“Cowside Conversations” is a monthly podcast brought to you by the Center for Dairy Excellence. We’ve heard time and time again that dairy farmers learn the most from other dairy farmers. So, in this podcast we’re going to share real-time farmer insight, tricks of the trade, and inspiring stories from dairies across Pennsylvania.
Episode 5: Shawn Saylor shares the benefits of new cropping technologies, methane digesters, and how carbon neutral can also equal profitability
41:54Today is the first day of spring, and many dairy famers are already preparing for their spring planting and cropping cycle. In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Shawn Saylor of Hillcrest Saylor Dairy Farms in Somerset County, Pennsylvania talks about his unique, regenerative approach to caring for their 680-cow herd and 1,500 acres. From cover cropping and planting green to drone technology and auto steering with precision planting, Shawn shares which pieces of technology were feasible for his business and why others weren’t the right fit. He also describes the methane digester he designed himself – and how certain climate-smart strategies can equate to increased profitability on dairy farms.
Episode 4: Rod Hissong discusses satellite dairies, group calf facilities, and cultivating a team
54:30With limited land availability on their home farms, many Pennsylvania dairy farmers are considering investing in satellite dairies. In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Rod Hissong of Mercer Vu Farms in Franklin County, Pennsylvania opened up about their journey to investing in a satellite dairy in Virginia – 65 miles away from their home dairy farm. He also shares their unique approach to calf management, including a group housing facility and feeding acidified milk. Rod also offered tips they’ve learned along the way about cultivating a diverse workforce and a team of dedicated employees at two locations.
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Episode 3: Phoebe Bitler offers tips for calf care and maintaining compost barn and robotics facility
50:50Making the decision to invest in new technology like a robotic milking system or a compost barn can be exciting, but it often comes with a learning curve and new maintenance requirements. In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Phoebe Bitler of Vista Grande Farms in Berks County, PA, shares both the benefits and learning curves they have experienced with their robotic milking system and compost barn. Enhanced cow comfort, soil health, and efficiency were a few of the benefits, while bedding costs, weather-related factors and maintenance responsibilities were all part of the learning curve. She also offers her perspective on the five key elements to calf care and how to remove stressors for the youngest members of the herd. Phoebe also discusses transition planning and forging mutual respect between each generation.
Episode 2: Dale Brown shares how overcrowding has improved profitability and the benefits of benchmarking
33:34Should you overcrowd or not? While some farms use overcrowding to increase overall profitability, others worry that individual cow performance will suffer if they overcrowd. In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Dale Brown, a partner at Jobo Holstein Farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, shares how overcrowding has improved their profitability and overall breakeven costs. He offers helpful suggestions for how they’ve made it work and lessons learned along the way. Dale also discusses the benefits they have found in working with outside consultants and participating in benchmarking groups to continually evaluate their dairy operation’s costs.
Episode 1: Jennifer Orr reflects on family, community, and how they inspired their value-added dairy business
42:12Especially during this month of giving and gratitude, being able to work alongside your family and serve your community at the same time is one of the most satisfying parts of dairy farming. To kick off Season 3 of Cow-Side Conversations, Jennifer Orr of Harmony Acres in Fayette County, Pennsylvania shares what sparked her family to enter the value-added space and begin bottling milk from their 170-cow herd. She reflects on their community’s strong desire for a local food source, pandemic-related challenges, creative partnerships and products that were born along the way, and the memories she has built with her family throughout this journey.
Season Two Recap: Our favorite takeaways from conversations with 12 producers
31:28With 7,100+ downloads to date, the Cow-Side Conversations podcast has remained true to our original mission: helping dairy farmers learn from other farmers. As we wrap up Season 2, Jayne Sebright, host of the podcast and director at the Center, sat down with Emily Barge, podcast producer and communications manager, for this special bonus episode to reflect on some of our favorite moments. Featuring conversations with 12 producers from across Pennsylvania, Season 2 includes farm-level takeaways and real-time insight on everything from farm transition, employee management and cow/calf care to cropping strategies, diversification and personal wellness. Thank you to the farmers who shared their stories, and stay tuned for Season 3 beginning this November!
Episode 12: Tom Barley describes how they maximize herd performance, production and cow comfort
43:21Dairy cows are a lot like high-performing athletes. To help them achieve their peak performance, attention must be paid to every detail. In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Tom Barley of Star Rock Farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, shares how their team remains laser-focused on the smallest details to achieve peak herd performance and production. He describes how they concentrate on employee culture, nutrition, reproduction and genetics, cow comfort and ventilation to maximize herd performance — and the importance of remaining open-minded to new perspectives, not defending the way you’ve always done it.
Episode 11: Frank Graybill shares words of wisdom after transitioning out of dairy and lessons learned on farm safety
36:22“I always liked to rest at the top of the hill, not the bottom. I wanted to do that as I exited dairy.” “A farm is more than just a place to make a living. It’s a place to live.” In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Frank Graybill, a retired dairy producer from Restful Acres Dairy Farm in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania shared these words of wisdom and more from his rewarding 47-year career as a dairy farmer. He reflects on his recent transition out of the dairy industry, lessons learned about farm safety along the way, and how he stays so positive and energized about the future.
Episode 10: Jared Kurtz gives an honest look at managing a dairy farm with multiple generations
57:14There’s no price tag you can put on the opportunity to work with your family every day. But how do you find a healthy balance between your dairy farm and your family? How can each generation be a part of your family's legacy? In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Jared Kurtz, a fourth-generation dairy farmer from Kurtland Farms in southern Berks County, Pennsylvania, gave an honest look at what the transition planning process was like for his family. He discussed their day-to-day responsibilities, business goals, strategy for managing robotic milking technology and rising feed costs, and ultimately, the privilege he finds in working alongside his family.
Episode 9: Clint Burkholder offers strategies for preventing heat stress and maximizing forage quality
32:47With temperatures rising and many Pennsylvania dairy farms experiencing July heat waves, proper ventilation and cooling measures are essential this time of year. In this episode of Cow-Side Conversations, Clint Burkholder of Burk-Lea Farms in Franklin County, Pennsylvania shared his strategies for mitigating heat stress — including a new sprinkler system that keeps cows’ body temperatures low while reducing water waste. He also offered his perspective on the return on investment for genomic testing and how to maximize forage quality.