ENON VALLEY, Pa. — Clayton and Renee Kenny, of Kenny Jersey Farm, have plans to get better before they get bigger.
The Kennys were honored with the 2017 Young Jersey Breeders award this summer.
“It meant a lot,” said Renee. “It was just the recognition we needed -— because we aren’t feeling validation through our milk check.”
They were one of seven to receive the award nationally. Other winners included: Bernie Bakker, Alvold, Iowa; Nathan Chittenden, Schodack Landing, New York; J. Hodge, Norwich, Ohio; Heather Hyman, Adams, New York; Case Kasbergen, Tulare, California; and Jessica and Cole Peters, Meadville, Pennsylvania.
Clayton and Renee are partners on the 500-acre farm, managing the day-to-day activities. Clayton is the third generation to operate the farm.
Renee grew up on Normandell Farms in Tioga County and is a fourth generation dairy farmer.
They both received their first registered Jersey cow when they were 8 years old and developed a fondness for the breed.
“Jerseys run high components, rich in butter fat and protein,” Clayton said. “They are curious — I find them in the weirdest places, just because they are curious — and they will never leave a gate alone.”
Clayton and Renee, who became friends at dairy association events when they were children, smile when they talk about the cows and the farm they hope to keep operational for their children — Nora, 3, and Landon, 1.
Off the farm
Renee earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Penn State University. After graduation she moved to Ohio to be the assistant editor of Jersey Journal, then worked for Select Sires Inc. as a communications specialist.
Clayton worked off the farm as a diesel mechanic for four years after high school.
They married in 2012. At that time, the dairy was run by Clayton’s dad, Don, and grandfather, Robert.
A year after he decided to come back to the farm his father died suddenly, leaving him to run the farm with his aging grandfather, Robert Kenny, now 89.
They milk around 210 cows, have 200 other heifers and 30 dry cows. With a handful of employees, they milk twice a day, 365 days a year, selling their milk to United Dairy.
They bought 17 cows from Renee’s parents and some high-genetic animals for their children.
“We persevere for our children. It is the challenge that keeps things interesting,” Clayton said.
In 2015, Clayton and Renee bought the cows and equipment from Clayton’s grandfather and are now working on a land transition.
His grandpa took some convincing to make the transition.
“He just didn’t want to listen,” Clayton said. “We had several young transition specialists out here, and he wouldn’t even talk to them. About two years ago we got Bernie and he’s older, so grandpa decided it was time to listen.”
Bernie Erven, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus from Ohio State University. He consults families on business succession.
Clayton and Renee make the farm decisions, but still consult grandpa.
“He is the patriarch around here. If he says it — it goes.”
The Kennys have always been involved at the county, state and national level in dairy associations.
“It’s the community you really need, especially in the industry now,” Renee said, in reference to low milk prices. “In the network, there are mentors we’ve grown up with.”
They attend the events to check in with fellow dairy farmers and to become mentors the youth can relate to, Renee said.
Clayton has worked to promote the dairy industry by hosting local Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. He also serves the community as a member of the township’s planning committee.
Renee is the youth director of the Pennsylvania Jersey Cattle Association and was a 4-H adviser for the county dairy club. She stepped down once she had Nora and Landon, but still helps when she can.
She also serves on the Penn State Dairymen’s board of directors and serves as a COBA/Select Sires Inc. District 7 delegate.
Blogging with purpose
Two years ago, Renee started a blog, Eat. Farm. Love.
“I felt the need to tell our story, and educate consumers and neighbors about what our family does.”
She loves to cook and use products from the farm as their families gather in the kitchen. Her blog shares recipes, the ups and downs of farm life, and agricultural issues as they come up in the media.
Renee uses her blog to discuss topics like almond milk.
“Some don’t know its not a dairy product, almond beverages don’t have the same nutritional qualities as milk.”
There is a lot of misinformation out there. Clarification is needed in the industry and she hopes the blog will connect consumers to the farm.
Renee also works part time for Dairy Girl Network, a national network connecting women of the dairy industry, encouraging camaraderie and, personal and professional development. She works in program development as a freelancer and does graphic design work.
Four years ago, Clayton and Renee started a profit team which includes themselves, their two nutritionists, accountant, reproduction manager, veterinarian, Extension agent, their grandfather and uncle.
“The team helps us address priorities and make suggestions on how we can improve,” Renee said.
Last winter when the team sat down to discuss the operation, items such as headlocks, new stalls in the coverlet, mats in the parlor and calf care rose to the top.
“The team makes us talk about things we might not want to bring up, it actually sparked the transition process,” Clayton said.
Many of the barns on the farm were built in the 1970s. Clayton said they are currently working with old barns and equipment, but have plans to eventually replace everything.
They are also working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to have a new manure pit installed in 2018.
Since they took over the farm, they have increased production per cow, reclaimed registrations, put a focus on genetics, improved reproduction standards, and crop quality.
They have also increased the farms rolling herd average from 12,000 pounds in 2010 to 15,550 pounds in 2016.
They use all artificial insemination, working hand-in-hand with their AI technician who comes to the farm every day.
The Kennys have started using sex semen, not to necessarily get more heifers, but to improve the bottom end of their herd, said Renee.
“In five years we hope to be better — better ourselves, improve the quality of our herd. We want to get better before we get bigger,”