FDA admits almonds don’t lactate, but here’s the rest of the story…

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They’re even taking her ‘moo!’ Investor-heavy high-tech startup companies are (with USDA’s help) taking her DNA to give food-grade yeast her protein-producing ability in a fermentation process to make “animal-free milk and dairy.” They’re editing her cells to grow muscle blobs in bioreactors for “animal-free boneless beef” and using her unborn bovine fetal serum as the culture media for the so-called ‘clean’ ‘animal-free’ cell-cultured meat growth. And they are taking her “moo” with website invitations to “join the ‘Moo’-vement or to get ‘moo-ving’ for all the dairy you love with none of the cows.” Meanwhile, FDA is poised — in a multi-year nutrition innovation strategy — to expand standards of identity for milk/dairy and meat/beef to accomplish nutrition innovation goals that, themselves, are being questioned and in the end may give these companies the license to steal. Photo by Sherry Bunting

FDA nutrition innovation strategy poised to ‘modernize’ how milk, beef defined as high-tech labs make cow-less versions of both

By Sherry Bunting for Farmshine, July 27, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As President Ronald Reagan famously said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Last week’s news that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will “help” the situation of imitation milk labels was followed by specifics from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

He revealed in a live interview with Politico: “An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”

Now there’s the sound bite everyone wants to hear, and the media and social media worlds went wild. But what does it really mean? Here’s the rest of the story and how to get involved.

Gottlieb said publicly that FDA plans to start gathering public comments before taking next steps in “redefining the rules for milk products”.

What he didn’t say in the Politico Pro Summit on July 17 is that FDA has already published a hearing and comment notice in the June 27, 2018 Federal Register for a July 26 hearing that covers three topics related to “modernizing” standards of identity, and the comment period ending August 27, 2018.

Will the government’s offer to ‘help’, in this case, result in more dishonesty and skulduggery, tricking consumers into eating what they may not otherwise choose and allowing investor-heavy startup companies to steal from farmers and ranchers, not only the identity of the products they produce, but also the very commodity-promoting checkoff dollars the government mandates they pay?

FDA already has a standard of identity for milk, and almost 100 dairy products, that it has chosen to ignore for more than a decade on any product except actual dairy milk.

Here’s the rub… If real dairy milk does not have added Vitamin D (when fat is removed Vit D is added to bring it back to full-fat levels of Vit. D), it can be deemed “mislabeled” by FDA and unable to call itself MILK.

But, if there are almonds and soybeans in your milking parlor — by all means, have at it,  label it milk — with or without Vit. D — not to mention without real milk’s levels of protein, quality amino acid profile and 9 essential nutrients.

You see, the standard of identity for milk is enforced when it comes from a cow, but not when it comes from a plant. And yet, because there is a standard of identity for milk — a nutritional and functional expectation — the plant-based knock-offs get to hijack that profile without being held to it and can selectively market from it with ‘more xxx’ or ‘free of xxx’ statements without stipulating what they are deficient in. (Example: Almond milk labels should say “88% less protein” if they are going to differentiate from the standard of identity they are hijacking).

By its own admission, FDA has maintained a non-enforcement posture on plant-based imitation beverages. Described as “enforcement discretion,” FDA has looked the other way and the dairy foods industry was either asleep at the wheel or developing imitations on the side, while these imposters were flooding the dairy case.

Meanwhile the companies investing in the imitations were free to do their market development and consumer confusion while securing space in the dairy case.

The timing of Gottlieb’s comments last week is even worse, given FDA’s launch of a multi-year nutrition innovation review as part of the agency’s nutrition innovation strategy revealed in March that seeks to expand standards of identity for products like milk and meat.

FDA meetings are happening quickly and quietly in various areas of imitation animal protein labeling and regulation. Yes, they are public meetings, but no one really knows about them.

Milk and dairy products have already been on the receiving end of identity-theft for more than a decade, and now that griddle is heating up to pancake both dairy farmers and ranchers (cattle are the target) with new plant-based mixtures, but even more horrifying are the genetically-edited cellular protein blobs or white-substance-exuding yeast grown in bioreactors yearning to be beef and milk.

There are new identity-thieves lurking about and guess what? USDA — the government — is the source of the bovine gene-edited cells and bovine gene-sequenced yeast in the heavily-investor-funded tech food startup companies that are the real focus of FDA’s recent moves.

With patents in hand — and funding from their big investors to scale up manufacturing — they seeking regulatory and labeling authority under FDA to be meat/beef and milk/dairy — without the cows.

FDA had a hearing on cell-cultured proteins July 12, and comments on regulation and labeling for this are due September 25.

A hearing on standards of identity was held by FDA on July 26 (after Farmshine press time), and comments are due August 27. (Look for more on this in next week’s Farmshine).

Dairy and beef producers need to become actively engaged in these moves by FDA because the main organizations that represent them — National Milk Producers Federation and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — are on record stating these cell-cultured products should be subject to regulation under USDA like real meat and dairy. They are mainly seeking a level playing field in the marketplace, not opposing their classification as meat, milk, dairy.

(NMPF is vigorously defending milk’s standard of identity against plant-based imitations on nutritional grounds, but seeking a level playing field on the cell-cultured proteins).

Trust me, food and dairy manufacturing companies and investors have already hired the best and the brightest and are already involved in this FDA process — cheering for the other team.

Here’s an example: Perfect Day ‘animal-free milk’ is on the market after receiving its patent in February and raising $24.7 million in first-round startup funding from investors to scale-up manufacturing.

This company has a business-to-business (B2B) model, according to an interview with Reuters, and is already working with some of the world’s largest dairy food and beverage manufacturers. Its website states that the product is just like milk in terms of proteins, but without the cholesterol, saturated fats, lactose, and environmental impact of cattle. Just think what this portends for the dumping of even more fat-free real milk from the market.

In fact, a primary foreign investor indicated support for the Perfect Day (fake milk) startup because it aligns with United Nations Sustainability Goals for 2030. (There’s that S-word again. I hope we are paying attention to how the S-word and cattle are getting along these days). Continental Grain is a big investor in both the Memphis Meats (fake meat) and Perfect Day (fake milk) startups, while Cargill and Tyson are investors in the Memphis Meats startup.

These high-tech food sciences are attracting big high-tech investors at a rapid rate because they are viewed as “disruptor technologies,” and their websites and promotional materials hold nothing back. Milk, meat, beef, dairy – no words are off limits in their branding and marketing.

In effect, while the government forces dairy and beef producers to pay a checkoff tax for promotion of their commodities, beef and dairy — and the names of products associated with those commodities — the government is looking the other way or now potentially encouraging more identity-theft as techies enter the food space to market proteins using the dairy and beef profiles and images, without paying one dime.

As for Perfect Day, this fake-milk is made by genetically altering food-grade yeast, taking DNA from a cow and sharing its protein-producing qualities with the yeast. (Sourced from the USDA, the genetically-altered yeast are cultivated to produce ‘dairy’ protein).

This process results in a microbe that is combined with a sugar substrate (food for the microbe) to feed, grow and exude in a fermentation process the company says is like “craft-beer-style-brewing,” producing protein “building blocks” for making dairy milk, yogurt and cheese. Perfect Day’s website says: “Dairy reinvented: Sustainable. Kind. Delicious.”

The end game is to provide a ‘base dairy’ protein that looks and tastes like milk, for inclusion in manufactured dairy products like cheese, ice cream, pizza, yogurt, and to work “synergistically” with the dairy foods industry as — according to the website — “a complement to cow-based milk that takes some of the stress away from the factory-farming system, rather than replace dairy cows entirely.”

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Memphis Meats and other companies on the fake meat side are doing similar things with cell-culturing to grow cellular protein blobs in laboratory bioreactors.

In each case, the ultimate goal is to decrease the need for cattle — be they dairy or beef bovines.

Think about this for a moment. Even at a 1 to 3% inclusion rate in common dairy foods or ground beef, these lab-cultured proteins and genetically-altered yeast give processors even more control over supply, demand and pricing of milk as well as boneless beef, and if standards of identity allow this, or if FDA enforcement discretion looks the other way – consumers will never know the integrity of their food has been changed.

If FDA modernizes its standards of identity to accomplish the goals as outlined by Commissioner Gottlieb — including a reduction in saturated fat consumption despite revelations that saturated fats are healthful not harmful — it is entirely possible that FDA’s new guidance could allow these protein “innovations” in standardized dairy and meat products, without being considered mislabeled and with no indication to consumers.

Gottlieb has already established FDA’s desire to accomplish certain nutritional goals by spurring innovation with more “flexible” standards of identity.

Ahead of the July 26 hearing, FDA published its intention to cover three aspects in the standards of identity discussion: 1) Protecting consumers against economic adulteration; 2) Maintaining the basic nature, essential characteristics, and nutritional integrity of food; and 3) Promoting industry innovation and providing flexibility to encourage manufacturers to produce more healthful foods.

FDA’s Federal Register notice also says the following: “Our intent is that modernizing standards of identity to improve the nutrition and healthfulness of standardized foods will promote honest and fair dealing in the interest of consumers and achieve the goals of the Nutrition Innovation Strategy.”

How can FDA pursue this course in the face of what has been revealed in the past three to four years? It appears that bringing these B2B products to market, along with the FDA nutritional innovation strategy, are happening ahead of the battleground brewing for the next round of Dietary Guidelines.

It appears they want to modernize standards of identity for dairy within less than one year, to get them in place before the current flawed dietary guidelines are challenged in the 2020 cycle, which begins in earnest in 2019.

Numerous investigations and scientific reports and studies show that the saturated fat avoidance of more than 30 years was not only never proven to be healthful, it is now shown to be harmful. And the rhetoric from the United Nations and various Sustainability projects continues to focus on cattle as being bad for the planet, despite evidence to the contrary.

FDA wants comments that specifically talk about how the agency can use standards of identity to encourage the production of more healthful foods, to take into consideration technology, nutrition science and marketing trends, and to assess what consumers expect these standards to tell them.

Is FDA about to help the food industry blur the lines of food integrity to trick people into eating according to USDA/HHS flawed set of dietary guidelines (and UN environmental sustainability assumptions)?

That would be the ultimate dishonesty, and much worse than the 10-plus years of ignoring dairy identity theft already happening daily in the supermarket dairy case. Expanding the standard of identity, depending upon how it is accomplished, would give large, powerful, multinational food corporations a true license to steal.

Last week, the American Dairy Coalition (ADC) launched a “Protecting Milk Integrity Initiative” to advocate for the proper use of federally standardized terms established for the word “milk” on product labels. ADC is a coalition of dairy, ag and livestock producers, and they are devoting a branch of their organization to work specifically on “providing clarity and consistency for consumers across the nation,” the organization said in a July 17 news release.

