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HERd management: New Year resolutions and reflections on the past

Renée Norman-Kenny Published on 31 December 2015

As we ring in the New Year, we often look for the future’s possibilities and set our New Year resolutions for the upcoming year. However, I also think it is a vital time to reflect on the past year and everything that has happened within those 12 months.

Over the path of the past year, my husband, Clayton, and I have endured several changes, abundant joy and countless challenges.



Just one year ago, on Jan. 1, 2015, we purchased the cattle and equipment from his grandparents and formed our own limited liability corporation (LLC) for the dairy operation. We continue to own the buildings and farmland in a partnership with his grandparents with a lease in place and a transition plan on the table.

Not knowing our background, you will probably think I look a little young to be taking over a dairy farm; however, we are a special circumstance. We are a family farm missing a generation due to a tragedy and early loss of Clayton’s father. At a mere 23 years of age, Clayton began taking over the day-to-day farming operation and making large decisions about the farm.

In 2012, we were married and I moved to the farm, leaving behind my career in dairy marketing. We realized that we needed some outside assistance to guide us through some tough decisions and to help us envision where the future of our farm was headed, so we started a dairy profit team.

The profit team allowed us to take a step back and review our weaknesses and strengths and build upon them to better the farm. From this, we also began to develop our transition plan and, in the end, finalized the plan with Clayton’s grandparents in December of 2014.

We were so grateful to have the opportunity to purchase the cows and equipment, and we looked at this challenge one year ago with a sparkle in our eyes.


Our dreams began to shatter just 15 days after the agreement was signed, as our home – the home we raise our daughter in – was robbed. We are lucky no one was home and we were all at the barn that day for herd health day, but nonetheless we personally faced a large setback.

And it didn’t stop there; as luck would have it, just days later we faced another large setback when the Coverall roof of our freestall barn ripped. The warranty had just expired, and we faced many obstacles as we tried to replace it. Today, the roof is fixed, the cows are happy, and so are we.

As the year continued, our dreams continued to briefly diminish with the decreasing milk price that only continued to drop throughout the year, some health issues that developed within our herd and farming while raising our first child.

Throughout the course of the past year, we have learned more about our business than we knew before as we prepared financial statements and balance sheets for lenders and dug into our finances and accounting as I continued to utilize QuickBooks.

We added new advancements, such as video cameras to watch our maternity barn and PC Dart’s Pocket Dairy so we can see cow data in the barn, and we continue to add technology to better serve us and our farm.

Another large change came when we decided to purchase a corn planter. The farm had utilized custom crop planting and harvesting for the past 20 years. That wasn’t going to cut it. By purchasing a six-row corn planter, Clayton and I knew it would allow us to plant on our own schedule and allow for earlier corn planting.


We started off strong planting in the beginning of May as the dry weather allowed for easy planting, but then – like most of the U.S. – we faced a month of rain that set us back. The corn took off eventually, but we did suffer reduced yields this fall.

We faced many ups and downs during our first year, as I’m sure many of you can relate in your everyday life. I am not writing this as a sob story but instead one of continued faith and hope. We continued on and have grown as farmers, animal caregivers, parents and individuals through this process.

We move into the second year of this journey and have a renewed sparkle in our eyes. For the coming year, we hope to update our facilities, build our herd genetically, add a pasteurizer and switch to feeding our calves whole milk, and continue to plan for the future.

Along with the farm, I added just one more dream to my already busy schedule. I began writing a blog just two months ago. This blog is something I’ve wanted to do to educate my friends, family and those unknown to me about why we farm, why we follow the practices we do as dairy producers and where food truly comes from.

It has become clear to me via social media that there are many misconceptions about farmers and food, and we need “agvocates” to share their stories. If we want to continue producing milk, we have to market what we do. So here I go, adding one more job to my overflowing to-do list – but loving it every step of the way.

So for 2016 and for the future, we look forward to the new challenges. These may include continued low milk prices, new technologies to better serve our farm, new health challenges within our herd, a dirtier house with an overflowing schedule and a happy child who loves the farm and cows.

We’ll continue to fight our way through these battles and new opportunities – one smile at a time, with a sparkle in our eyes!  PD

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Renée Norman-Kenny
  • Renée Norman-Kenny

  • Dairy Producer
  • Enon Valley, Pennsylvania