations help move more milk to more food insecure families. Each dollar donated provides 8 servings of milk to a neighbor facing hunger. This has been going for one year, and to-date, 850,000 servings of milk have been donated.

Nationally, dairy producers are instrumental in the Great American Milk Drive to get milk to food banks. In its two years (and growing) more than 625,000 gallons (over 10 million servings) of milk have been delivered to families across the country through The Great American Milk Drive food bank donations. Meat and poultry producers also channel surplus to Food Banks as do produce growers, orchards — you name it. Farm folk pitch in because hunger is something they do not like to see.


Another Food Bank drive in Pennsylvania began during the All-American Dairy Show last September, 12,000 gallons of milk (nearly 100,000 pounds) were harvested from cows during their stay at the show. Through the efforts of the show and the Pennsylvania Dairymens Association this milk was turned into four tons of mild, creamy Farmers Cheese and provided to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

Out of the purpose-driven circle-of-life bond between man and animal comes the ability to feed a family and the families of countless others throughout the economy.

Out of this purpose-driven relationship comes a youngster’s first foray into animal care in the calf barn at home or cleaning up after livestock at the county fair.

Out of this purpose-driven relationship comes respect, responsibility, accomplishment and passion instilled in new generations.

Out of this purpose-driven relationship comes life-sustaining food worthy of our respect — not to be taken for granted.

Wherever you are reading this today, consider joining the farmers in their effort to bring fresh food to Food Banks. Check out The Great American Milk Drive, and check out Feeding America to give the gift of holiday meals.

Day 5: ‘The SheepOver’ captivates in time for Christmas

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 5:  If you love sheep, or beautiful photo art or just want to read and see an authenticly sweet story… I highly recommend Sweet Pea & Friends “The SheepOver,” with its one-of-a-kind storybook style for children and adults, alike. Today’s Farmshine has a story about how John and Jennifer Churchman followed their dream, self-published a children’s book last summer, and after the dust settled on the publishers’ bidding war recently, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has it widely available in time for Christmas. The 6 preordered copies I purchased all have good homes in Pennsylvania and South Dakota! 🙂  (Photos herein by John Churchman)

 Sweet Pea(book)Churchman


By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Dec. 18, 2015 

ESSEX, Vt. — In some ways an ordinary farm, in other ways not so much. John and Jennifer Churchman create photography for commercial purposes at their Essex, Vermont farm where the animals and crops are subjects for client projects.

Their work has now yielded an extraordinary book: Sweet Pea & Friends “The Sheepover,” which has taken the children’s literature industry by storm. After the dust settled on a bidding war by five major publishers a few weeks ago, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers took over and immediately moved the farm-rooted, magically-illustrated story about injured lamb “Sweet Pea” to market in time for Christmas.

The Sheepover is available at local book stores, Barnes and Noble, and stores like Target, and Walmart. This link will take those interested to find stores that have it or where to order it in time for Christmas

In fact The Sheepover went from 20,000th most popular book on Amazon to 500th in a few short days, then sold out in that online venue. Little, Brown is working on re-stocking for Amazon Prime delivery.


But before all of this excitement, the story began simply when fine art photographer John Churchman and his wife, Jennifer, a writer and photographer, started a self-publishing book project. They didn’t sit down with a marketing plan, nor did they envision the quick sell-out of their first 4000 self-published copies nor the publishers’ “bidding war” that followed.


The Churchmans have a small farm in the Green Mountains of Vermont, where sheep and other farm animals are photographic models. The Churchmans designed the unique and story-telling photographic labels that had endeared the former Shenandoah Valley Family Farms milk to communities caring about where their milk comes from and the story about the Virginia farm families behind its production.

When SVF closed its doors last year, the couple threw themselves into what had been on their dream list for a long time: A children’s book.

It began innocently enough. They often posted photos of their idyllic pastoral farm and its animals on their Facebook page, where friends and followers first met Sweet Pea.

“It really came about through social media,” said John in a phone interview this week. “We had developed a good following for Sweet Pea since she was a little orphan bottle lamb, so when she was injured, there was an outpouring of people wishing and following her recovery. We decided to do a book about it.”

They launched a “kick-starter” campaign and made the goal for a first edition printing in 15 hours. Their supporters then saw the creative process of the book take shape with the Churchmans’ regular Facebook posts at the Sweet Pea & Friends page.

John turned his photographs of the farm into unique illustrations and Jennifer wrote the story. They worked back and forth, fitting the images with the story and collaborating on how the book would look and feel.