ADC is getting the word out that it believes the dairy industry must speak up to ensure the FDA understands how important it is, not only for the current standard of identity for milk and dairy products to be upheld, but for it to be fully enforced — restricting the use of the word “milk” on all future plant-based or alternative product labels.

They point out that the price of milk continues to decline while sales of plant-based alternatives are up 61% over the past five years with projections of more market share gains in the future.

Don’t be fooled by FDA’s admission that almonds don’t lactate. Instead of the enforcement of milk’s standard of identity that dairy farmers have been waiting for, FDA has already quietly launched its process for modernizing standards of identity to achieve specific (and flawed) nutritional goals.

To comment on Docket No. FDA-2018-N-2381 for “FDA’s Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy,” due August 27, 2018, use the docket portal at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-2381.

To comment on Docket No. FDA-2018-N-2155 for “Foods Produced Using Animal Cell Culture Technology, due September 25, 2018, use the docket portal at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-2155 .

To mail comments for either one, reference the appropriate docket name and number in your letter and mail to: Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852

In addition to commenting, a petition has been developed by the American Dairy Coalition’s Protecting Milk Integrity Initiative, and signatures are being collected to submit with public comments. ADC is also taking donations to raise funds to fight this cause.

More information about Protecting Milk Integrity Initiative, visit American Dairy Coalition

To learn more about the July 12 FDA cellular protein hearing (fake meat) and July 26 standards of identity hearing (fake milk), stay tuned to future editions of Farmshine for full reports ahead of the deadlines for commenting to FDA on both.

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CAPTIONS

FAKE MEAT and FAKE MILK

New Harvest and Memphis Meats testifed to FDA on July 12 that cell-cultured ‘meats’ are inevitable. They showed diagrams of how gene-edited bovine DNA and culture media are combined in bioreactors to make cellular blobs they want to call ‘boneless beef’ — without the cow. Similar diagrams can be found for Perfect Day and their phrase: ‘all the dairy you love with none of the cows’ at their website perfectdayfoods.com. Screenshot of materials displayed during FDA hearing by Sherry Bunting

Gift of life, keeps giving

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Justin, Claire, Reese, 10, Brinkley, 8, and Tripp, the dog, by the Christmas tree on a December afternoon just 3 weeks after the kidney transplant that gives Reese a new lease on life. Tucked in under the tree is Reese’s beloved cat Jack. Reese is quite enthusiastic about her four-legged friends, be they Holstein dairy cattle or house pets. Photo by Sherry Bunting 

 

‘Reese shows us you can have tragedy in your life and still move on and be full of life and hope for the future.’

 By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, Friday, December 15, 2017

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Cheese ball is back on the menu this Christmas at the Burdette house on Corner Road outside of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. It’s among the favorite foods that Reese Burdette has had to forgo for nearly four years to be easy on her damaged kidneys as she recovered from the May 2014 house fire.

That, along with hash brown casserole and all the yummy goodness of dairy foods, potatoes, orange juice and bananas — essentially nutritious foods high in vitamins such as potassium. In fact, so happy is Reese about bananas, Claire believes she’s eaten a tree full already.

Not only is Reese happy to be eating these foods again, “I hope to start growing again too!” the smiling 10-year-old said during my visit to Windy-Knoll View farm last Thursday.

While she has forged ahead on this journey on every front, it was the kidney transplant everyone knew Reese would eventually need that was hanging out there on the horizon. Justin and Claire Burdette learned in September that their daughter was in renal failure. She had been doing so well, so the timing was a bit of a shock.

Many people had already been tested as live donors — from friends and family members to colleagues in the dairy industry. But who would think that the “angel” sent into Reese’s life would be a friend of a cousin by marriage who had met Reese one time, a young, single woman with a heart of gold and willing to go through the surgery to donate a kidney to give Reese the vitality of life this ‘tuff girl’ has been fighting for.

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Ahead of the kidney transplant surgery, Reese’s aunt Laura Jackson updated on social media describing Alyssa as selfless, inspirational, courageous and beautiful with a giving spirit that is truly admirable. “Her love of children and animals led her right to us because right now, Reese does need some extra help,” wrote Laura. What many may not realize is that this gift of a new kidney comes from a woman “who loves her family and just wants to make a difference in this crazy world we live in… What this beautiful soul has offered up is a very different kind of life for Reese… the chance to be a normal 10-year-old with a chance to grow.”  Photo credit Bre Bogert Photography

Through the selfless generosity of Alyssa Hussey, 32, of Winchester, Virginia, a special education teacher with the Loudoun County Public Schools, the successful kidney transplant took place at Johns Hopkins on November 20. Not only are they both home and doing well, Reese was released just five days after the surgery, getting her home just after Thanksgiving and far sooner than imagined.

The two were expecting to have a visit at the farm this week, and Reese said she is anxious to show her hero around to see her growing little herd of 12 Holsteins, not to mention the five calves her sister Brinkley has accumulated among the Windy-Knoll View herd of top registered Holsteins.

Ahead of the transplant surgery, Reese’s aunt Laura Jackson updated on social media to say:

“What many may not realize is what this beautiful soul has offered up is a very different kind of life for Reese, a chance at a life with more quality and abundance, of water parks, river swimming, better health and the chance to be a normal 10-year-old with a chance to grow.”

Alyssa has given Reese the ultimate gift — the gift of life.

“We are relieved to have faced this. We knew it was coming. We just didn’t think it would be now. But what a blessing,” Justin reflects. “This kidney transplant would not be possible without someone like Alyssa. It’s proof that living donors are out there and we found one that we had ties to and never knew.”

Claire says that, “It’s hard to fathom someone willing to give our child their kidney and we barely knew her. But she didn’t think twice. We are beyond grateful.”

Burdettes_Dec2017-14 (1)It was a regular day on the farm when I arrived just as Reese was finishing school via the virtual robot — a necessity as she avoids large indoor crowds for the next 100 days since the transplant. Her younger sister Brinkley was just getting off the school bus. We had an hour to talk before Justin headed out to milk, driving down Brinkley and Reese Way, the dirt roads across the field between their house and the farm. The late afternoon sun, as the farm’s name suggests, broke through cold windswept clouds in the gap of the south mountains.

 

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Three weeks after her kidney transplant, Reese looked forward to the annual sleigh ride in Greencastle last Friday evening with grandparents Jim and Nina Burdette. While she must avoid indoor crowds for 100 days, the outdoor Christmas festivity was high on her list of things to look forward to. Facebook photo.

At the kitchen table, the topic of conversation centered on the many things Reese was already reintroducing into her life since the transplant, the goals she and her mother Claire have set, and the activities she is looking forward to – not the least of which was a trip to Greencastle Friday evening for the annual horse-drawn sleigh ride with her Momo and Papap (Jim and Nina Burdette).

What is it about Reese’s story that has inspired such a far-reaching interest and impact? People write and call and follow her progress from near and far. It’s a story of faith, hope and the determination to live life to the fullest, to overcome challenges and setbacks, to never give up, never let go of the rope and to keep moving forward in a matter-of-fact way with fierce strength, raw honesty, family love and accountability filtered by the wisdom of a 10-year-old’s keen sense of humor.

Justin notes that they had a visit not long ago from a Canadian couple who keep in touch often to see how Reese is doing. They traveled to Pennsylvania just to visit her, amazed by her journey after nearly two years at Johns Hopkins recovering from the fire. This dairy farming couple had been through a barn fire and had dealt with animal losses that were depressing. Knowing Reese, seeing her, has made a difference in their world.

They are but one example of hearts Reese has helped to heal through her own example.

They are among the many who have written the Burdettes about what Reese’s story means to them, and what her journey has done for them in their own circumstances. Claire explains that, at first, these responses were hard to realize and digest because so many have done so much for Reese and their family that they felt they were leaning on others only to learn that others were finding support also in them.

Reese-Brinkley-Sleigh(FacebookPhotoProvided)“I think what Reese shows us is that you can have tragedy in your life and still move on and be full of life and hope for the future. I think that is what Reese has done for people,” Claire explains.

Healing and support going both ways – a lifeline — gifts that keep giving.

In like manner, the kidney donated by Alyssa Hussey is new hope transplanted, a gift that keeps giving in a young girl with a second chance.

Justin and Claire also had high praise for their summer intern who came back to help at the farm so they could be with Reese, worry-free, in the hospital for the transplant. Mikey Barton is the grandson of Ken Main of Elite Dairy and Cutting-Edge Genetics in Copake, New York. He had served as an intern last summer at Windy-Knoll View, and when he heard about the upcoming kidney transplant for Reese, he came down to help take care of things.

“We are so blessed,” the Burdettes said, describing the bond Mikey has made with their family. “Blessed that he comes back to see us and that he would take his time off to come down here so we could focus on Reese.”

 

Justin was quick to point out that he got back to the farm Wednesday to be sure to have Mikey home with his family for Thanksgiving, and that Mikey made time to drive the two hours south to see Reese in the hospital before heading north back to New York.

“We felt we have learned as much from Mikey as he has learned from us through this internship experience,” said Claire. “It has been a neat connection. He knows our routine and we didn’t have to worry about things at home for those few days.”

The Burdettes also credit the support of their local community and the dairy community from the beginning. Flannery’s Tavern on the Square in Mercersburg hosted a Team Reese fundraiser a week before the kidney transplant to help with medical and related expenses with the restaurant donating 15% of the days sales and providing a room for 75 silent-auction items donated and bid on by the greater community.

For the Burdettes, it has been the physical outpouring that accompanies the financial support of others that has lifted them up. To see a Team Reese fundraiser pack the local restaurant from open to close shows how much Reese has lived up to her nickname as “Mercersburg’s daughter.” When she and Brinkley walk into Flannerys, as they do once a week, people cheer. No price can be put on that physical show of support.

Every effort to this point has come together toward a life that will be much different for Reese now. No lines to tether her. No long trips for dialysis.

Clair confirms the doctors are very happy with her progress and her bloodwork looks good. Her main job in the next 100 days is to stay healthy and drink lots of fluids for that new kidney.

High on Reese’s list of “new” is fewer shots, fewer medicines, and working on giving up the tracheotomy for supplemental oxygen.

She is pretty excited about her Dad’s promise of a trip to Great Wolf Lodge where a waterpark is in her future.

“I can’t wait to bathe in that waterpark and get Brinkley soaked!” she says with a laugh.

But first she needs to reach the point in her journey where the trach is no longer needed. Now that the kidney transplant has occurred, there will be sleep studies and trials to be sure the timing is right to close the trach, and then the watersports and other activities will beckon. Reese already gave up the constant companion of traveling oxygen last Easter when she wanted to be outside with the other kids for a longer period of time, and decided on her own, she didn’t need it.

Reese has set a goal to attend the Pennsylvania Junior Holstein Convention in Lancaster in February. Mom’s goal is to get her through the next three months away from crowds to be strong and healthy into this next chapter of her journey.

