Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade
Special Sections Editor
<.000>CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Keeping things neat and tidy is just a part of doing business at Cornerstone Dairy. Or as Dennis Diehl says, keeping things in order makes work easier around the farm.
It is also not lost on Diehl that with the growing disconnect to farming in the general population, it’s important to keep a positive image for the dairy industry.
Cornerstone Dairy is more than just a pretty farm, it’s a family farm.
Dennis and Lisa Diehl own the farm. Two of their children, Julia and Brandon, are employed full time at the operation. Their other daughter, Rachel, helps out from time to time.
“It’s a family farm,” Dennis Diehl said. “Mainly dairy, but we make a lot of dry hay.”
The name of the dairy comes from two points of reference. First, the farm is on the corner of two roads. The second is in reference to the family’s faith in God. The farm is a first-generation farm, established by the Diehls.
Diversity is a big part of the farm’s operation. The family milks 100 cows in a flat parlor.
The second part of their farm is a horse hay operation. The family bales the smaller-sized square bales, the preferred choice of horse owners. In a good growing year, the Diehls will produce more than 10,000 of the 40-pound square bales.
Most of the hay is sold in the Mid-Atlantic region, but the Diehls have sold hay as far south as Florida.
Dennis Diehl worked for a nearby dairy farm for about 10 years when the opportunity to purchase this farm came along. The Diehls started out by purchasing the herd and then the land.
Many of their current farm practices are results of the facility limitations regarding calf and heifer management.
Unlike most dairy farms, they opt to sell their year-old heifers and purchase back 2-year-old cows as replacements. The decision to sell the calves started as a necessity because they did not have the facilities to raise the calves to freshening.
Most of the calves are sold through a “spring heifer sale” started by Dennis Diehl’s father.
“When we started, we did not have the room or the help to raise calves,” Dennis Diehl said.
The farm buys 2-year-olds back through auction. Dennis Diehl said he recognizes that with this system, biosecurity practices are critical. The farm has a quarantine protocol to minimize disease risks. It is also vigilant on disease monitoring, looking for potential problems.
Cows are housed in a loose housing system. The Diehls do have a “semi-grazing” system, with the dairy herd out on pasture during the warmer months.
“We graze land that is not profitable for cropping,” Dennis Diehl said. “The cows like it out there in the summer in the shade.”
The herd is “mostly Holstein” with a mix of other breeds. The milk is shipped to Lanco-Pennland cooperative.
Dennis Diehl also describes the family’s farm decisions as being a little “old school” since the cows are kept on pasture in the summer. In the warmer-weather months, dry cows calve on pasture. The calves are kept with their dams for two weeks.
The Diehls say people recognize their farm as the place where the calves are with the cows. Lisa Diehl said people enjoy stopping and watching because it is an unusual sight these days.
While the system might not work for everyone, Dennis Diehl said, it works well for their farm.
Horse hay is not the easiest of markets, but it has provided a financial balance in times of tough milk prices.
The Diehls’ goal is to provide a consistent supply of horse hay to their regular customers. In tight supply years, it means they have to purchase additional hay and resell it.
The toughest years for the hay market had to be in the early part of the recession, as they dealt with horse owners and stables that struggled to keep current with their bills. And they did lose some clients as people sold their horses and some stables went out of business.
“The best way to keep customers is to have hay,” Dennis Diehl said.
Marketing is by word of mouth. The Mid-Atlantic region has generated a reputation for good horse hay for the East Coast equine industry, based on the region’s soil type and the hay mix produced.
The key to a successful horse market is having quality hay, consistently available.
The dairy provides an additional advantage, a way to feed hay that does not meet horse hay quality standards. The hay is priced based of the local market price. The Diehls also charge for delivery and extra if they have to unload the hay.
The Diehls’ hay is an alfalfa and orchardgrass mix. They say it’s an easier blend to make for dry hay. First-cutting hay is marked for the pleasure horse market, whereas a higher-protein second cutting works best for competition horses with a higher nutritional intake.
Lisa Diehl joked that the family has never owned a horse but has learned how to feed a horse because of the marketing.
The Diehls say they are excited to have received the Dairy of Distinction award, but keeping the farm neat and tidy just makes sense.
Dennis Diehl said it makes working around the farm easier when things are in their place, because you don’t lose time having to find tools or supplies.
Lisa Diehl has always kept flowers planted in the flowerbeds and other touches around the house.
It also is important to leave a good impression on your neighbors and folks driving by the farm, showing that the cows are well taken care of.
The Diehls work together and have continually worked to upgrade their farm. When deciding on what the next project will be, the first thing the they like to do is talk to farmers who have built or installed a system they are considering.
Dennis Diehl said farmers will share what they have learned with other farmers. Farmers will point out what they like and what they would change if they could do the project over again.
Farmers are a tight-knit community, he said, and they’d like to see everyone succeed.
Secondly, when looking at a new project, the Diehls look at the farm books to see if they can afford the new project.
However, they say they realize that sometimes a project has to happen because they “can’t afford to not do it” because the investment will ultimately improve profitability.
Looking to the future, they’d like to update their milking parlor. And they are in the early stages of building a transition plan to move the farm from one generation to the next.