Just as they had captured the authentic dairy farm life on the former SVF labels and related it to the authenticity of their milk, the Sheepover storybook is both magical and authentic.

The three-book deal with Little, Brown has them already working on book two with a different of their sheep — “the brave and mighty Finn.”

“We worked to make the best book we could, and did it thinking someday we’d have Sweet Pea press and grow our business out to do self-fulfillment of book orders,” John relates.

But when a nearby book store (The Flying Pig) showed their enthusiasm, the Churchmans realized they had something that hasn’t been seen before, in a style not seen before.

Reader feedback has conveyed how the book “gives them a sense of grounding in nature, a calm and safe place,” said Jennifer. “Children are connecting and understanding that animals have character and personality, that they form (herd) communities and have a whole world going on… and if we pay attention, we can watch their stories unfold.”

They also see the bond between animal and man, sustaining each other. The book also introduces children to fine art with John’s photo illustrations. “They invoke a sense of whimsy, but still convey a true story about real animals and real farms,” Jennifer noted.


Last week, the couple invited the friends and “kick-starters” to a special new barn lighting.

“We have a summer barn in the open pastures, but this is now their winter home, built with a floor plan, a cozy small monitor-style barn with an open format,” Jennifer explains. They designed the barn as a space to also hold events and invite the community and book fans.

“Instead of a Christmas tree lighting, we had this event as a moving-in of the sheep flock for the winter. We lit the barn with lights and wreathes and a tree,” Jennifer described, surprised to draw a couple hundred visitors instead of the 50 or 60 they expected.

“Instead of having the farm open to visitors, we are planning events for visitors to engage here,” Jennifer said. “After all, we have work to do. We are a working farm.”

Even if it is a storybook farm.



 See page 33 in Farmshine 


Photo captions – all photos by John Churchman


John and Jennifer

John and Jennifer Churchman were the designers of the former Shenandoah Valley Family Farms milk labels and they’ve realized a dream recently in completing a children’s book based on happenings at their small Vermont farm. Photo by John Churchman

SweetPeaBook and/or SweetPeaSpreads

Sweet Pea & Friends “The Sheepover” was self published by the Churchmans. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has now taken over the publishing and rushed it to market in time for Christmas. Check here to see who has it available Photo by John Churchman


Instead of a Christmas tree lighting, the Churchman hosted a couple hundred visitors last week for a barn lighting and the moving-in of the sheep flock for the winter. Photo by John Churchman




Day 4: Labor of love-in-action, with a decidedly dairy twist

12 Days of Christmas with a twist

Day 4: Another look at how milk and ministry are the gifts that keep giving at Andrea’s Home of Hope and Joy in Bolivia. A cover story in Farmshine was blogged on Day One here at

Now here is the link to the featured ‘Labor of Love In Action’s Decidedly Dairy Twist’ in the Dec. 12 Progressive Dairyman 


Day 3: Impacting future dairy leaders

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 3:  Youth education events in and beyond the dairy showring are the mission of the All-American Dairy Foundation. This story shares the lesser-known aspects of a great dairy show and the foundation that seeks to build the financial support to keep them going.



By Sherry Bunting Nov. 20, 2015 Farmshine

Ask how the All-American Dairy Foundation (AADF) impacts the next generation in the dairy industry, and the answer is wrapped up in youth education events at the All-American Dairy Show, which extend beyond the showring for over 2000 young people.

AADF raises funds through contributor-membership by individuals and companies, as well as other fundraising efforts throughout the year including a new matching funds challenge that is underway. The goal is to ensure the future of youth education events and scholarships at the annual All-American Dairy Show. This is critical because state sponsorship of the show and the economic revenue it generates to the Capitol Region each September, only covers a fraction of the costs and it cannot be counted on for the future in these economic times.

Thus, the All-American Dairy Foundation, a 501( c ) 3 applies for grants for its support of youth education activities at the show, but largely relies on the good will of companies and individuals to build its trust fund to insure these opportunities continue in the future.


Whether participating youth go on to their own dairy farms or to manage large herds for others — or to work as consultants, nutritionists, veterinarians and other allied industry careers — the ribbons and awards of their days in Harrisburg each September are just the surface of what sticks as they enter career paths on and off the farm. It is the cow sense, determination, teamwork, competitive drive, communication, decision-making and people skills that follow them into a range of dairy- and ag-related careers.

Youth opportunities at the All-American help the next generation forge lifelong friendships, learn from some of the best cowmen and women of the time, and network with potential mentors among dairy producers and allied industry representatives in ways that help them see the possibilities for their own futures.