Because we all know what comes next. There are calves to work with and cows to care for and in addition to a new calf Cream Cheese from her Carrie cow, named after the child life specialist who has been inspirational on this journey, there are the new gals from her Pantene line, like Potato Chip and Pretzel.

Reese and Brinkley talk excitedly about their cattle as they rattle off names and pedigrees.

But the cow work will have to wait, except for drive-throughs this winter. Instead, Reese is happy to be making and eating some of her favorite dishes. This week she made sticky buns with her Momo and a repeat favorite meal – sloppy joes.

She says, “No more driving to dialysis and getting home late at night!” That all ended on November 21 along with the line in her belly and the constant hemoglobin shots.

The people who have stuck with Reese from the beginning continue to be there in large ways and small. A woman in town still sends Reese a card every week, just as she has since May 2014.

As for the Christmas celebration, her second at home since the fire, Reese has big plans. She shared her small, but typical 10-year-old’s list for Santa and the family traditions she looks forward to. To avoid contact with crowds, she’s shopping by internet, and she’s pretty excited that on Christmas Eve, she will be helping her Momo prepare the dinner.

For Claire and Justin, having their daughter home with her new kidney for Christmas is the greatest gift of all.

“There is so much good in this world,” Justin affirms. “We just have to look for it.”

One place to look is the inspiration of little Reese Burdette.

Correspondence can be sent to Reese Burdette, 8656 Corner Road, Mercersburg, PA 17236. Financial contributions or fundraisers for Reese and her family, can be sent to “We Love Reese” First Community Bank, 12 S. Main St., Mercersburg, PA 17236.

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Determination defined.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Sept. 23, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Before the March homecoming, Reese Burdette told the medical staff “I’ve got to get home to my cows.”

And so she did. Her cow Pantene, in fact, had just had a heifer calf she named Pardi-Gras. It was Mardi-Gras time of year and she was looking forward to a homecoming party.

When Reese Burdette did come home to Windy-Knoll-View farm after those 662 days at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), she was so anxious to get back to her cows and the dairy industry she loves that she wanted to get right out on the gator with her papap to look them over.

Reese03That didn’t happen immediately, but not long after she was home, she sure did.

A few days after her March homecoming. Reese was already setting new goals for herself.

Sitting at the kitchen table on the day of our visit in mid-March, taking a break from “virtually” attending school, Reese said, matter-of-factly, and with a radiant smile (as her mother and momo exchanged glances):

“I want to be walking good enough to lead Pardi-Gras in Harrisburg in September.”

And so she did. She sure did.dsc_1142

reesepeptalkdadIt was something she had worked for daily with the support of her family, friends, therapists… and a last minute pep talk from dad, Justin Burdette.

In fact, not only did she lead Pardi-Gras to a 4th place finish in her class Monday, Sept. 19 during the All-American Dairy Show at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa., she also led Pardi-Gras’ dam, Reese’s prize 4-year-old cow Pantene to a 1st place finish in her class… and the honors that followed as Reserve Grand Champion Holstein of the Premier National Junior Show.

Perhaps Pa. Holstein Association executive director Ken Raney put it best in a post acknowledging all of the great people and families the association works with across Pennsylvania. “It’s been my goal to share the accomplishments and recognize many people for what they do for the dairy industry, but today was different,” he wrote. “Today, we got to witness a young lady who has shown great determination and a will to not only survive but return to the industry and cows she loves. Congratulations and thank you Reese Burdette for showing us what true determination is all about.”

reesepantenereschampReese was surrounded Monday by her support team of friends and family, including friends from Johns Hopkins, who came to Harrisburg to witness how much Reese loves the dairy industry and how this dairy industry family continues to support her and her family. Her ever-faithful cousin Regan Jackson and friend Lane Kummer helped make it possible to also lead her cow Pantene.

In a video interview with The Bullvine, Reese’s mother Claire Burdette said that people wonder how they can be so strong through this journey of over two years. She said, “It’s people surrounding us that make us strong.” She described Reese’s sense of humor and tenacity that stayed with her throughout this journey.

00aareese0022As for Reese, her family, favored cow Pantene, and all who continue to support and love her… the joy of the day and its milestones was plain to see.

As expected, this tenacious 10-year-old has already set the next goal for herself (and loves to think in timelines): To attend school without the part-time assistance of the wheelchair by the end of the year.

We continue to root for this amazing and inspirational young lady and agree wholeheartedly with Ken Raney’s comment: “You made us all proud ‘Miss Tuff Girl!’” as she is affectionately known these days.

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Thank you to Laura Jackson, Jean Kummer and Randy Blodgett for some of the photos above. Below, Reese’s Pantene also made the Supreme parade lineup Thursday as Grand Champion Holstein in the open competition, shown by her mom Claire Burdette.00aaPantene9930.jpg

 

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‘I’ve got to get home to my cows’

With courage and grace, Reese comes home after 22 months

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from FARMSHINE March 25, 2016
Reese03Author’s Note: It has been almost a month since Reese’s homecoming and she is getting back to the precious rhythms of life on the farm: Greeting her little sister off the bus on sunny afternoons, feeding her prize cow’s new calf, riding the gator with her grandfather, having tea parties with sister and cousins on Sunday afternoons, getting together with school friends, still attending school virtually via “Double,” her robot, even going to the dentist! Her journey continues to inspire. I am grateful for the opportunity to interview Reese and her mother and grandmother on the quiet first Monday after her arrival home Friday, March 18, 2016. Get ready to be inspired by this young lady, and by her family and the local farming community and worldwide dairy community who continue to think of her. Thank you to Jean Kummer, Laura Jackson and Jennifer DiDio for providing some of the photos here.

 

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Nina Burdette tells the story of granddaughter Reese teaching her cow Pantene to lead when she was a calf five years ago. Reese was four at the time, and Nina told her “Don’t let go.”

“That calf pulled her around, and at one point she was flat on her back holding on, until that calf wrapped itself around a post,” Nina recalls she had rope burns on her hands.

Reese never let go.

So it was two years later, on May 26, 2014, when Reese arrived at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, where she would spend the next 662 days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) recovering from burns over 35 percent of her body and smoke damage to her heart and lungs after a fire at the home of her grandmother Patricia Stiles, who also recovered from significant trauma carrying her from the burning room.

Reese never let go.

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Today, she is back home at Windy-Knoll View farm in rural Franklin County, Pa., with her sister Brinkley and their parents Justin and Claire Burdette, and of course her cow Pantene and her three heifers Pretzel, Panzee and Pardi Gras.

Over and over, Reese told her doctors: “I’ve got to get home to my cows.”

Words spoken from the heart of a true dairy farmer. “Oh she has her mind set on that, just like her mom and dad,” says Nina. “We call her the junior manager.”

Driving through Mercersburg to the Burdette home on Monday, purple still proclaimed Reese’s homecoming parade from the preceding Friday. Purple and white cows stood in yards and driveways, purple balloons, welcoming TeamReese banners, home-made signs of love and support, purple bows tied to trees, poles and fence posts all along the route of young Reese Burdette’s drive home from Baltimore to Mercersburg — the 200-mile trek her family has traversed between the home farm and their second home at Johns Hopkins for nearly two years.

Reese had set a goal to be home for her 9th birthday, which she celebrated with family and friends — at home — on Sunday, March 20.

“Friday was surreal,” said Mom, Claire, during Monday’s Farmshine interview as Reese sat in the next room attending school via her robot, screen and headphones. Brinkley, 5, had also gone off to school that morning, and Reese was eager to be on the porch in a couple hours to see her little sister get off the bus — something she had envisioned for months.

A return to the ordinary rhythms of life on the farm is just what this child has longed for as she recovered from that fateful day.

Friday had dawned brisk and sunny as Claire and Justin and Brinkley waited with Reese for morning rounds. “When the doctor said ‘you’re free to go,’ it felt so good to hear those words we had waited and prayed to hear for so long,” Claire recalls.

A sendoff party was attended by hundreds the night before at Johns Hopkins where Reese has become quite the celebrity in what everyone referred to as “the sunshine room” where there was no room for worry. She shared her games, was known for her aim in shooting foam darts at a deer on the doorway, and had a machine for making snowballs and popcorn for sale with lines out the door to her room some days. Her PICU room had been transformed into a rehab that looked as much like home as possible for the past year. Toward the end of her stay, Reese surprised her family with a video of her journey.

“She’s not afraid to talk about the fire,” said Claire, noting that the hospital has learned from Reese as they tried processes for the first time with her burns. Jim tells of the time she consoled a grandmother whose granddaughter was getting a tracheotomy, explaining to her there is nothing to fear. She had become quite the advocate for her own care, face-timing Dr. Kristen Nelson about medicines and earning the name “Dr. Reese” among the residents in training (RTs).

In fact, Dr. Kristen, as she is known, is quick to point out that, “Reese has surprised me in so many ways about perseverance and strength and hope and grace and bravery, and I am forever a part of her life.”

On Friday morning, an entourage of 25 doctors, nurses, RTs, and custodians, escorted her to the white SUV sporting the large purple bow.

And so, they began their journey back home to a new normal.

Claire said the sight was “amazing. There are no words to describe riding up and seeing people after people after people.”

A sea of purple lined the streets. “There was so much joy… and tears. People were waving and hugging each other,” she said.

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The local fire company brought every piece of equipment for the homecoming escort. They drove through the high school, where the band played, and then through the middle school and through two elementary schools where children and adults lined the streets and filled the parking lots and rooftops with banners and balloons and smiles and waves.

In town, the First National Bank closed for 15 minutes as every employee, donning purple, came out to cheer Reese homeward as the Burdette family drove by. The John Deere dealership, car dealerships, and other businesses decorated profusely in purple to welcome their hometown hero.

“I thought she was going to jump out of the car, she was so excited. Of course, we had to stop at the barn first,” Claire said with a smile. “She wanted to see her cow Pantene, and the new heifer calf she had on Tuesday.”

Reese had already named the calf Pardi-Gras because she was born during Mardi-Gras, and last week was a ‘Pardi-Gras,’ of sorts, for the two dairy families of Waverly Farms and Windy-Knoll-View… Reese was finally coming home.

“Only Reese would get another heifer calf,” her mother noted. That’s three heifers in a row for Pantene. Reese smiled at the thought. “Ha! My dad’s been getting bulls!”

Her Momo and Papap — Jim and Nina Burdette — had spent much of the past two years at the hospital. Jim says he had envisioned Reese’s homecoming a thousand times.

“It is such a great relief to have her home. We went up to the parade in town, and then beat it back home quick,” Jim said. “I wanted to be here on that porch looking down and seeing her pull in.” After which, he says, “I promptly beat it down the stairs to see her.”

