North Carolina State University Guernsey Herd
In May of 2016, the Guernsey Promotion Group held the “Carolina Edition” of their Guernsey Promotion Sale in Shelby, North Carolina. After purchasing five yearling heifers at that sale, the North Carolina State University Guernsey herd began.
The NCSU dairy currently milks around 170 cows, including about 110 Holsteins, 60 Jerseys and two Guernseys purchased in the sale. Both Guernseys in the milking herd had heifer calves this spring, expanding the NCSU Guernsey herd to seven head. Milk produced from the NCSU herd is processed on campus and turned into milk and ice cream under the brand Howling Cow. Future plans include developing yogurt and cheese lines as well.
NCSU’s focus is beyond just products, though. “Being a university dairy, we have many areas of focus, which include extension, education and research,” said Devan Pendry, the Herd Manager of the NCSU dairy. Pendry manages all aspects of herd health, including reproduction, as well as assisting professors with teaching labs and organizing research trials.
Education and research were big contributors to the decision to purchase Guernsey cattle for the herd. “I think it’s important to show students how many different breeds there are and how they all have different strengths and characteristics,” said Pendry. She believes that most students will encounter breed diversity in their future careers, and it’s best they prepare for differences in management practices and breed characteristics. “I also think that there are research opportunities comparing different dairy breeds and educational opportunities at the State Fair,” she adds.
The opportunity arose when the Guernsey Promotion Group announced their sale in North Carolina, normally a very difficult area to find Guernseys for sale. The NCSU Animal Science Club offered to purchase and donate a small starter group of Guernseys to the herd, so Pendry, along with three Animal Science Club members, attended the sale. Those three members – Whitney Ratliff, then club president, Aimee Sink (“a huge Guernsey fan!”) and Eric Tedder – along with Pendry picked out five Guernsey yearlings nearing breeding age.
“The Animal Science Club has been a huge support to the dairy farm, and vice versa,” said Pendry. The “ANS” club runs the milking booth at the North Carolina State Fair every October. There, members of the public pay for the chance to hand milk a cow and receive a carton of milk. This is a great opportunity to engage the public while fundraising for the ANS club. The club also takes heifers to show at the state fair. NCSU also has a Dairy Science club, which brings cows to the state fair. Both clubs are on the dairy farm regularly for meetings and service projects.
Last fall, the ANS club took four of the Guernsey heifers to the North Carolina State Fair, with successful results. Springhill Johnny Diane won the Spring Yearling class, and Land of Living T Pearl placed second in the Summer Yearling class. Pendry believes that Guernseys will continue to be present in the ANS show string as well as the milk booth at the North Carolina State Fair.
The two lactating members of the herd now live in the Jersey group at the NCSU dairy, due to their similarities in feed consumption and milk composition. “The Guernseys seem to get along with their Jersey and Holstein herd-mates just fine,” said Pendry. She hopes to expand the herd to around 10 cows and to continue utilizing them for education and research.
Pendry’s main focuses in breeding are components, fertility, and heifer calves. So far, they have used sexed Ernie and Ladysman, as well as conventional Novak. Her biggest challenges when mating Guernseys, versus Holsteins and Jerseys, are avoiding inbreeding and getting heifers to settle. “Breeding is a bit tricky with a small gene pool,” she noted.
The NCSU dairy has big plans ahead and continues to make its mark as a progressive university dairy. They have a newly-built museum, and plan on building a country store onsite at the farm that will sell Howling Cow products. “Between the country store, the museum, and guided farm tours, we hope to bridge the gap that many consumers have in regards to knowledge about how dairies are managed and how dairy products are handled,” said Pendry. “Our consumers want to know how our animals are treated and how the products they purchase are handled, and they deserve to know those answers.” The NCSU dairy is yet another great example of how the Guernsey cow has a place in every type of operation.