These opportunities establish a network of relationships for the next generation of dairymen and women, advance student work ethics and teach students not only the nuts and bolts of dairying, but also the intangibles that are so important to their futures and the future of the dairy industry.


Of the over 2000 youth who participate each September at the All-American Dairy Show, two-thirds participate in the competitions beyond the showring. The Invitational Youth Dairy Cattle Judging Contest draws teams from dozens of universities in multiple states and as far away as California at the collegiate level, as well as another set of teams and states represented at the 4-H and FFA Judging Forum.

In alternating years, a dairy challenge is held for show youth, and their care of their animals is on display through Showmanship and Fitting competitions aside from the Premier National Junior Show’s breed competitions.


A key competition during All-American Dairy Show week in Harrisburg is the Junior Dairy Management Contest. This contest is unique among all the major youth shows. It has a long history at the All-American, and the number of participants has grown from 60 students as recently as two years ago to over 100 in 2015.

“The Junior Dairy Management contest gives youth a chance to use their knowledge in the dairy industry to compete while also learning more about it,” says Carl Brown of F.M. Brown Sons, Birdsboro, Pa. Brown previously chaired the contest for 27 years.

Many of these individuals go back to the home dairy farm or into related careers such as dairy extension, agriculture law, nutrition consulting, or veterinary medicine. The competition also includes a careers seminar, featuring representatives from allied industries, who interact with the young people about their interests and aspirations.

“This contest brings out the more practical-oriented students,” Brown explains. “I love Dairy Bowl competitions, but the Dairy Management contest at the All-American Dairy Show is more than memorization and knowledge. It is hands-on. It’s as real as it gets in the context of a competition.”

The annual competition consists of a judging component with descriptive type classes, benchmarks in dairy management, tools to evaluate milking management, as well as evaluating feed and nutrient management and dairy records management.

AA-2722wSpecifically, students are judged in seven categories: cattle selection, linear type appraisal, business management, feed and nutrient management, meats and quality assurance, calf management, and DHI records and benchmarks. They receive an overall score as teams and individuals. Part of what they do is to evaluate feedstuffs and their role in dairy rations, milk samples in evaluating milk quality and udder health, reproduction anatomy, animal health and care via dairy records, and even the economically important beef-side of the dairy cow at the end of her productive life reflecting proper handling and proper administration of treatments and withdrawal times.

“This event is one more avenue of learning about the dairy industry and being prepared with information they will need to know to be a part of it,” says Brown.

Throughout All-American Dairy Show week, these and other youth education activities require students to use their knowledge of dairy cows and dairy herd management as well as to hone their communication and decision-making skills to develop the confidence to become quality spokespersons for the industry, no matter what career path they ultimately choose.

At a time when the dairy industry in the U.S. seeks to attract skilled young people, the commercial side of the industry is just beginning to realize the intrinsic connection it has to what youth experience during these competitions inside and outside the showring at the All-American Dairy Show.

Safeguarding and building this is the AADF mission through its financial support.

What the next generation learns at the All-American Dairy Show can “translate to whatever you do in life,” observes Jeremy Daubert, who participated as a youth and today serves as a Virginia Tech dairy extension agent in the Shenandoah Valley. “I feel strongly what is missing most on many commercial dairies is this type of learning that the kids develop showing and judging and interacting with animals and people and practicing their ability to observe and work with cows, to communicate effectively, to make quick, informed decisions and be able to back them up, and the ability to self-evaluate to improve their future results.

“What commercial dairy or allied industry doesn’t want employees and managers with these skills?” he asks, even as his own children are growing into the age groups of participation.

These are the types of experiences the AADF underpins and why the Foundation relies on the good will of companies and individuals to keep funding going for its mission.

“These events are opportunities for our future dairy leaders and managers to not only hone important animal health and husbandry skills, but also develop confident decision-making and valuable interpersonal and leadership skills as they compete for awards, knowledge, self-improvement, and the opportunity to earn scholarships,” says AADF Executive Director Bob Heilman. “Funds donated through our various campaigns enable the Foundation to continue its support of these opportunities for youth to develop the skills they will need in dairy and business in the future.”

To learn more about how to support the AADF mission, contact Bob Heilman at 804-240-1539 or bob_heilman@comcast.netor visit and follow the All-American Dairy Foundation on Facebook. Donations and correspondence can be mailed to AADF, P.O. Box 11211, Henrico, VA 23230.







