Dennis Brooks has farmed with his wife, Deb, for more than 50 years at their Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, dairy farm. They have noticed the Dairy of Distinction signs at the entrance to other dairies and Deb Brooks decided it was time to submit their farm for consideration.
The family crops 900 acres, owned and rented, and has a dairy herd of about 180 Holstein cows. They market their milk through Dairy Farmers of America and have a rolling herd average of 25,486 pounds of milk. They raise all of their own youngstock and also have 85 head of beef cattle located at another farm.
Dennis Brooks said the award is a recognition of the attention to detail and care they provide for their dairy herd.
“The Dairy of Distinction is our farm being recognized for being clean, we have always done that, the sign does not change that,” he said. “It sure helps that the outside people may recognize it as a higher step.”
The beef is destined for a private butcher shop in Brooklyn, New York. He’s had plenty of chefs and food service employees at the farm to observe management practices and what he is feeding his cattle. While they might be observing his beef operation, the Dairy of Distinction sign helps to tell the story about their operation.
“That sign will sell you, tells how much pride you have (in your farm) and other people recognize it,” he said.
Dennis Brooks took over the farm when he was 23 and hopes to transition the farm over to his one son who works for him full time.
Brooks is able to feed his herd based off his crop ground where he raises a mix of corn, alfalfa, wheat, soybeans and double crops with rye and triticale. On good years, he will market excess grain.
“I think in the last three years, we have been really blessed with good weather and turned some numbers,” he said.
The first step in qualifying for the Dairy of Distinction is milk quality. The board evaluates the farm’s milk quality records before making a site visit to evaluate the farm’s appearance.
Brooks’ cows are housed in a freestall barn, and milked in the original 52-cow tie-stall barn. The good milk quality requires keeping cows clean and plenty of fresh bedding. Cows have plenty of air circulation to keep cool in the summer and easy access to water.
He also focuses on milk procedures to make sure cows are properly prepped and milked.
“I pretty much live in the barn, I don’t miss too many milkings,” he said.