Dairying Across America

Agricultural tourism with a side of ice cream

Chaney’s Dairy Barn processes milk on-farm, hosts thousands of guests

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Last year, 14,500 guests toured Chaney’s Dairy Barn.

People can watch the process of their ice cream being made all the way from milking to milk being processed, Carl Chaney said. Then, they can buy it in the store.

Chaney’s Dairy Barn is located on a 54-acre farm near Bowling Green. The Chaney family’s 60 Jersey cows are housed in a compost-bedded pack barn and milked with a robotic milking system.

The Chaneys churn premium ice cream and bottle milk. A 10,000-square-foot restaurant, gift shop and ice cream shop with a playground outside provide a place for guests to relax and enjoy.

Guests can also take self-guided or guided tours of the dairy, making the Chaneys’ farm an agricultural tourism destination.

“The majority of the people appreciate the opportunity to see what a dairy farm does, how it operates,” Chaney said. “A lot of people are like, ‘Well, we read so much stuff, and it’s so great to see that it’s not true.’”

The Chaneys have been offering tours for over 20 years. Self-guided tour participants can sit on bleachers in a viewing area to watch the robot milk the cows. An overview area gives guests a view of the compost barn. They also can watch the milk being processed through windows.

“I love the interaction of the people who come to the farm,” Chaney said.

Chaney’s Dairy Barn has a comment book. Chaney said it is seldom they get a negative comment. Many people express amazement or thank them for showing them a dairy farm.

Chaney said they use signage to direct people. They also have collaborated with The Dairy Alliance to put up signage that teaches about the nutrients in milk.

In 2019, the Chaneys started processing milk. They began processing ice cream in October 2003.

They processed their own product over concerns with milk pricing, Chaney said.

“I didn’t know that we’d ever be able to be confident that we would always be able to have cash flow,” Chaney said. “It just felt like we had to do something if we were going to continue.”

Chaney’s family has been farming on the site since 1888. The farm has had chickens, pigs, mules and tobacco. In 1940, his father began the dairy with two Jersey cows.

The first full year of processing, the Chaneys made about 3,000 gallons of ice cream. Last year, they made about 30,000 gallons.

The cows give about 25,000 pounds of milk per week, and the Chaneys purchase an additional 15,000 pounds a week from another dairy farm. They also purchase additional cream, because the fat content of their ice cream is almost 16%. They also add purchased nonfat dry milk in their ice cream, something Chaney learned at Penn State’s Ice Cream Short Course.

They offer 32 regular flavors and seasonal favorites. For milk, they offer whole, 2%, skim and chocolate. They also offer eggnog and strawberry milk seasonally.

The Chaneys’ dairy products have won awards. Last year at the Los Angeles International Dairy competition, their vanilla ice cream, Wow Now Brownie Cow and their chocolate milk earned perfect scores and gold medals.

In addition to its on-farm location, Chaney’s Dairy Barn also has two ice cream trailers that travel the area.

Chaney’s Dairy Barn is located in an increasingly suburban area. Just a half-mile away is a large high school. Across the road, what was once a 97-acre cornfield four years ago is now a subdivision for 315 homes.

Chaney double crops 22 acres of corn followed by rye and wheat. The rest of the acres are used for buildings, a 6-acre corn maze and pasture.

Chaney buys some of his alfalfa as baleage.

The dairy has changed over the years. In the 1980s, the Chaneys were milking over 100 cows. In the early ’80s, acres were sold off to what they are today.

Chaney’s father, James, worked to have excellent genetics on the farm.

“He just loved his Jerseys,” Chaney said. “He knew cow families.”

His father purchased a Jersey cow named Generators Topsy for $10,000. She was the first Jersey cow to score Excellent 97. She achieved this honor in 1980. James was honored with the American Jersey Cattle Association’s Master Breeder Award in 2003.

In 2001, the Chaneys sold part of the herd to milk just 60 cows. Chaney and his wife, Debra, began exploring options and settled on ice cream.

“I’m fourth generation,” Chaney said. “I didn’t want to be the one to screw it up and lose (the farm).”

Chaney and Debra are assisted on the cattle side of the business by their niece, Dore Baker, and two employees. Their daughter, Elizabeth Lunsford, is in charge of processing and is assisted by 7-8 employees.

Their daughter, Jessica, and son, James, both work off the farm but help when needed.

The restaurant, ice cream and gift shop are operated by about 50 employees, many of them teenagers. Chaney enjoys working with these young people.

“You’re working with 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids,” Chaney said. “If that doesn’t keep you young, nothing will.”

The Chaneys are in the process of expanding their restaurant, ice cream and gift shop by adding another 10,000 square feet. They are also enlarging the parking lot and building a back porch.

“Not only are we already busy, but we’re getting to be continually busy,” Chaney said.

When other farmers want to learn how to do on-farm processing, Chaney said they try to be helpful.

“We were helped by so many people,” Chaney said. “We just feel that it’s our responsibility to reciprocate.”

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