BALTIMORE, Ohio — The Guernsey breed has deep roots in the Kohler family of Fairfield County and there’s good reason to believe it has a bright future at their farm.
Today, Jeremy Kohler and his father, Lee, milk about 60 Guernseys and 20 Holsteins.
“I grew up with them,” said Jeremy, 36. “I know a lot of the Guernsey breeders and I feel like Guernseys have the best temperament of any breed to work with.”
Jeremy and his wife, Hannah, have three children who are too young for most chores, but show an interest in the calves and riding in the combine with their father.
Silas, 7, is the oldest, followed by Carrington, 3, and Shiloh, who is 1. Silas sometimes helps with the feeding, and all three take an interest in the calves.
The fawn-white Guernsey breed is among the best for young children, because of its docile temperament and ease of handling. It’s the same breed that was owned by settlers and early farmers, and, over time, the Guernsey became a bucolic image of American history.
But the Kohlers are into Guernseys for more than the image. They have been milking them for at least three generations, going back to Jeremy’s grandfather, Theodore, who started the family’s registered herd in 1938.
Jeremy’s wife did not grow up on a farm, but found the breed appealing.
“My wife thinks they’re the prettiest breed, even before she knew anything about dairy cattle,” Jeremy said.
Hannah grew up less than four miles from the Kohler farm, but the two went to different schools and didn’t know each other. They met at a wedding, when Jeremy was serving as best man, and Hannah was a bridesmaid. Today, they’re continuing a family dairy legacy.
Guernseys don’t produce as much milk as other breeds, like Holstein. But Guernsey milk is regarded for its quality — it includes a higher level of beta carotene and omega 3, and the majority of Guernsey milk contains the protein beta casein A2, factors that are believed to be tied to better nutrition and digestibility.
In 1981, Lee Kohler started the family’s current farming operation north of Lancaster, near the town of Baltimore. A road sign bears the name “Marodore Farm,” formed by combining Lee’s parents’ names, Mary and Theodore.
The cows are milked twice a day, and most of the work is done by the family.
Keeping it simple
Jeremy said he likes maintaining a smaller herd because they can manage it on their own. But on the flip side, that’s also a challenge, because they’re not big enough to employ more help.
“I think it gets harder and harder all the time to be a small family dairy farm,” Jeremy said. “It just keeps trending more and more to the really large dairy farms.”
Even if the Kohlers were big enough to employ more help, there’s the challenge of finding and training the right people.
“They (employees) don’t have to know everything when they come to work, but they need to be willing to work,” Lee said. “Not everybody likes working on a dairy farm — there’s some grunt jobs that aren’t very glamorous.”
The Kohlers have gotten used to the many jobs and hats a dairy farm requires. In 2015, Jeremy was named the National Outstanding Young Guernsey Farmer by the American Guernsey Association, and this year, the association presented Lee with its Distinguished Service award.
Family friend and Guernsey producer Krista Richardson, of Wapakoneta, said Jeremy is knowledgeable about the breed, friendly and trustworthy.
“Jeremy carries on lessons that he’s learned from working at his father’s side,” she said.
Richardson grew up showing cattle with Jeremy and now serves on the Ohio Guernsey Association board, and says the Kohlers are good breed ambassadors.
“The family that works together stays together, and you see that,” she said. “You can see the genuine sense of love and appreciation.”
Blaine Crosser, dairy sire product manager and Guernsey sire analyst with Select Sires, said the Kohlers are focused on putting milk in the tank, but also on raising and selling good breeding stock.
“They have a very high reputation for integrity within the Guernsey circles,” sending bulls into the AI system and doing some embryo sales, Crosser said.
Jeremy, his father and grandfather all graduated from Ohio State University, with Jeremy earning an animal sciences degree. Jeremy also attended the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, and he said the mix of academic and hands-on education has paid off.
Jeremy said the thing that keeps him in dairy farming — even during tough economic times — is his love of working with the cows, and seeing the results of a hard day’s work.
“I feel like it’s usually pretty rewarding work,” he said. “You can see the fruits of your labor pretty quickly.”
With a family history in dairy farming, it may have seemed natural that Jeremy would continue in that direction. But it also took some desire and passion, qualities he said are important for other young farmers.
“You’ve got to love it to begin with,” he said. “This isn’t a job you would want if you didn’t love it wholeheartedly. They (young dairymen) have to be passionate about it and really like cows.”