He had spent some time getting Pantene all cleaned up. “We knew that’s who she’d want to see first,” Jim said. “It was too cold to take Reese into the barn, so Justin brought Pantene out to the car.”

It was a poignant moment for Justin as a father to see his young daughter greet her special cow — the cow she had shared with hundreds of Johns Hopkins staff through a photo book Nina made and through a visit by Pantene, along with coolers full of chocolate milk, at the hospital last year during June Dairy Month.

Having seen Pantene and her calf, it was time to get home. Within minutes, she was sitting proudly in her purple chair, reading with her sister, talking of everything she wanted to do.

“She fell right back into life here, as though she never left,” Claire observes.

Having ‘face-timed’ from the hospital during milking, Reese knows her cows and fought to come home to them.

“I spoiled Pantene,” a smiling Reese admits. “She leads good for me, but not so good for anybody else. You know, once a cow gets to know you, she really likes you.”

The purple sign proclaiming “Keep calm and love cows,” that hung in her hospital room, now hangs at home, next to the words from a song the medical staff would hum before every surgery: “Every little thing gonna be alright.”

The dairy community, local community, faith community and the medical staff that have become like family, have all rallied to support Reese not just because her injuries were so severe, but to celebrate the inspiration of the toughness and grace with which she has persevered, and the way God has worked in her life and through her to help others.

“It feels really good that maybe we have given something that people want to give back,” Jim says with emotion. “So many people have done so many things to help this family. We knew Justin and Claire needed to be with Reese and we would do whatever was necessary to keep the farm going for Reese to come home to.”

Their part-time employee went full-time, they hired another helper, and Nina got back into milking again, sore knees and all, but they would never have made it these past two years, says Jim, without the help of others.

“We are part of a good and kind dairy industry and the best small-town America you can find,” Nina adds. “People taking care of people.”

Claire tells of the thousands of letters and messages her daughter Reese has received. Letters that told stories of how Reese’s battle back from the fire inspired others to face their own battles. She tells of three women in the tri-state region who each sent a card to Reese faithfully every week for nearly 100 weeks. In fact, Reese asked the nurse to check her mail before departing Friday. Claire said every piece of mail has been saved, and as Reese faces new goals and challenges, the letters will be read and re-read.

And the way people rallied to help with medical bills through selling and re-selling cattle, and the various groups and clubs and fund drives too numerous to list here.

The challenges will continue. “We’ve closed one chapter and opened another,” says Claire of her daughter’s journey which continues now at home.

Getting her completely off the ventilator will be the next challenge. But she is home and off to a good start. By her second day home, she was already pestering her Papap to get her back out on the Kubota to pick up her driving lessons right where she left off two years ago. She wanted to ride through the fields and tell him every weed she saw. She wanted to walk through the cattle, and tell her Dad and Papap what they should do with this one or that one.

Her next goal? “I want to be walking good enough to lead Pardi-Gras in the All-American at Harrisburg in September,” she said with a radiant smile.

Asked what she would want to say to readers more than anything, she replied: “Thank you so much for thinking of me.”

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All smiles, Justin and Claire Burdette bring their daughter Reese to the front door of home after 662 days of surgeries and recoveries at Johns Hopkins. Photo by Jean Kummer

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First stop before stepping over the home threshold, was the barn to see Pantene. It was a bit cold Friday, so Justin brought his daughter’s cow right to the car window. Photo by Jean Kummer

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Getting back to the rhythms of daily life at home, Reese takes a break from the screen that transports her to school via robot every day for a picture with her mother Claire Burdette. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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The families of Windy-Knoll View, Mercersburg, Pa. and Waverly Farms, Clear Brook, Va., join the crowds of hometown folk lining the streets of Mercersburg for Reese’s homecoming parade. Photo by Laura Jackson

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Jim Burdette envisioned this day thousands of times over the past 22 months. He knew he wanted to be on the second story porch watching his granddaughter come home. But then he beat it down the stairs for a hug. Photo by Laura Jackson

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Reese’s cow Pantene had a sign of her own for Reese’s homecoming. Photo by Laura Jackson

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Pantene’s third heifer calf Pardi-Gras was born just three days before Reese came home. Photo by Jean Kummer

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At the one end of Reese Way (left), put in between the two home farms when she was born, is Reese’s home. At the other end of the lane (right) is the entrance to Windy-Knoll View. When the Fast Signs company that made all the TeamReese signs came to put this one up, Jim Burdette told them, “Don’t cover the farm sign, Reese will love seeing Pledge, Pala, and Promise here to greet her.” Photo by Sherry Bunting

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The land is awakening. Cattle are out grazing. A special cow has a new heifer calf. And a special young lady — ReeseBurdette — has returned home to the joy of her farm and everyday life after 22 months of recovery at Johns Hopkins. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Reese and Brinkley share a special moment at the hospital on the morning of Reese’s homecoming. Photo by Jean Kummer

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Justin and Claire Burdette with daughters Reese and Brinkley before Reese’s most recent surgery before Christmas. Photo courtesy Jennifer DiDio Photography

 

 

 

 

Community out ‘full force’ helping farmers rescue cattle

By Sherry Bunting, from March 6, 2015 Farmshine

Accumulated snow on rooftops soaked up Tuesday’s icy rain like a sponge. This heavy, wet snow, that turns to ice and doesn’t move, was blamed Wednesday (March 4) for a string of dairy barn roof collapses in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, ahead of the Nor’easter that followed to hit the region Thursday. At least two such collapses, one in Pennsylvania and the other in New York, trapped large numbers of cattle and resulted in animal losses, but thankfully no people were injured. Communities worked with farmers to rescue trapped cattle and veterinarians worked tirelessly to treat and evaluate the injured.

  IN PENNSYLVANIA: Colpetzers at Xanadu Jerseys thankful for ‘full force’ of community help rescuing cattle

GREENVILLE, Pa. — The Colpetzer family was 15 minutes from chore-time, when the roof collapsed on their 9-year-old drive-through bedded-pack barn housing 150 young heifers, bred heifers and dry cows at Xanadu Jerseys around 5:00 p.m. Tuesday evening (March 4).

“The kids heard the loud boom,” Amy Colpetzer said in a Farmshine phone interview Wednesday. “We have employees who live in the house at the heifer barn. They called and told us the roof had collapsed.”

By 5:30, rescue teams from over a half dozen Mercer County emergency departments were arriving, including a structure-collapse team whose role it was to secure the building for the rescue of cattle trapped inside as more than half of the barn roof had collapsed. Meanwhile rescue crews — along with volunteers, friends and neighbors — worked through the night to reach cows that were trapped in the debris. Cows were methodically led out of the other half of the building as well, to protect them from further collapse.

Photo courtesy of WFMJ - 21 news

Photo courtesy of WFMJ – 21 news

“All that weight on a tin structure, that we’re looking at, would definitely weigh it down,” said Sheakleyville Fire Department representative Jim Tuchek, according to the local reporting of 21-WFMJ news on Tuesday night. “We have probably 20 Amish men in there shoveling snow off of the tin that fell, which has all the snow on top of it, and all the trusses are also involved.”

By 9:30 p.m., most of the animals had been removed, but there are still areas under the snow topped roof debris that have not been cleared as of Wednesday late afternoon.

Photo courtesy of WFMJ - 21 news

Photo courtesy of WFMJ – 21 news

The family reported Wednesday that 10 cattle had perished, and another 14 were “in a hospital state,” including four that are still down. One that was due to calve 10 weeks from now began calving early.

As of Wednesday afternoon, cattle were still being evaluated and the building is estimated to be a near-total loss. “That’s the way it is. We are still facing decision time on some of these cattle,” said Amy, explaining that they were still working on relocating the cows that were transported to Mercer Livestock Tuesday night.

How are Amy and Tom and children Sam, Angela and George Colpetzer coping?

“The community,” said Amy, and after a long pause: “The community came out in full force. People came here from two to three hours away last night. Our veterinarian Dr. Vanessa Philson Uber and her assistant were wonderful. I have never seen anyone in action like that tiny woman. You got out of her way and she was going to save whatever she could. She was here until 1:30 a.m. and she’s back again this afternoon re-dressing wounds.”

Amy noted that over 100 people with 20 to 30 cattle trailers moved animals as they were removed from the debris and triaged by the veterinarian. “The folks from Mercer Livestock came and said ‘our barn is your barn,’ so we moved cattle there so they could have a dry bedded pen, a roof over their heads and hay to eat.”

The Colpetzers prepared for some of those cattle to come back home Thursday, while relocating other animals to another farm.

“We can’t thank everyone enough for everything being done,” Amy said, noting that a woman she’d met only once stopped Wednesday with 40 bagged lunches for the family and volunteers.

Of the cattle that perished, one was a special cow “Diva,” which George, Sam and Angela had invested in. Another was the first offspring of their own homebred bull that had sired a top placing senior in milk at Louisville last fall. And they lost “a recently purchased dry cow the kids were pretty excited about,” Amy said.

She is thankful for her children. “Last night George hugged me and said: ‘We’re going to make this mom. Don’t ask me for the details yet, but we’re going to make it,’” Amy related.

George also posted a special note on Facebook in response to the outpouring of friends. Expressing the family’s gratitude for those who responded in a time of need, he wrote: “It was a humbling experience to see the numerous folks, firemen and truckers, who came to our aid. Above all let us thank Dr. Vanessa Philson Uber. This lady is dedicated to her job and assisted in helping with cows and making decisions at a time when they are so crucial.

“The thought now is where do we go from here, what do we do now?” he asked. “We are trying to recuperate, clean up, and see how many cattle made it and did not. Some of our better cows are gone, but many are still here at this hour. To the cows that are gone, thanks for what you have done for us, it was a great pleasure to work with you. To those that made it, we are optimistic that this will enable us to envision our future and what it contains. Optimism is hard to have right now, it is not a picnic by any means, but we must make a plan on how to move forward with Providence’s guidance. Thank you for the support and God bless.”

Asked what folks can do to help, Amy said simply: “Pray. We are thankful no one was hurt. I’ve got my kids here and my husband here. Just pray for the strength to keep on trucking.”

IN NEW YORK, community rallies to help Whey Street Dairy 

CUYLER, N.Y. —  A second dairy barn roof collapse in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region was at Whey Street Dairy in Central New York’s Cortland County — also resulting in animal losses, but no people were hurt.

Roof collapses are not common on Pennsylvania and New York dairy farms, but the past few winters of continual snow followed by rain followed by snow — along with volatile temperature extremes creating moist air and freezing surfaces — have led to seeing more of them.

At Whey Street Dairy, 25 miles south of Syracuse, five animals perished and at least 10 more were injured when a third of the roof over their freestall barn partially collapsed, trapping 75 to 100 of the 500 cattle inside.

According to local news reports Wednesday at Syracuse.com, eight fire departments from three counties arrived at the dairy, but Marty said “it was his friends and neighbors who came to lend support that overwhelmed him.”