The 4-H and FFA Dairy Cattle Judging Forum is another competition beyond the showring that is drawing more 4-H and FFA teams to Harrisburg each September during the All-American Dairy Show. Photo by Sherry Bunting



Another aspect of the Junior Dairy Management Contest at the All-American is evaluating milk samples and dairy records management with a focus on milk quality and udder health. Photo by Sherry Bunting



The Junior Dairy Management Contest at the All-American Dairy Show each September includes Beef Quality Assurance of the beef-side of the dairy cow for quality and food safety that reflect proper care and handling. Photo by Sherry Bunting


AA-2728 and/or AA8309 and/or AA-31

Feedstuffs, nutrition and nutrient management is just one aspect of the Junior Dairy Management Contest. The five top scoring contestants from all FFA and 4-H teams are then interviewed by a panel of judges, who evaluated their oral answers to three dairy industry related questions as they vie for scholarships. Photo by Sherry Bunting



Dr. Carl Brown works with a group of students during the forage and feedstuffs portion of the Junior Dairy Management Contest at the All-American Dairy Show in 2013. He chaired the contest for 27 years and still helps out each September. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Day 2: Nightly event raises charitable funds while making ag ‘cool’

12 days of Christmas… with a twist.

Day 2:  After interviewing Neil Messick two weeks ago for a Farmshine story about this deal running nightly at Messick’s Farm Equipment Dec. 4 through 28, we decided to check it out tonight with the grandchildren! Two thumbs up!


Sneak peek in ‘tractor row’. Photo by Neil Messick

By Sherry Bunting, Dec. 4, 2015 Farmshine

ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. — Whether or not a new tractor is under your Christmas tree, what farmer wouldn’t love to see a 30-tractor Christmas light show, and then some?

At Messick’s Farm Equipment in Elizabethtown, Lancaster County, Pa., 20 years of light displays along Route 283 gradually became more animated as Neil Messick, marketing and IT manager, and younger brothers Kevin and Lucas began collecting the things they might need to do something grand.

And grand it is. Since 2013, Messick’s, in conjunction with Kubota Tractor, has presented a massive animated Christmas light show set to music and viewable from their parking lot nightly between December 4 and 28.

Even better, the 20-minute program receives donations from viewers and has raised in its first two years a total $50,000 for charities that help local families.

“We obviously enjoy this, or we wouldn’t be doing it,” Neil said in a phone interview with Farmshine this week as the program is ready to kick off Friday. “What has been surprising is the sheer amount of donations. To raise $25,000 a year doing something we enjoy, just shows the giving spirit.”

While many of the visitors are local, it is surprising how far some will drive to see it. Last year’s inclement weather kept viewing traffic to 3500 cars and a dozen buses over the 24 days. Neil anticipates more will come this year, and hopes to raise $35,000 for charities.

Lights and technology are Neil’s “thing” while Kevin and Lucas work with the music and the sequencing.

“It’s something they work on at home at night,” says Neil. “We start in the summer and have the program planned three to four months in advance.”

An estimated 150 man hours of sequencing are involved and another 150 man hours of set up and tear-down. In addition, three to four staff members work nightly with parking, collecting donations and handing out flyers to cars, which can wait in line for up to two hours at the peak of the season.

New this year is the music (Sauniks Carol of the Bells), as well as the use of red-green-blue flood lights to mix the colors and make them more brilliant. Also new is a 44-foot air-operated tower that makes the giant Christmas tree and star move.


The view from our windshield (wipers included). Four separate sets of carols by digitized orchestra. Great sound via channel 89.1 on the radio dial

Together, Kubota Tractor and Messick’s pay the cost of the display, which includes 30 lit-up Kubota tractors, many of them having animated parts to play in the show.

“This is the combination of everything we love. We enjoy Christmas time and the lights (and of course tractors). We combine these things to make agriculture cool and engage our community in this way,” Neil explained.

Viewed from the upper and lower parking lots, visitors set their car radios to channel 89.1 for the music with which the light show is synchronized.

Click here to see a video preview

The 20-minute display runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m. during the first seven days Dec. 4 to 10 and from 6:30 to 10 p.m. from Dec 11 to 28. For more information on viewing, including a map, visit

Donations to support the charities are collected at the end of the show. 100% of donations go to support needs of local families through Habitat for Humanity, Community Cupboard of Elizabethtown, Paxton Ministries, Water Street Ministries and Mennonite Disaster Service.

To view what is arguably the largest tractor light display of its kind synchronized to Christmas music, enter the parking lot from Mertz Road off the Rheems/Elizabethtown exit of Rte. 283, and be prepared to wait. Lines can be 90 minutes in the 10-days before Christmas, with lighter crowds generally in the first week of the display.