A girl and her heifer in the full-circle of a cow-loving community
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Sometimes you hear something that strikes a chord and you want to know more… As we start this season of thanksgiving, there are young people all over the country who are thankful for the love of cows. They may have parents and grandparents who feel this way too. Some may operate dairy farms, others may rely on the older generation and a tight-knit cow-loving rural community, like the one in Susquehanna County, to make it possible. Such is the story of Delaney Curley and her Red and White winter yearling Curlydell Warrior Summer-Red — each with her own tale that would not be possible except for the love of cows.
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, November 4, 2022
IRISH HILL, Pa. – The past three years have been a dream come true for Delaney Curley as her family moved to Irish Hill just a mile or so from her grandparent’s farm outside of Montrose.
Growing up, she would stay with Bob and Mary Curley for weeks at a time in the summer. Laura, her mother, recalls the crying the entire hour and a half drive home to Mountain Top. The Susquehanna County farm is where Delaney had her 4-H club, her cousins and friends with similar interests and the wide open spaces of the mountains, hunting and fishing, all of it calling her to pursue conservation science after she graduates from Elk Lake High School this year.
“We didn’t always live here. When we lived in Mountain Top, grandma and grandpa’s farm was a magical place for me. I love every part of it – working with the animals especially,” Delaney reflects. “Here, in this tight knit rural community, I found people like me.”
Bob sold his 60-cow milking herd in 2001. He is the fifth generation with 540 acres of crop, hay and pasture land. The main farm has been in his family since the Curleys came to America from Ireland in 1840. Today, he rents corn acres to a nearby farm and he and son Bill, Delaney’s father, manage the hay and pasture land with 20 to 30 heifers on hand, additional progeny of earlier purchases by the sixth generation for the seventh generation to show over the years, and some dry cows.
If not for Bob’s love of cows, this story would not be unfolding. It began when Delaney’s cousin Cali was the first of Bob’s grandchildren wanting show calves but having no home herd to draw from.
While the Jersey, Holstein and Red and White heifers start out at Bob’s farm until they become milk cows, breeding for Red Holsteins has special significance. Bill recalls his dad breeding for Reds before it was cool, but as a youth, Bill never won a class in all of his show years. Back then, Red and White Holsteins showed with Black and Whites, but the industry’s breeding focus for Reds came later.
When his niece Cali started showing, “that’s when our quest to be an owner-breeder began,” Bill reflects. They got her started with a calf purchased at the Nittany Lion Fall Classic, and she raised her to be grand champion Holstein of the State Junior Show. Bill’s son Patrick and later his sister Delaney got started with a purchase of bred Jersey heifers from Luchsingers in New York, and a Jersey calf out of that developed into a champion.
Those heifers calved and the 20 to 30 milk cows they became went to Joe Vanderfeltz’s 400-cow freestall herd for milking, so the Curleys could keep working toward that owner-bred herd, which today includes the Holsteins. Heifers are pasture bred by genomic bulls, and the milk cows at Vanderfeltz’s are AI-bred. Those calves come back to Curlydell.
For the love of cows, they didn’t want to just buy and show, but rather to breed for show. That was especially important to Delaney.
“We’ve always viewed the show animals as 4-H projects to go through to states and have the kids working with them and making those decisions… to take out to show what you are proud of,” says Bill.
Even for Patrick, who gravitates to the technology side of dairy data working for Ever.Ag, showing cows was fun, he says.
In Delaney’s case, however, it’s for the love of cows.
It’s a foggy, drizzly morning on Irish Hill and the family reflects over breakfast on the move here and the owner-breeder herd that’s been developed over the decade of youth shows. For example, Delaney’s first Jersey ‘Ricki’ was purchased as a two-month-old calf and won banners as a 4-year-old in 2018. Today, she is 10 years old in the retired cow meadow.
Yes, for the love of cows they have a meadow for special retirees.
Throughout the mountains of Susquehanna County in Northeast Pennsylvania, there are families who still milk cows, but even more families who still love them, breed them, show them and care for them.
The county show at the Harford Fair in New Milford is always quite competitive.
“Our county show is small, but the quality is always amazing,” Bill relates. “If we do well locally, we know we can be competitive to do well in Harrisburg. The competition is deep with so many top breeder herds right here in our county.”
In fact, three of the animals in the pull for junior champion at the 2022 Premier National Junior Show (PNJS) during the All American in Harrisburg in September came from Susquehanna County.
“That’s a nice meter stick,” Bill affirms, noting that Delaney’s Summer was one of them. Her first-place winter yearling Curlydell Warrior Summer lived up to her name and gave Delaney a perfect undefeated summer from county to districts to states and nationals.
Further testament to the owner breeder herds of the area, when Delaney’s heifer earned bred and owned junior champion, all but two of the breeds had owner-breeder champions from Susquehanna County.
“They are all friends. To have that competition and friendship starting out in your home county, it really pushes you to up your game,” says Laura.
Summer was taken off pasture just 10 days before the county show, where she won her class and was reserve junior champion. Her dam Scarlet had done okay before her — winning districts and doing well in the state show against 30 other animals.
But then she had this polled Warrior heifer.
“There’s something about when your animal that you own has her calf, it’s just more special,” says Delaney.
Summer did well as a winter calf last year. She started out small, born at 70 pounds as the offspring of a first-calf heifer, but nice and solid with show type. She had placings of 4th and 5th in her class and onlookers told Delaney she’d be one to beat the following year.
And so she was, this year winning her classes against Reds and Blacks.
“She’s the kind of heifer that the more you look at her, the more you like her, not a lot of flaws,” says Bob, knowingly.