After the firefighters left, the local community kept working as a dozen of friends, neighbors and fellow farmers were still at the farm Wednesday afternoon clearing debris and heavy, wet snow.

Marty told local news outlets that he learned of the roof collapse when an employee came down the road to his house after midnight. He had just finished milking in the separate parlor and was thankfully not in the freestall barn at the time of the collapse.

In some parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, snow has not been able to thaw since Christmas, so the problem of roof snowloads increases. The Syracuse news report indicated that the region has seen almost a dozen roof collapse incidents this winter.

Back to back years of increased risk… Last winter, a similar stretch of volatile winter temperatures coupled with the frequent snow / ice / rain events resulted in a major barn roof collapse at Ar-Joy Farms, Cochranville, Chester County, Pa. The Hershey family lost more than two dozen cows among the 600 in that barn and spoke of their profound gratitude for the get’r done spirit of fellow farmers and a supportive community. no roof

No ‘snow days’ on the farm

cows6781By Sherry Bunting, columnist, Register-Star, Feb. 21, 2015

There are no ‘snow days’ on the farm. “When it is this cold, the simple every day protocols become enduring days of work,” notes Cody Williams of Wil-Roc Dairy, Kinderhook, where 1500 Holstein dairy cows are milked and cared for.

“We change our teat dip when it’s this cold, for extra moisturizing to the skin,” Cody explains. “We also adjust the cow diets to keep our cows in a positive energy balance as they burn more energy to maintain themselves during weather extremes.”

Operating a dairy or livestock farm in the extreme cold is not for the faint of heart. Veteran beef producer Phil Trowbridge of Ghent observes: “We know how to take care of ourselves. We dress in layers and give each other breaks.”

Frozen pipes, pumps, waterers, and manure — as well as difficulty in starting equipment — are commonly reported concerns. When the snow piles up and the temperatures plummet, concerns turn to keeping rooftops clear of a too-heavy burden and being vigilant about the increased risk of fires.

In closed group discussions throughout social media, farmers exchange ideas and seek support from each other.

When the Polar Vortex gripped the northern half of the country in 2014, farmers were up to the challenge.

Last week the mercury hit -14 at Trowbridge Angus Farm, where it is calving season January through March. The family, and their over 300 beef breeding cows, were navigating two to three feet of snow cover.

Twenty miles away near Schodack Landing, temps of -11 went virtually unnoticed by the over 700 Jersey dairy cows at Dutch Hollow Farm. They are tucked away in their barns with retractable sidewall curtains that stay open more often than not for natural light and ventilation but remain closed when the wind chills get this low.

Cattle are cold weather animals, but they do not like wind or drafts. The difference between beef and dairy breeds is the way their centuries-old partnership with man has adapted through specialized breeding and care.

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Beef breed cattle are kept outside pretty much year-round, coming into the barn only at calving time. Dairy cattle, on the other hand, are typically housed in barns year-round. While beef breed cattle spend more time foraging for their food and seeking the natural and provided windbreaks to lay down, dairy cattle in freestall barns will amble short distances inside from feedbunks and waterers to the deep-bedded stalls that are groomed for them two or three times a day while they are milking.

Dairy cows are accustomed to constant human handling from the time they are calves. 10986660_10206244497857081_5937924373439440151_oThey have a different temperament about the whole calving deal.They aren’t worried about predators and trust the humans they work beside day in and day out to care for them and their offspring.

Beef breeding cows, on the other hand, are more self-sufficient and protective of their young. They raise their offspring for the more hands-off life as a non-milking breeding animal or to spend 80% of their life foraging on pasture with the last 20% of their life in the beef fattening phase.

One thing in common: Both beef and dairy producers focus on the newborns immediately at birth to make sure each calf gets a warm start and enough colostrum for the passive transfer of immunity from its dam.

“When we get real cold weather like we have seen this winter, we spend more time in the calving barn at night. We pretty much sleep here with them when it’s this cold,” says beef producer Phil Trowbridge, who has had 50 calves born since January 1. “The main thing is to get those calves dried off and warmed up as soon as they are born, and to make sure they get enough colostrum. In two or three days, they’re old enough and strong enough to go outside.”

Not only are they prepared for cold weather, they frolic in it. “I took a video with my cell phone of the calves the other day when it was minus-11. We were putting out bedding for the cows, and saw those calves were feeling so good, they were just running through the snow,” Phil relates. “I like seeing that.”

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Stockpiled pasture grasses make a nice winter forage as cattle can push off a few inches or a foot of snow to graze it, and they do well getting around in the snow outdoors. But with over two feet of snow cover this winter, the Trowbridge family cuts trails to help the cattle conserve energy. They also put down extra bedding, more often, in the areas with windbreaks and feed more outdoor hay and supplement.

Meanwhile, on a dairy farm, the cows calve year-round. Calving pens are watched through video monitoring or by walk-throughs. The immediate newborn calf care continues through the first few weeks of life in the calf nursery or individual hutches. Newborns often get time in a heat box or wear calf jackets and sometimes earmuffs when it’s this cold, and they are fed more often for increased energy to maintain their temperature and to grow.

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Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

“Taking care of the animals is pretty much routine. The feeding is very consistent day to day, and the freestalls are bedded twice a week,” says Paul Chittenden of Dutch Hollow
Farm.

“Clean and dry and plenty to eat are what we focus on — regardless of the weather,” he adds. “Cows always have dry sawdust with extra sawdust stored in the front of the stalls. This allows for plenty of dry bedding to stir around each time we groom the stalls when the cows go to the parlor for milking.”

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Water is critical for drinking and cleaning, so lines are buried underground and drinking tubs are equipped with heaters.

“Cold weather management is really not too complicated,” explains bovine veterinarian and dairy farmer Dr. Tom Troxel. “Cows need to have plenty of feed and water, be out of the wind, and have a dry place to lay down. If they have these things, they can survive an awful lot.”

“No matter the weather, we have our jobs to do here,” notes Cody of Wil-Roc Dairy. “That is itself the reward. Getting our everyday tasks done and looking to see how the stressers of weather and other events can affect our system… That is how we keep improving how we do things all year long.”

Sherry Bunting is a member of North American Agriculture Journalists and has been covering beef and dairy production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows and graded beef cattle for market reports. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net

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Dairy and beef cattle are adapted differently, but they all depend on their people for great care during the weather extremes we have seen here this winter. Farming is not for the faint of heart. Everyday tasks take longer to complete but it sure is rewarding to see cows thrive and calves frolic after a good start – regardless of the weather! Photos by Sherry Bunting, Tricia Adams and Evelyn Troutman.

‘Work hard. Save money. Be careful. Love the job.’

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Hector Jimenez (right) and his uncle Arturo Rodriguez have been working together since the late 1970s. Two decades of saving as they worked on dairies in California led to them starting their own dairy near Dublin, Texas in 2004. In an interview last May at their R&J Dairy, they reflected on a decade of dairying on their own in Central Texas. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, originally published in Farmshine and Texas Dairy & Ag Review during the summer of 2014

DUBLIN, Tex – The decade of 2004 to 2014 has been a volatile one for anyone starting out in the dairy business. For these two producers it took more than two decades of
work on other dairies in California to pave the way to be living their dream today in Central Texas. Hard work, disciplined saving, and hands-on management are the three keys Hector Jimenez and his uncle Arturo Rodriguez say brought them through 20-plus years of working for others and 10 years dairying on their own – including the 2009-13 era of tight to negative margins.webR&J-536

“We worked together since 1979 and always talked about one day having our own dairy,” Hector recalls. That day came in 2004 when Hector and Arturo bought a dairy near Dublin that had been vacant for a number of years after its previous owner moved west to where the dairy industry was expanding in the Panhandle.

They moved here from California with nothing, bought 110 cows and milked three months on a rented dairy, then partnered in their own R&J Dairy. They bought another 150 cows and took their time raising their own replacements to expand steadily through internal herd growth.

“WwebR&J-165e started with No. 1 and this calf, here, is No. 2869,” Hector smiles, pointing out a newborn heifer. Today their herd of 850 milking cows is 95% homebred. They produce an average of 75 pounds/cow/day and have achieve somatic cell counts at or below 200,000.

They are satisfied with the current size of their dairy as they build back their numbers after a few years of heavier culling rates while milk margins and feed costs were tight to negative. The recent memory of 2009-13 brings daily reminders of the importance of saving, working, and being cautious.

“We culled heavily because we needed that money to pay bills,” Hector relates. Today, the herd is 30% first-calf 2-year-olds.

Asked how they made it through those tough years, Hector’s wife Fabiola said: “We prayed.”

“And worked hard,” added Hector.

He and Arturo are hands-on managers. “My uncle is out here feeding cows at 4 a.m. and I start at 5 a.m.,” says Hector, who does all of the breeding. His day starts with cleaning the milk tank and the parlor, checking fresh cows, and starting the day’s breeding lineup.

“My husband is in love with what he does. He never complains. He and Arturo are always here – rain or shine, good or bad — that’s how we made it this far,” Fabiola adds.

She and Arturo’s wife Sylvia — and more recently Arturo’s daughter Christian — take care of all the calves at R&J Dairy.

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Hector and Fabiola Jimenez (left) and Arturo Rodriguez (right) with his daughter Christian. Missing from photo are Hector and Fabiola’s grown children Clemente, Abel and Joann and Arturo’s wife Sylvia and son Arturo Stephen. Photo by Sherry Bunting

They employ 10 people, mainly milkers. They feel a sense of satisfaction in coming to the U.S. from Mexico in the mid-to-late 1970s, working hard, starting a new life here, including their own dairy business, raising children who are either interested in the dairy or working good jobs in the community, and now providing jobs for others in the community.

Halfway through their first decade in business together, Hector and Arturo hit the 2009 milk market train wreck followed by years of drought and surging feed prices. Cutting expenses was a big part of that picture from 2009-12, and the partners aren’t so fast to spend money now that dairy margins are good.

They have 220 acres and rent some additional property for growing coastal hay. That, and working with their nutritionist in feeding commodities like corn gluten, canola and cottonseed along with purchased corn silage — helps them manage feed costs.

They feed a dry cow ration and move the close-up cows and first calvewebR&J-125xxrs close to the house for observation. They also use Udder Comfort after each milking for a few days post-calving to reduce edema and improve recovery time.

The breeding program involves synchronization, but only for those cattle that are not showing heats. Hector and Arturo pick the bulls. “We look for high components – fat and protein – as well as calving ease,” Hector explains.

High components and high milk quality are two keys to making the most of their milk check in both high and low market times.

“The dairy business can be a tough business,” Arturo observes. “You have to enjoy it. I enjoy everything about it, getting up early, being out here. It’s all I’ve known since 1975.”

