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A World Dairy Expo goldmine: The legacy of Springhill Guernseys

Progressive Dairyman Staff Writer Jaclyn Krymowski Published on 28 September 2017
Springhill Guernseys

Anyone who goes to World Dairy Expo hoping to strike gold need not look very far. A nationally recognized string showcasing a collage of fawn and white coats, rich as the gold-tinted milk they produce, proudly represents a handful of the Guernsey breed’s finest.

Home for these exceptional animals is Springhill Farm in Big Prairie, Ohio, owned and operated by the Lang family with two long-term employees Danny Pszenitzki and Marshall Overholt. Fifth-generation Guernsey farmers Chris Lang and his sister Kendra own the dairy with parents, Tom and Karen Lang.

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Guernseys represent one-third of their 200-cow milking herd, with Holsteins comprising the remainder, but the golden fraction is set to grow in the future with the herd’s youngstock.

The Langs have bred Guernseys since the late 1800s, but during the ’70s decided to phase them out for Holsteins. In the early 2000s, the breed came back to the farm.

Springhill's first class winner 2013

“It started as an experiment really,” Chris says. “I liked the result and how they worked with the Holsteins.” The purchase of the herd’s top matriarch and reintroduction of the breed to the farm was at the 2007 National Guernsey Sale – Dix-Lee Tiller Joke. Her name may be familiar to those in the Guernsey circle.

She was the dam of the WDE’s International Guernsey Classic’s top seller, several national champions and All-Americans, and has many sons and grandsons in active A.I. service, with notably accomplished daughters. She proved herself to be an incredibly successful show cow as a national grand champion and an All-American.

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“She more than fulfilled our expectations,” Lang says. “She was a once-in-a-lifetime cow that has changed the face of Springhill and created her own Guernsey legacy.” Since Joke joined the herd, many national champions, class winners and All-Americans have gone into the show world, with nearly all tracing back to her.

Competing in the commercial dairy environment

Outside the show ring, Springhill also breeds their Guernseys to contend commercially. Among their biggest assets is how well they marry into a mixed herd. “They cohabitate very well,” Lang says. “They’re a similar size and frame as Holsteins, they can utilize feed the same, and they compete well.”

The “gold” the breed is known for refers to their unique milk composition, and it really shows in the bulk tank. The increased value in components they brought turned out to be a nice balancer to the Holsteins’ volume. Consistently, Springhill has been among the top two or three herds in the state for milk, fat and protein.

Another noteworthy trait that gives these cows an edge in the commercial environment is their competitive calving ease ability. With this in mind, Springhill has dabbled a little into crossbreeding with Holsteins and have been pleased with the type and production success of the resulting animals.

Breeding champions

The Langs have taken their herd success and shared it in the growing Guernsey market. “We’ve been pleased with the marketability in both public and private sales,” Lang says. “They have far exceeded our expectations in that area.” He gives a nod to genetic progress in the breed as being a contributing factor.

In the past decade especially, he has observed a lot of improvement – most noticeably to their conformation and adaptability within a herd. “I think Guernseys have received a second look from a lot of people,” he says. “And I think they are becoming more appreciated compared to some Guernseys of the past.”

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Ironically, the year the Langs got back into the breed was the same year that Indian Acres MM Pistachio Pie was named Supreme Champion at WDE, catching the eye of dairymen across all breeds. Springhill witnessed the rapid increase of interest for their cows and genetics while they were still building up their herd.

Since Chris served as associate judge at the 2011 WDE’s National Guernsey Show, Springhill has been represented at the expo with an elite show string every year. In 2013, they saw their first class winner with Joke’s daughter Springhill Mentor Jazzy-ET as a fall heifer that went on to be the Intermediate Champion and Honorable Mention Grand Champion at WDE last year.

Only a year after that first win, they had a Junior Champion with Four J Springhill Jerusha-ET. Springhill has also snatched the title of premier breeder and exhibitor for the heifer show and in 2015, had both the All-American and Reserve All-American Jr. Best Three Females, all of which were again descended from Joke. This year, they hope to bring back a few of their previous champion and class winners, along with some new yearlings and calves.

Showcasing their finest

Lang believes in breed promotion via merchandising, especially in presentation. It provides an opportunity to express values as breeders to the public and other dairymen. “We always try to take animals that represent our herd,” he says. “We want to make them always look as best we can whether that’s two days before the show or three days after.”

This image goes beyond the animals’ appearance; the Langs also put effort into their display and presentation, especially at shows like WDE. The goal is to create a visually appealing atmosphere, Lang says, something that draws visitors to want to venture down that aisle and see more.

This philosophy extends to Springhill’s numerous private and public sales. Many of their animals have been consigned to national and even international sales from coast to coast. “I always sell something that I’d want to buy myself,” Lang says.

Many of their homebred animals have gone on to win prestigious titles for other farms and pass on their sought-after traits to productive herdmates. Lang says they have recently exported some embryos and are excited to see the results.

Even with years of genetic, production and show ring achievements in the books, Springhill continues to give more to the future of Guernsey breeding. Lang has since been an active member of the Guernsey community, serving as president of the Ohio Guernsey Breeders Association, a director for the American Guernsey Association, and most recently, president of Purebred Publishing. Additionally, in 2015, Springhill hosted the prestigious National Guernsey Convention Sale.

Each year, Springhill awaits to showcase their golden lineup at WDE, whether on the shavings of the coliseum floor or in the barn. Each time they have the same goal: to present Springhill and the Guernsey breed to the very best of their ability.

“If during Madison week we can sway one person to take a second look at the Springhill string and become engaged with what the Guernsey breed has to offer,” says Lang, “then it’s mission accomplished.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Springhill, located in scenic Holmes County, has been raising purebred Guernseys for generations and boasts numerous homebred national champions.

PHOTO 2: From left to right: Bethany Trotter, employee Danny Pszenitzki, Jazzy, Chris Lang and Rachel Nance are pictured with Springhill’s first class winner, Springhill Mentor Jazzy-ET, as a fall heifer. Photos courtesy of Springhill Farm.

Krymowski was a 2017 editorial intern.

Jaclyn Krymowski
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