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0708 PD: Dairying to dream

Kara Keeton Published on 25 April 2008

Carl and Debra Chaney of Bowling Green, Kentucky, spent the first 20 years of their lives together focusing on raising children, milking cows and running the family farm, but as their kids began moving away Debra and Carl began talking about their dreams.

“We were so tired of taking what we were given for milk prices, we were struggling and just worn out,” explained Debra. “We decided to have an Internet sale and sell half the herd to see what would happen.”

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The sale was a huge success. Suddenly, for the first time in their lives the Chaneys had a sense of financial security that gave them the courage to begin seriously doing research into bottling their own milk and other possibilities to diversify their farming operation.

Chaney’s Dairy Barn is born
After visiting a farm that sold ice cream, the Chaneys realized this might be a niche for their dairy. Carl took an intensive course in ice cream production at Penn State, and the pieces began to fall in place for their new endeavor, Chaney’s Dairy Barn.

“We took the leap in June of 2003 and started building the barn, based on a picture we found in an old farm journal,” explained Carl. “Once it began to take shape everything else came together.”

The barn was finished in early fall, and the Chaneys opened the doors on September 30, 2003. They offered their customers a selection of sandwiches and soups, along with their homemade ice cream. Plus, they had a gift shop in the building that focused on Kentucky products.

This first year was successful for the Chaneys, but they never imagined how quickly their small operation would grow.

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“In our first year, 2004, we made 6,500 gallons of ice cream, and this past year we made 11,000 gallons of ice cream,” said Carl. “Since we also cook all the meals in the kitchen, we now have someone there at 4:00 am – usually Debra – making the ice cream until the kitchen help arrives to begin cooking for the day.”

Just last year the Chaneys estimate that over 150,000 people visited their dairy. Along with the daily visitors, the Chaneys also give educational tours on the farm to groups, showing kids where milk comes from and giving them a taste of farm life. The small ice cream parlor and shop has grown into one of Kentucky’s most successful agritourism destinations.

Facing the challenges
After four years of nurturing and growing Chaney’s Dairy Barn, Carl and Debra realized that it might be in their best interest to take a hard look at the growth of the business and evaluate several of the challenges they were facing. That is when they turned to the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD).

“We quickly realized how much time and energy Carl and Debra put into the business,” says KCARD Executive Director Larry Snell. “We wanted to provide them with the ability to understand their business better and figure out how they can work smarter with all of their efforts.”

The center began with an intensive analysis of the Chaneys’ operation. The staff focused on a financial analysis of the 2007 year, which has given the Chaneys a great management tool that shows where they are making money and where they are losing it.

It was not just a financial analysis; it was also an efficiency analysis. The center interviewed customers, employees and family to help gain a better understanding of the day-to-day operations and market potential for the operation.

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“Rich (Laing) actually came to the barn at 4 o’clock in the morning to video us making ice cream,” Debra says. “We then reviewed the tape to look at inefficiencies in our process, and he made suggestions on ways we can improve production.”

The Chaneys are now working with the center, utilizing all the information to do strategic planning for their operation. Their focus is on structured growth in the business along with their goal of having more personal time and time to spend with their family.

“We always did a plan every year,” explained Carl, “but I think with the analysis and continuing assistance from KCARD we will do a better job in the future to meet our business and personal goals.”

Continuing to dream
“We still have dreams to bottle our milk,” explained Debra, “but our number one priority is to continue to provide a fun and educational experience for families.”

This summer Chaney’s Dairy Barn will once again be an agritourism destination for all ages. The Chaneys plan to offer an array of activities including their outdoor Moo-vie on the side of the barn, live musical performances, Kentucky Proud Day in May and the annual June Barn Fair celebrating Dairy Month.

“We want it to stay a local, family operation,” said Debra. “The support of our family and friends has made this dream possible, and we want to do what we can to support our community in return.” PD

Kara Keeton
Communications Consultant
Keeton Communications

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