For the next generation of dairy producers dreaming of having their own dairies, Arturo has this advice: “Work hard, and sooner or later you will be rewarded,” he says. “Save money and invest in cows, but above all work hard. If it is work that you love, that won’t be hard.”

Those two-plus decades of hard work for other dairies have rewarded Hector and Arturo with more of the work they love, but now they do the work for their own dairy investment.

As these two partners have experienced over the past 10 years dairying on their own – “Even when you have your own business, the work doesn’t stop and in some ways you work even harder. You have to be here, work here, live here,” Arturo explains.

Hector agrees. “Even when I’m at the house, I’m thinking about the cows and wanting to see that they are okay. You have to like this job to do it well, and you have to like it even when you are losing money.”webR&J-151

It can be done, they say, “but you have to be careful. We had to spend money carefully,” Arturo noted. “We started this dairy during the good times in 2004. We’re still here, I think, because we were careful in the good times and the bad times. We watch every day how we feed, and when the times are tough, we cut out what is too expensive. When the going gets really tough, we shift our focus into survival mode, not to how much milk we can make.”

Cost of production at R&J Dairy runs almost $20.00/cwt at the moment (spring 2014), which includes all costs — everything. “It gets scary when milk prices fall to $16,” Arturo relates. “In 2009, the price fell below $12, and our cost of production at that time was $18. At one point we were losing $2000 per day here and borrowing to pay bills.”

He explains that they were fortunate to have built up some equity they could borrow on, and he estimates that another three months of milk prices as high as April’s may finally pay back what they lost in 2009.

“We try to stay ready for the next downturn,” the two men agree.

Arturo sees the new Margin Protection Program in the Farm Bill as something that will help dairy producers during future downturns. “It’s better insurance, better than the MILC program. When it gets tough in the dairy business, any help is nice to have.”

As for forward contracting, Hector and Arturo prefer to take on the risk. They believe that while the new insurance program will help and some folks have benefitted with forward contracting… nothing substitutes for hard work, saving during the good times, and close management and caution all the time.

The two partners worked day and night through the worst of 2009-10, and believe that is webR&J-572what got them through it. “We looked for those small daily victories,” Arturo reflects. “That’s what kept us going. We just kept thinking we would be okay — that if we worked hard, we would be rewarded for the years of suffering, and I guess we are seeing that right now.”

Milestone reached by Shenandoah Family Farms

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By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine March 21, 2014

HAGERSTOWN, Md. – “Every day we reach new milestones, and today is one of them,” said Tom Francis, production manager and VIP / media tour-guide Tuesday, March 18 at the dairy plant where Shenandoah Family Farms Brand milk and cream products are made.

The 142,000 square foot facility in Hagerstown, Maryland was idled by Unilever in 2012, then purchased in August 2013 by Valley Pride LLC, a dairy business owned by 21 dairy farmers from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. This purchase, and the separate formation of Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative, grew from seeds planted during a 2012 meeting of the five original board members at the Thomas House restaurant in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“We are excited to be here and look forward to moving forward,” said Randy Inman during Tuesday’s pre-tour press conference. Inman, a Harrisonburg, Virginia dairy producer, serves as vice president of Valley Pride LLC and Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative.BlogShenFamFarms104

Over the past 18 months, they have developed a media and social media presence as they prepared for the startup of milk and cream bottling operations at the renovated plant February 24. Soft-serve ice cream mix production began last week, and hard ice cream production will begin after new equipment arrives in April.

To this point, Shenandoah Family Farms has used social media to bring farm families, farm life, farm children — even farm calves, cows, cats and dogs — right to the computers and smart-phones of thousands of customers. Brilliant photography of life on the farm and scenes of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley bring a nostalgic feel to the marketing of natural dairy products prized for their quality, flavor and wholesomeness.

“Our web presence will grow in the next three weeks with the launch of a new website with store locators and profiles of our farmers and staff,” said Shenandoah Family Farms marketing director Jennifer Churchman.

The plant is currently just scratching the surface of the demand and production capacity. The equipment has the capability of bottling 32 gallons of milk per minute, and the largest single-day of production they had since Feb. 24 was 6000 gallons. But Francis said this can be doubled with more shifts, workers and equipment as the demand grows.

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To-date, Shenandoah Family Farms milk goes to 170 retail and restaurant establishments along the Route 81 corridor from Shenandoah Family Farm Cooperative’s home base in Harrisonburg, Virginia, through the plant location in Hagerstown, Maryland, and north and west into West Virginia and the Waynesboro and Greencastle areas of Pennsylvania.

“We’re adding 5 to 10 new customers per day,” Churchman confirmed, explaining how end-consumers can fill out product request forms at shenandoahfamilyfarms.com and take them to the stores and restaurants they patronize. The product-request forms have also been the key in developing initial leads for the sales team.BlogShenFamFarms110

“The more requests that are submitted, the easier it is to get our product on the shelves,” aaid Inman. He noted they are close to getting their products into the local Walmarts.

“We are beginning to reach out to the Washington, D.C., area, and getting a lot of interest there,” said plant manager Fred Rodes, who has 25 years of experience working for three creameries after jumping the fence from dairy farming to dairy manufacturing in 1988 for health reasons. Rodes also said they would be open to doing private label work, but are focused right now on working directly with customers and through distributors to build their brand.

Hagerstown Mayor David Gysberts and other local city and county officials were on-hand Tuesday showing their enthusiasm for the plant’s re-start. “We are happy to see the Virginia farmers bring jobs back to our region,” said Gysberts. One-third of the 44 full time and 4 part time employees worked at the Hagerstown plant under its previous owner, Unilever, which employeed 400 at its peak before idling the plant in 2012.

“The more the community supports Shenandoah Family Farms products, the more products we can make, and the more jobs we can create here,” said Inman. “It’s a snowball effect.”

He explained that Shenandoah Family Farms products come from a small group of farms. Right now that is 21 farms average 130 milk cows per farm.

“The close proximity of our dairy farmers to our market will give customers assurance of fresh dairy products,” added Inman. “We are focused on high quality milk production and the assurance of best management practices for environmental sustainability, heritage farming practices, humane animal care, involvement in our community and involving our customers in our decisions as we grow.”

Inman said the primary goal of this enterprise is to preserve small family farms for generations to come. “We saw this as a way to take some control of our product by building a relationship with our end-consumers and taking our milk from the farm to the consumer, and to see our farmers rewarded for their high quality production with a steady milk price.”

The investment runs deep here – beyond dollars. Inman explained that the farmers and staff “worked hands-on and side-by-side” to upgrade and renovate the facility over the past six months. USDA loan-guarantees helped the group of farmers get the financing to not only purchase but also upgrade the plant and build awareness for their brand.

The facility’s milk silos, large conveyors, pasteurizer, existing ice cream equipment, coolers, and in-wall freezers were all part of the plant purchase. The owners purchased a separator, homogenizer, bottling equipment and new ice cream manufacturing equipment as well as upgrading computers, software and the ability to track milk from farm-to-store. They also upgraded the coolers and chillers and adding other conveyor capabilities throughout the plant.

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“We’ve had some delays with equipment arriving and the challenges you would expect with a project like this, but we’re ready. The word is getting out about our products, and the support from the local communities has been quite encouraging,” Inman said, adding that he’s impressed with how his fellow farmers and the plant staff have worked together.

“I’m amazed by the super commitment of the farmers, and their families, to get this up and going, and by our staff as we’ve worked together,” he said.

To be bottling the Shenandoah Family Farms milk and on the verge of beginning ice cream production was described as “overwhelming” by board member and producer Dennis Trissel. “In any business like this, you always hope to put in place what’s necessary to get the product marketed,” he said. “Our farmers know how to make high quality milk and our plant managers know how to make quality products…”

Now the ball rolls into the consumer domain through product purchases and requests where they shop.

“Our store customers need to see that we are capable of being here five years and forward,” said Rodes. “We have good staff and a lot of experience. I grew up on a dairy farm and I enjoy the challenges of running a creamery. I’m willing to work hard for these guys (the farmers) because I know they care about putting out a quality product. Now the rubber meets the road in sales.”BlogShenFamFarms067

For the sales force Lyndon Jonson and Rich Muldoon, that’s a challenge they are meeting daily – “hitting the road and knocking on doors.”

“The most rewarding thing for me is getting a new account, that’s my high-point,” said Johnson, a former truck driver who is part of the Shenandoah Family Farms sales force.

When hard ice cream production begins next month, the plant will roll out vanilla, chocolate and strawberry and begin adding flavors with 11 flavors planned at this time. They will concentrate on volume packages for grocers and soft-serve mixes for restaurants before adding a line of other types of ice cream products.

“For the most part, our awareness building is getting farmers face-to-face with the end consumers,” Churchman explained how ‘engagement marketing’ is being utilized. “We will utilize all avenues such as radio, television and print advertising, but we are also sponsoring many local events and will have our farmers and staff there. They are important members of their communities and we want them right there with our customers so the customers can be part of how we grow our company.”

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The 21 family farm members of Shenandoah Family Farms are all located within a 10-mile radius of Harrisonburg, Virginia. Currently three farms’ milk is going to the plant. Once all 21 farms’ milk is being utilized by the plant, another 12 producers are on-board to be added.

Churchman said they are using “test-market-moms” as an advisory group of moms and families to advise, test, and decide what to put out. “They can use their social media circles to gain additional feedback for us,” she said.

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Ice cream lead Charles Evans is glad to be back to work at the plant under the new ownership. Asked what makes the Shenandoah Family Farms ice cream products stand-out in the marketplace, Evans said “the recipe. It was developed by the farmers and Fred Rodes our plant manager. It’s higher in butterfat content, making it rich and thick. Everyone who tasted our soft-serve today enjoyed it and we’re getting very positive feedback from customers.”

Rodes also stressed that the Shenandoah Family Farms ice cream (both soft-serve and hard) is 100% natural and contains no additives. “That’s kind of rare these days,” he said.

Inman said Shenandoah Family Farms is working with other cooperatives on milk supply balancing and they are working with other processing cooperatives and suppliers to combine additional products for their distribution contracts — including cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt, as well as the full line of Turkey Hill teas.

