EAST EARL, Pa. — Just three years into their journey as an independent dairy family, Mark and Thelma Garman have earned a Dairy of Distinction sign to hang on their milkhouse. Mark is the fourth generation of his family to work the 60-acre farm in Lancaster County’s East Earl Township.

The Garmans took over the family farm after Mark’s dad retired in 2015. They have a milking herd of 40 Holsteins in tie stalls, 40 head of young stock, and usually about 10 dry cows.

Although the cows aren’t registered, they are bred to Select Sire bulls. Garman said he’s using the same AI tech that’s been servicing the herd for the past 24 years. He goes with the tech’s recommendations on which sire to use with which cow, and he’s been happy with the results. He uses sexed semen on heifers because their conception rate is much higher, which makes the extra cost worthwhile. The cows in the herd settle at about 70-80 percent per service, so they get conventional semen.

With his approach to breeding, Garman gets 25 to 30 heifer calves a year and just a few bulls. Most of the heifers are kept in the herd as replacements, although he did sell a few in the spring.

Garman said he’s not much interested in the registration process, because registration papers..“don’t help make milk.”

The Garman cows do indeed make milk. They earned a DHIA production award earlier this year with rolling herd averages of 25,638 pounds of milk, 921 pounds of fat and 778 pounds of protein, and a somatic cell count of 82,000.

Garman grows most of the dairy feed on the farm. He chops rye and triticale for the silo. He grows some corn and a little alfalfa, but he’s phasing out of alfalfa. He buys hay for dry cows from a retired Berks County veterinarian with a small farming operation. The cows’ total mixed ration is balanced by F.M. Brown’s Sons in Reading. Garman milks the cows twice a day, and feeds them four times — breakfast, lunch and dinner and a bedtime snack.

Garman’s dad had a small hog operation while he was dairying. He also began feeding Muscovy ducks about six years ago. Mark Garman likes ducks much better than he liked hogs, so that side of the business is now devoted exclusively to ducks. He sells them to a dealer who has customers in New York City. The ducks go to market at 10 to 12 weeks of age, with the drakes weighing 10-12 pounds, and the hens topping out at about 6 1/2 pounds.