Vickie and Mike Baker not only hosted the National Guernsey Convention at their farm earlier this month.
They also had to reinvent the gathering after it was canceled last year because of the pandemic.
“The theme for convention was ‘Guernsey Reimagined,’” Vickie Baker said. “We came up with that because everything that we’ve done or tried to do, we’ve had to rethink.”
As it happens, reimagining is also what the Bakers — of Maple Bottom Farm in Dawson, Pennsylvania — are hoping to do for the Guernsey breed.
Unlike the breed association’s traditional four-day conventions, this year’s event ran only two days, July 9 and 10.
On July 9, the Bakers, who chaired the convention, hosted the only official farm tour at their Fayette County farm.
The tour, which Baker said was very relaxed, functioned as more of a social gathering. She served grilled cheese made from the farm’s Guernsey milk.
“It was just really nice to be able to get together with people and visit, because we haven’t done that in so long,” she said. “I mean, who doesn’t like grilled cheese sandwiches?”
The Bakers milk their cows in two separate systems. About 60 are milked by robot, with that milk getting shipped to Land O’Lakes.
Another 20 cows are milked by hand, with that milk going to Naturally Golden Family Farms, a co-op that the Bakers started with other local Guernsey farmers.
Promoting Guernsey Milk
When the Bakers started farming in 2006, only about 20 of their 150 cows were Guernseys. Now 110 of 170 cows are.
“We believe in the milk, in Guernsey milk,” Baker said.
In fact, Baker said she thinks that Guernsey milk could become “America’s table milk.”
That belief is driven in part by the A2 protein. Baker said that 93% of Guernsey cows that are tested produce A2 milk. Some people believe this protein is more digestible than the A1 protein produced by most Holsteins.
Guernsey milk is often golden in color because of high beta carotene levels. It also contains contains more omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamins and more protein than milk from other breeds, Baker said.
Promoting Guernsey milk was one of the main reasons Baker formed the co-op, along with building the breed and building relationships with other Guernsey farms in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.
“It’s going to bring a better-tasting milk back to the market, with options, because A2 is something we obviously have as well,” she said.
Baker isn’t alone in wanting to promote and grow the Guernsey breed. About 150 people toured her farm during the convention.
“We’ve got a lot of interest in the breed, a lot of enthusiasm,” she said. “We don’t want to take away from our history, but we want to continue to relook at things and see what else we can do with the breed.”
Dairy of Distinction
The convention also included youth competitions, an awards banquet and a sale held at the Fayette County Fairgrounds.
“Overall I’m thrilled,” Baker said. “Attendance wasn’t exactly what we would have had in a normal year, but we still had people travel from everywhere. We had people attend convention that had never attended a convention before.”
Next year’s convention will return to a four-day format and will be held in Wooster, Ohio, from June 21 to 24.
The National Guernsey Convention was the second such dairy event to visit Pennsylvania this summer. The National Holstein Convention was held in Lancaster in late June.
The World Guernsey Conference came to Lancaster in 2019.
Along with leading this year’s national convention, the Baker family also received the Dairy of Distinction award this year.
Baker first applied two years ago, but the farm missed out because renovations to an on-site bed-and-breakfast reduced the curb appeal.
This time, with the renovations complete, the farm was chosen.
“I have always, since I was young, admired the Dairy of Distinction recipients, and Mike (has) as well,” Baker said. “It’s an award that, certainly, Mike and I received, but it’s something that we can’t do without our family.”
Baker said she was happy to see the Dairy of Distinction sign placed at her farm. Many people will see it when they stay at the B&B or the farm’s sunflower maze, which is open for its second season.
“It’s all about promoting dairy,” Baker said. “Everything that we do now in our business is about promoting dairy, and not just our dairy.”
A lot of the agritourism visitors come from out of state. Baker knows those people probably won’t be frequent customers of the farm, but she thinks giving them a good experience on a dairy farm could shape their purchasing habits in the future, benefiting the dairy industry as a whole.
“It’s amazing how many people come and do a tour and say ‘I can’t believe how clean it is,’” Baker said. “That’s not good that they think that dairies aren’t clean, and that we’re not producing good food from them.”
Baker thinks many farmers take for granted their ability to be on a farm every day.
“The number of people last year that thanked us for opening our farm to them was truly amazing,” she said.
Though many of the consumers that come onto the farm won’t know what the Dairy of Distinction sign means, it could open the door for conversation.
“We know we’re doing a good job, and people in our industry know we’re doing a good job,” Baker said. “We were really thrilled, really honored to get that.”