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Micah Showalter, 2, is tasting Shenandoah Family Farms soft serve ice cream with brother Adrian, 8, and sisters Emily, 9, and Erica, 6. Micah and his puppy are the stars of the Shenandoah Family Farms Whole Chocolate Milk label, shown here in poster size (left) on the wall above him, and all four children with a newborn calf at the Showalter family’s Sun Dial Farm-2 are subjects of the Whole Milk label, shown here in poster-size above them (right). The Showalters are among the 21 farmers in a 10 mile radius of Harrisonburg, Virginia, who purchased and renovated the former Unilever ice cream plant in Hagerstown, Maryland. They started bottling Shenandoah Family Farms Brand fluid milk and cream products at the plant on February 24. They began making vanilla soft serve ice cream mix this week and will soon be doing chocolate. Hard ice cream production begins in April with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry and will expand to 11 flavors over the next several months. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Shenandoah Family Farms milk and chocolate milk were served with homemade cookies at the tour of the creamery Tuesday. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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After Unilever idled the 142,000 square foot Hagerstown, Md. plant in the fall of 2012, it was purchased last August by Valley Pride LLC, a dairy business owned by 21 dairy farmers from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. In addition to updating the ice cream manufacturing equipment, they have invested in milk bottling, which started February 24. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Owen Trissel is “over-the-moon” with excitement as he suits-up for the plant tour with his parents Cory and Charity. Owen, 9, and his brother Ian, 4, are the stars of the 2% milk label. One of the features of the Shenandoah Family Farms brand is to engage consumers in farm life through brilliant photography and larger labels. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Production manager Tom Francis served as tour-guide Tuesday. He said hard ice cream production begins in April. The Shenandoah Family Farms brand offers chocolate milk is offered in whole milk variety, and ice cream is a higher butterfat, simple recipe made with 100% natural ingredients. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Dairy producers Dennis Trissel (right) and Randy Inman are two of the original five who met in 2012 at the Thomas House restaurant, Harrisonburg, Va., forming Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative and planting the idea-seed for taking their milk straight from farms to consumers. They are pictured with Shenandoah Family Farms marketing director Jennifer Churchman who says “engagement marketing” is the hallmark of their campaign and plant manager Fred Rodes (left), who grew up on a dairy farm, then spent the past 25 years on the other side of the fence in the creamery world. He loves working with people, building teams, tackling challenges and tinkering with ice cream recipes. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative vice president Randy Inman welcomed media and Hagerstown, Md. officials to the grand re-opening tour of the plant purchased by the investment of 21 members of the Valley Pride LLC, where Shenandoah Family Farms Brand milk is bottled and made into ice cream. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Hagerstown Mayor Dave Gysberts and Council member Don Munson were among the 35 suiting-up for Tuesday’s tour of the Shenandoah Family Farms dairy manufacturing facility. They are all smiles as 44 jobs have returned to the site of the former Unilever ice cream plant that once employed 400 people. Now owned and renovated by 21 dairy producers from northern Virginia, the plant began bottling milk last month, started making soft-serve ice cream mix this week and will be ramping up hard ice cream production as early as mid-April. Photo courtesy of the City of Hagerstown.

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The 142,000 square-foot plant has been updated to make Shenandoah Family Farms ice cream and fluid milk and cream products. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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“Want to see where your milk goes?” That was all the encouragement these children needed to check out the conveyor taking crates of bottled Shenandoah Family Farms milk to the cooler where it was being loaded for delivery to 170 retail and restaurant customers — with 5 to 10 new customers being added daily.

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A year of awareness-building through Facebook and other media brought daily photos of farm children, farm life, and farm calves, cows, dogs and cats right to the computers and mobile phones of thousands of consumers. Photo by Sherry Bunting

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Charles Evans is the ice cream lead for Shenandoah Family Farms. He served the soft-style ice cream to local officials and media Tuesday. (I must say it was tasty!) Photo by Sherry Bunting

Collapsed barn roof reveals get’r done spirit, profound gratitude

Duane and Marilyn Hershey (front right) can't say enough about how their team of employees pulled together to free cows, restore order and keep 600 cows fed and milked in the hours after the roof collapsed Feb. 14 on about three-quarters of the main freestall barn at Ar-Joy Farms, Cochranville, Pa . They are pictured here with adaptable bovines eating TMR calmly under the open sky behind them three days later on Feb. 17

Duane and Marilyn Hershey (front right) can’t say enough about how their team of employees pulled together to free cows, restore order and keep 600 cows fed and milked in the hours after the roof collapsed Feb. 14 on about three-quarters of the main freestall barn at Ar-Joy Farms, Cochranville, Pa . They are pictured here with adaptable bovines eating TMR calmly under the open sky behind them three days later on Feb. 17

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Feb. 21 and 28, 2014

COCHRANVILLE, Pa., Feb. 17, 2014 – “The first thing we did was pray. Then we hugged. Then we got to work,” Duane Hershey recalls about the first moments in the wee hours Friday morning, Feb. 14 after he and his wife Marilyn were awakened by milking employees to learn the roof had collapsed on the freestall barn at their 600-cow Ar-Joy Farms, in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

His first thought was that it was a small section, but as he walked up the hill from the house to the barn – wife Marilyn a few steps behind him – a more devastating picture emerged in the dimly lit night sky, and all he could think was that he was facing a lot of dead cows.
All told, the Hersheys say they are thankful and fortunate no employees were in the barn at the time, and the majority of their cows got through the event fairly well.

“Nothing you train for prepares you for the reality of that moment,” said Marilyn Hershey, who has participated in crisis management workshops through DMI. “The truth is, when I came to the top of the hill and saw the rubble, I lost it,” she recalled during a Farmshine visit to Ar-Joy Farms Monday. “Duane reassured me that we would get through this, but that first moment of seeing the devastation and hearing our cows in trouble was horrific to me.”

One of Marilyn’s first calls was to Dean Weaver at Farmer Boy Ag. “We prayed for wisdom to know what the next step is, and we prayed for safety,” she said. “I called Dean at 3 a.m. and he answered. He got my brains started and pulled me out of the shell-shock. He told us to call our insurance company, and three hours later Farmer Boy Ag had their first crew here.”

One of Duane’s first calls was to friend and fellow dairyman Walt Moore at Walmoore Holsteins near West Gove, Chester County and to neighboring friends and farmers Andy Laffey and Tim Barlow.

“Everyone brought gates and chain saws,” said Duane. “We figured we had 50 to 100 cows trapped. We didn’t know what we were facing until we were able to move the tin.”

In order to free the trapped cows, they first had to move the free cows so they could start clearing debris to get to the cows that were still trapped in the original main barn. Moore organized the process of sorting and moving cows.

By 8 a.m., there were four construction crews on-site. Two crews were sent earlier by Dean Weaver at Farmer Boy Ag, the Hershey’s builder. Then Chris Stoltzfus got a call at White Horse Construction from a friend who explained the situation. He also sent two crews over to help. Burkhart Excavating, a local contractor, also came out to help.

“The generosity of people Friday just blew us away,” said Marilyn. “The four crews worked side by side all day, and people just started showing up. They knew what to bring. It was an overwhelming blessing to us.”

It took four to six hours of meticulous work to clear enough debris to free the nearly 100 trapped cows. “It was amazing how calm they were,” said Marilyn.

Walt Moore also observed this, recalling the cows “cacooned” under-tin, chewing their cuds as crews and volunteers methodically worked their way through the debris to free them.

The Hersheys give a lot of credit to herdsman Rigo Mondragon and the team of Ar-Joy employees for figuring out how to keep milking and tending cows, rotating them through the portion of the freestall barn that was still intact so that all the cows would get an opportunity to eat and drink.

“Walt is the one who really organized the work of freeing the cows,” the Hersheys related. “He knew what to do and could do it more objectively – without the emotional attachment we had to what was happening.” Walt’s wife Ellen called Dr. Kristula from New Bolton Center, and helped the vet check cows.

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“This has been one of the toughest years I can remember, a winter that just won’t let up,” said Moore. “I was taken back more than once to see the community effort at Ar-Joy on Friday, to see how the farming community and their church family cares about each other.”

By Monday morning, agent Sue Beshore of Morrissey Insurance, the insurance carrier for Ar-Joy Farms, said she had heard from close to 10 customers with agricultural roof collapses, but that Ar-Joy was the first to involve so many livestock.

“This is a time for hugs,” she said to Marilyn before explaining the coverages the Hersheys had for the freestall barn their employees work in part of the time and their cows live in all of the time.

“We had 12 to 18 inches of snow the day before the roof collapsed, then some rain that iced over that evening before we got another 8 inches of snow that night,” Duane recalls, adding that there was already a snow pack on the roof from earlier precipitation and frigid temps.

Penn State ag engineer Dan McFarland notes that roof systems “are truly an engineered system. What the design of the roof allows for is the buildup of snow cover as measured by ground cover maps. In Southeast and South Central Pennsylvania, that might be 30 to 35 pounds. A light snow is 5 to 20 lbs per square foot. A snow pack is 30 to 40 pounds, a snow pack with ice can be 40 to 50 pounds, so now we are getting very close to what a lot of roofs are designed for.”

According to McFarland, a roof snow pack will absorb rain, and when that turns to ice, it doesn’t move and take longer to melt. In the short term, people like to get heavy loads off .

But McFarland urged extreme caution. “Be hesitant about going up without safety harnesses and tie-off ropes,” he said. “Metal roofs are slippery, so try to remove it, if you can, with a snow rake from the ground.”

Some ag building roofs are quite wide, which makes snow load removal more difficult. “If you are going to remove it, remove it evenly,” he advised. “One thing to avoid is uneven snow loads. Trusses are designed to carry the load to the load bearing points on the sides, so don’t prop them up in the middle because that can actually weaken the design.”

Good ventilation also helps. Condensation can deteriorate roof systems. Experts suggest evaluating truss systems for bowing and to contact professionals to evaluate or assist.

Drifting of roof snow pack, warming temperatures, additional rainfall getting absorbed, and blocked roof drainage systems all contribute to uneven or excessive snow loads. Strained roofs surviving the weight from this week’s rain bear watching in additional storms later this season. Cold air is expected to return next week, bringing additional snow in some areas.

One week after the roof collapsed, rebuilding is underway at Ar-Joy Farms Thursday, Feb. 20. Farmer Boy Ag carpenters put up wood bracing after 69 trusses were set for the steel roof construction.

One week after the roof collapsed, rebuilding is underway at Ar-Joy Farms Thursday, Feb. 20. Farmer Boy Ag carpenters put up wood bracing after 69 trusses were set for the steel roof construction.

Loss gives way to profound gratitude

COCHRANVILLE, Pa. — Feb. 20, 2014 — The cattle losses at Ar-Joy Farms here in Chester County, Pennsylvania have grown to two dozen in the wake of the February 14 roof collapse over the main 275-feet of freestall barn, which left only the newer 92-foot section of roof standing. But Duane and Marilyn Hershey have not had to handle any of this alone.

By the following Saturday (Feb. 22), 69 new trusses were set and the 600 cows had a new roof — thanks to the efficiency of friends, neighbors, insurance adjusters, structural engineers, and the crews at Farmer Boy Ag.

The farming and church communities reached out to the Hersheys immediately that Valentine’s Day morning, and also had a work day one week later to prepare the site for crews to set new the trusses and raise the new roof in the three-day window of warm weather before the frigid cold and precipitation returned to Southeast Pennsylvania this week.