With Scarlet’s second calf Sage, Delaney was excited to show produce of dam. The best feeling, she says, “is to win when you’re not expecting it.”
When Delaney and Summer entered the PNJS showring in Harrisburg, the judge took one look and moved right on. She recalls positioning Summer for another look, but figured she was written off. Then, halfway around the ring, “he pointed to me for the pull, and I thought he wasn’t interested.”
That’s a thrill that is hard to describe, she recalls with a smile.
For Bill, the win was a full-circle of emotion involving Summer’s story that goes back to Bill’s longtime friend.
“We did the easy thing, breeding Scarlet to Warrior. You would have to go back to Starbuck for a bull that stamps them like that,” he says.
“But David Mattocks bred her mother. He did the hard work,” Bill recalls his good friend who lost his battle with cancer four years ago this month. Summer’s granddam was purchased from the Da-Vue dispersal.
It was Dave’s love of cows, his commitment to four decades of breeding until those last several months of his life, that also live on in this heifer, a heifer that Bill’s father has also bonded with.
Bill had intended to buy her as a bred heifer at the Da-Vue dispersal in 2018. He and Joe had picked two heifers on conformation.
“Then I looked at the pedigrees and saw one traced back to Dave’s first Excellent cow. That cow was all he talked about on our trips back and forth to Penn State,” Bill recalls their college years in the late 1980s.
“Dave had big dreams, we lost him way too soon,” says Bill. While they were in college, Dave was in partnership with his uncle, and he always talked about this cow Scenic-Vue Stewart Starr. She was Good Plus at the time and became his first Excellent cow.
When Bill got to the dispersal at Fisher’s, he ended up missing the heifer that went back six generations to that cow, but he bought three or four others, “just not the one I wanted.”
A couple weeks later Bill got a call from Dave Lentz, that a few animals were left over from the sale, and by some miracle Starr was one of them.
“Dave (Mattocks) and I went down together to pick her up. His health was failing,” Bill recalls, explaining that the heifer represents so many ties – family, friendship, dreams, memories, past, future, all for the love of cows.
It was definitely for the love of cows that Dave knew at age 10 he wanted to be a dairy farmer. He learned from his uncle before him and credited the dairy community around him in his welcome letter for the dispersal, writing: “There is no other industry that so abounds in people that would do anything for you,” thanking those by name who helped when he was down.
The sale was in February 2018 and in November that year, Dave was called to his heavenly home.
That bred heifer Bill bought — Da-Vue Reality Spirit-Red, granddam to Delaney’s Summer — now represents a blending of seven generations of Very Good and Excellent cows from Dave’s herd, his dreams and vision, now part of the owner-breeder herd at Curlydell with Summer and Sage from Spirit’s daughter Da-Vue Fusion Scarlet-Red.
“Her name was Spirit, and she was surely spirited,” Bob recalls the chase when she came off the truck the day Bill and Dave brought her to Irish Hill. Her first few weeks there in the tiestall and pasture, not quite a springer yet, were not without challenges.
“I try not to let any of her calves see an open barn door,” Bob laughs, remembering the time Spirit managed to get into the hay mow through the hay drop, and the devil of a time getting her out. He and Delaney baby the calves that have come from her. Today, Spirit is part of the flow of the freestall herd that suits her as a milking cow, making 40,000 pounds of milk at Vanderfeltz’s.
“He takes care of our milk cows like they are his own, and we consult on the breeding decisions,” says Bill, getting the calves back and returning them as milk cows.
Making the move three years ago to Irish Hill was Delaney’s idea to be where her cows are, along with her 4-H club, her cousins and friends, her grandparents and the hunting and fishing.
“If we were going to do it, that was the time, before she started high school,” says Bill. Leaving Mountain Top, where Laura grew up, was hard, but her parents had passed away and Bill’s parents are like her own.
The entire family moved, first renting a place, then buying a home just down the road from the farm.
For the love of cows, Delaney is where she wanted to be, where she could double-down on her 4-H projects – her Jerseys and Holsteins, especially the Red and Whites.
“We’re glad we’re here on Irish Hill. It’s a place where life really hasn’t changed much. There is a good core of families and kids here all engaged in showing cows, a place where we can wake up and take the 4-wheeler to the barn. It’s hard to describe what that means,” Bill explains.
For the love of cows, they are home and the outdoors from the cow pastures to the mountain wilderness are what steer this Elk Lake High School senior to take her basketball skills and interest in conservation to Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks next fall.
While some cattle from the heifer meadow will be sold, Delaney wants to keep a core herd of pedigreed Jerseys and Red and Whites, to keep showing as an owner-breeder – even after 4-H.
“My grandfather did it all before we moved up here,” says Delaney.
“None of this would work without Dad. We could only do this with him. Some would call that elder-abuse,” Bill laughs, adding that living here gives him time he’s glad to have, even if it’s just 45 minutes a day doing chores with his dad and hearing stories… for the love of cows.
Laura relates how her father-in-law loves the baby calves, “even after they are weaned and two months old, he’s bringing warm water to them twice a day.”
Quietly listening, Bob puts it all into perspective.
“I’d be lost if I didn’t have it to do,” he said.
For the love of cows, adds Bill, “this is how we end up with retired cows living in a pasture.”
But more to the point, he says as the rest of the family nods in agreement: “Every single thing that we have here, or that the farm has, is owed to the cows. Period. I can’t imagine not having at least one, and so we do things that might not make sense but that we feel good about.”
If only the generations removed from farms could have this shared experience, to get in touch with this feeling… For the love of cows, they might not believe the cow blame-game regarding climate and the environment.
With her eye toward a future in the open spaces and conservation science, maybe this young lady — and others of her generation like her — can bring that love of cows to others and keep it going.