Music and dairy farming have both taken center stage throughout Jeff Corle’s life. So when the difficult time came to sell his cows, turning to songwriting to process his emotions was a natural choice.
Corle grew up on a dairy farm in Windber, Pennsylvania. At the age of 10, he was gifted his first guitar and started writing songs.
After high school, Corle decided to pursue music full time, moving to Nashville to work as a songwriter.
But about 12 years later, in 2007, the dairy was calling his name, so back to the farm he went, working with his dad to transition to organic.
For about a decade, Corle and his dad ran the dairy together, but when his dad died in 2018, he decided to try something new, going back to the dairy roots of his great-grandparents — bottling and selling his own milk.
In order to accomplish this, Corle went from a 40-cow herd to a 12-cow micro dairy of all Guernseys.
Corle was processing and bottling his own milk, along with delivering it to 14 stores in his local area.
“Milking cows, processing the milk, bottling the milk and delivering the milk is a lot to do when you’re one person,” Corle said.
While the business initially grew after launching in 2020, he said it quickly reached its limit, and wasn’t enough to support himself and a full-time employee.
In March of 2022, he made the difficult decision to sell his cows and leave the dairy industry.
“I just loved that business and I loved those cows so much,” Corle said. “It was harder than anything I ever did making the decision to stop and sell the cows.”
A friend of his in the music industry encouraged him to express his feelings by writing a song, and even suggested the title “Empty Barn.”
Corle said that night, lyrics started coming to him, and he wrote the song the next day.
“I just cried my eyes out the whole way through writing the song,” he said. “It was very therapeutic.”
He initially recorded “Empty Barn” in his home and posted it on his farm’s Facebook page. Within a week, the post was viewed over 30,000 times and the song itself was downloaded 2,000 times.
After reading hundreds of encouraging comments on Facebook, Corle decided to make a full album — titled “Farm Animal” — and in May of 2022 went back to Nashville to record it professionally.
“The day I sold the cows represented the door closing on my dairy farming,” Corle said. “But then all those comments that came pouring in represented a new door opening.”
The album includes songs Corle had written while farming along with songs he wrote after selling the dairy.
After re-recording “Empty Barn” in Nashville, Corle decided to create a music video, inviting dairy farmers from across the U.S. to submit photos to feature.
The video now has over 100,000 views on YouTube.
Currently, three songs from the album — including “Empty Barn” — have been released as singles and are available on a variety of music streaming platforms including Spotify and Apple Music.
Corle is in the process of releasing the full album as an independent artist.
He initially talked to some small music labels in Nashville, but label executives didn’t feel that an album written fully about farming would have a broad enough appeal.
Before he officially releases the album, Corle is working to raise enough money to properly fund a marketing campaign for it. A Kickstarter fundraising effort is available on his website at jeffcorlemusic.com.
For Corle, songwriting became an outlet to deal with his mental health struggles after selling the farm. Now, he uses his own story to talk about farmer mental health and the importance of opening up about your emotions.
“Farmers are traditionally pretty emotionally closed off. We kind of learned not to talk about things and to grin and bear it,” Corle said. “If I hadn’t written ‘Empty Barn’ and experienced the healing through that, I probably would have stayed depressed. I lived it, and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.”
His mental health talks can also include a music performance or even a songwriting workshop.
Recently, Corle performed at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Ag Promotion T.A.S.K. Conference, where he was able to speak on farmer mental health and play a full set.
“That was great,” Corle said. “That’s talking to and performing for my people.”
He also plays house concerts, where people can invite friends and family to their own homes for Corle to perform at. As the weather warms up, he’s hoping to expand these to barn concerts to give room for larger audiences.
“I’d like to be able to come to farms or agricultural-related business and do shows like that,” Corle said. “It’s a lot more fun when you get out in front of people that really want you to be there.”