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Friend and business partner in Moocho Milk hauling, Walt Moore of nearby Walmoore Holsteins, West Grove, was the first to arrive on the scene in the wee hours of that Friday morning.

“They were overwhelmed,” said Walt of his friends. He felt like it took him and his wife Ellen forever to load the service truck with whatever they could think of needing and to traverse the snow-covered and icy roads to Ar-Joy Farms.

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Walt and Ellen Moore got the 2 a.m. phone call Friday morning, Feb. 14 from Duane and Marilyn Hershey that 275 feet of their main freestall barn roof had collapsed upon the 320 stalls and cows below.

“The biggest thing we could do was to bring what we thought would be needed and to help organize the next steps. We have similar operations,” Walt explained. Ar-Joy milks 600 cows while Walmoore milks 850. “When we got there, it was emotional to see, but I was able to be less emotionally-attached in that moment about what to do next.”

For example, Walt immediately saw that the lights were on so he wanted to first secure the electrical situation before proceeding with freeing cows and cleaning up debris.

Marilyn says that a farmer’s impulse in a time like this is to call another farmer. Who else would understand the situation, to know what was needed, and be able to bring clarity of thought?

“Walt was a big help to me,” Duane added. “I was able to bounce ideas off him, and he could be objective and see things I couldn’t see in that moment.

“You are kind of in shock and you lose the concept of time. It’s hard to explain the magnitude of it,” Duane recalled those first moments when the roof collapsed sometime around 1:30 a.m. His first impulse to run in and try freeing some cows was barely forming in his mind when another surge of collapsing roof brought the whole thing down.

What followed was an overwhelming silence, except for the occasional sound of metal scraping metal and cows lowing in distress. The milkers had stopped milking, and they all stood frozen with Duane and Marilyn for a few moments, mulling their options in the pre-dawn darkness.

When Walt Moore, Andy Laffey and Tim Barlow arrived with gates for sorting cows, the race was on. As reported last week, four construction crews from two companies, along with scores of neighbors helped the Hersheys and their team of employees sort, milk and feed cows; clean up wreckage; and restore a semblance of order to the farm.

They had one group of cows that had found their own way through the fallen roof wreckage and were corralled in the middle of the barn with no path out. “We cut a tunnel through the fallen roof for those 200-plus cows to walk through,” Duane recalled. “Everyone kept saying they can’t believe how calm the cows are, but that’s because we had so many farmers come help us. They knew how to handle dairy cows.”

Four to six hours later, cows were freed, some were put down, others were tended by Dr. Kristula of New Bolton, a group of 100 were transported to Walmoore for temporary housing, and the milking had resumed. “We had enough barn cleaned up for the cows to eat and drink,” Duane said. “They couldn’t all lay down, but at least they could eat and drink.”

Employees cycled them through feeding areas in the upper part of the barn that was still standing and the lower bank barn where the Hersheys normally keep transition cows.

Two of the Hersheys four children who live somewhat locally and got to the farm as fast as they could -- given the condition of the roads in the early morning hours following the barn roof collapse on Feb. 14. "The first thing we did was give hugs," said daughter Kacie, who lives in Lancaster County and had been text-messaging her mother Marilyn some reassuring Bible verses. Their son Kelby lives in Maryland. He just returned from his Army tour of duty in Afghanistan two weeks ago. He said it would have been much more difficult to hear of this and be a continent away. He was glad he could be home to help. Stephen lives in New York and Robert attends college in Montana.

Two of the Hersheys four children who live somewhat locally and got to the farm as fast as they could — given the condition of the roads in the early morning hours following the barn roof collapse on Feb. 14. “The first thing we did was give hugs,” said daughter Kacie, who lives in Lancaster County and had been text-messaging her mother Marilyn some reassuring Bible verses. Their son Kelby lives in Maryland. He just returned from his Army tour of duty in Afghanistan two weeks ago. He said it would have been much more difficult to hear of this and be a continent away. He was glad he could be home to help. Stephen lives in New York and Robert attends college in Montana.

Daughter Kacie and son Kelby were able to get to the farm that morning. Kacie had been text-messaging her mother comforting Bible verses. Kelby was ready to dig in and help. He lives in Maryland and had just returned from his Army tour of duty in Afghanistan two weeks earlier. Son Stephen lives in New York and Robert attends college in Montana.

“The first thing we did was hug our parents,” said Kacie, whose text messages had provided the inspiration Marilyn needed to kick down the wall she had hit emotionally.

The Hersheys can’t say enough about their team of employees and how they worked together to keep the cows milked and fed during the ordeal. “It’s unbelievable how back-to-normal they seem,” said Marilyn. “Yes, our production is off, but the cow behaviors are back to normal.”

As for the rebuilding, the Hersheys are thankful how that came together. “Sue Beshore (Morrissey Insurance) always told us to keep that replacement value in our policy even though we were tempted sometimes to drop it,” Marilyn recalls. “We are so glad to have that.”

The Hersheys were also glad the adjuster gave them the freedom and flexibility to immediately tend their cattle and clean up so the roof replacement could be done immediately before the next round of frigid cold and snow in the forecast.

Cows were amazingly calm at Ar-Joy Farms as their new roof went up one week after the old one collapsed under the weight of extraordinary snow and ice pack. Owner Duane Hershey (red shirt) stepped out of his comfort zone to help the building crews who were pushed to get as much done as possible Thursday before the rain and wind on Friday.

Cows were amazingly calm at Ar-Joy Farms as their new roof went up one week after the old one collapsed under the weight of extraordinary snow and ice pack. Owner Duane Hershey (red shirt) stepped out of his comfort zone to help the building crews who were pushed to get as much done as possible Thursday before the rain and wind on Friday.

The bottom line in this story is how important it is for people to “hold each other up when facing a disaster,” said Duane. “To have friends and neighbors like that, just to see them there, it’s something I can’t explain. A lot of them left their own farms on a snowy morning to come here and help us. What can I say that really expresses our gratitude?”

The couple also received calls from dairy farmers in New York who had been through roof collapses. They gave advice and suggestions.

“You learn how important friendships are,” added Marilyn. “This is a tight farming community. I can’t tell you how thankful we are.”

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A life lived in earnest

Tuesday was a day of significance with many shades to it. The much-debated 5-year Farm Bill got its final Congressional approval in Washington; the day was designated by American Cancer Society as World Cancer Awareness Day and Chevy developed its Purple Roads ad and “purple your profile” campaign to raise funds on facebook. Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 is also the day the world lost a good and courageous dairy farmer I was glad to call friend. Here are the thoughts I penned for this week’s Farmshine.

Zach Meck pictured here at Meck Brothers Dairy in Berks County, Pennsylvania in August of 2012

Zach Meck pictured here at Meck Brothers Dairy in Berks County, Pennsylvania in August of 2012

Zach Meck fought the fight, kept the faith

Zachary L. Meck, 33, of Womelsdorf, Pa., passed away Tuesday, Feb. 4 after a five-month battle with cancer. In the words of his wife Suzanne (Perdue) Meck, formerly of Whitehall, Md., “Zach saw a full healing as he was peacefully called to his heavenly home.” Over the past few months, she said, the couple felt the prayers and well wishes from around the world, and they were comforted to know so many people care.

In Zach, the world lost a good and courageous young dairyman. 2 Timothy 4:7 is the verse that comes to mind for a life gone too soon, loved by many and lived in earnest. Zach made a lasting impact on not just his family and friends, but also upon the future of the dairy industry he so loved and the solidarity he had with fellow dairymen, as well as the passion he had for the cow herd he and his brother Jeremy built up into a business through sheer determination.

It is not without notice that the next five year Farm Bill passed its final hurdle in the Senate on this same day. Zach had poured time and energy into being part of an effort to shape the future for young dairy farmers within the context of the Farm Bill’s dairy title.

Our paths crossed in 2009 when the dairy industry faced the most devastating milk prices ever endured. Zach and his brother Jeremy had built their Meck Brothers Dairy from scratch. They had started with the 4-H animals their late father Ronald bought them as youngsters growing up on their parents’ poultry farm in Lancaster County, Pa. They grew the herd in a rented barn — working all kinds of other jobs – then purchased and renovated a Berks County, Pa. farm they moved into during 2009.

Zach was not one to sit still. Sometimes it seemed he was going in multiple directions all at once. But his efforts were effective. In 2009, he was part of a group of dairymen meeting in two counties, which later became the grassroots beginnings of the Dairy Policy Action Coalition that spread beyond the borders of Pennsylvania as dairymen from various regions talked together about the future of their industry.

He also served as a Land O’Lakes delegate and ran a close race as runner up for a seat on the Land O’Lakes board in early 2013. Zach was a member of the Berks County Farm Bureau, Marion Grange, and Berks County Holstein Club. He graduated from Cocalico High School, where he was a member of FFA and was active in 4-H.

“We’ve been through a lot over the years,” wrote friend and mentor Nelson Troutman in a calendar-of-hope created for Zach in December. “Then came Suzanne, and when you made up your mind, I could tell. It was good. But with these health issues, try not to make sense of it all, it never will. Remember to always look forward and that you are not alone. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).” Wise words he heeded in his short time with his beloved Suzanne.

Having the privilege of writing a story about Meck Brothers Dairy in August of 2012, I could see the respect he and his brother Jeremy had for one another and their passion for what they worked to accomplish – with that edge of always pushing forward to do more to make the cows more comfortable, do more to tell the dairy story to the greater Berks community, do more to get the voice of the young farmer heard, do more to light a fire – even if only to send a smoke signal – that policies need to be changed to consider the context of the young farmer. Zach was impetuous, yet intuitive.

“It’s time to get the younger generation involved in the leadership of their cooperative,” Zach said during a summer of 2012 interview. “Our futures are at stake in the outcome of the decisions that are made. The mechanics of the market should be our focus. We should be looking out for our fellow dairy farmers around us. Large or small, we’re all important. We have to focus on creating opportunities and getting the mechanics of the market right.”

So we come back full circle to that verse, 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Yes, Zach, you surely have.

Born in Denver, Pa., Zach was the son of the late Ronald K. and Joyce (Stoltzfus) Meck. In addition to his wife Suzanne, Zach is survived by his mother Joyce, two brothers Matthew K., husband of Susan (St. Clair) Meck of Denver; Jeremy R. Meck of Womelsdorf; two nephews Jackson K. and Levi C. Meck of Denver; and his paternal grandmother Norma (Zimmerman) Meck of Lititz.

A visitation will be held on Friday, February 7 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. and on Saturday, February 8 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. at the Tulpehocken UCC Church, where services will be held at 11:00 Saturday.

Memorial contributions in Zach’s memory may be made to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 1274, Lebanon, PA 17042 or Vickie’s Angel Foundation, 511 Bridge St., New Cumberland, PA 17070.

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