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Young Kentucky producers see variety of dairies in Tennessee

Sherry Bunting Published on 03 August 2015

cows in a barn

At nearly 7 million pounds of milk per month, Loudon County is the largest dairy-producing county in Tennessee. Neighboring Greene County has the largest number of individual dairy herds, producing one-third that amount of milk, according to Julie Walker of Agri-Voice, Knoxville.



Together, these east Tennessee counties represent the largest pocket of dairy production in the state. Walker served as tour guide between stops. She helped set up visits for the Kentucky Dairy Development Council (KDDC) Young Dairy Producers June tour to neighboring Tennessee.

See more photos in this slideshow.

The variety of Tennessee dairy facility and management styles were key highlights for 35 tour-goers from Kentucky who visited six dairies along with a stop at the University of Tennessee dairy at the Little River Animal and Environmental Unit in Walland, the Consolidated Lab Services in Knoxville and the Borden milk plant on the Kentucky side of the border, where attendees boarded the bus in London.

KDDC attendees“Farmers are unique, and the farms we visited offered good variety and a focus on cow comfort and managing heat stress,” observed Dr. Jeffrey Bewley from the University of Kentucky. He was most impressed with their optimism. “The farmers we visited were all pretty positive, and while they clearly like the lifestyle of dairy farming, they also focused on developing the business.”

The KDDC Young Dairy Producers Tour was planned with diversity and progress in mind. From nutrition to ventilation to supplies to designing and building facilities for cow comfort, Tennessee’s Ag Central Co-op and other sponsors provided hospitality and innovative insights throughout the three-day tour, which KDDC’s Eunice Schlappi kept organized.


dairy fans

Tour stops were mostly in and around what is known as the Sweetwater Valley with its fertile soils between western North Carolina and the Cumberland Plateau of the Great Smoky Mountains in proximity to the Sweetwater Creek and stretching from Knoxville to Chattanooga.

On the first evening, a catered meal with a bluegrass band at John Harrison’s Sweetwater Valley Farm, Philadelphia, Tennessee, was a highlight after first touring the dairy and stocking up on cheese at the store. Sweetwater Valley Farm makes gourmet cheddar cheeses and has launched its agritourism with the “UdderStory” exhibit and event barn at the front of the property next to the cheese plant and store.

Beaty family

While John has expanded his herd to 1,256 milking cows with a satellite dairy 20 miles away and a cheesemaking venture at the main farm, his brother Steve has expanded Harrison Dairy, Loudon, to 1,300 cows with a satellite dairy an hour’s drive into Georgia and also has a milk transportation company.

It was interesting for the Kentucky tour-goers to see how two brothers have both progressively developed and expanded their dairy farm businesses with the next generation in mind – but have taken different pathways to achieve it.


A stop at Chilhowee Dairy, Benton, revealed Dr. Terry Bishop’s low-input grass forage-based certified organic dairy management style within the context of also being Tennessee’s first robotic dairy. Bishop, a veterinarian with a nearby small-animal practice, observes there was a lot to learn with robotic milking, which began with guided milking.

Sweetwater Valley Farm sign“The cows love it, and I can’t think of a better way to milk for the cows,” he said of the change to robotic milking in November, resulting in an average 2.8 milkings per cow per day and a 9-pounds-per-cow-per-day increase in production for his 240 milking Jerseys.

Cows come in from grazing the native pastures to milk. The system of gates allows them back out once they’ve been through the robot, which determines their milk-readiness. Bishop says his fresh cows milk much more frequently, which is a real plus for udder health. Somatic cell counts dropped below 200,000, and milk quality has improved, he said.

At Beatyview Holsteins, the KDDC tour-goers met three generations of the Beaty family involved in the 550-acre, 200-cow registered Holstein farm, where they market milk, breeding stock, and sell steers for beef. They use high-type proven bulls and have four cows classifying EX-94. They milk year-round but do most of their freshening in September for a somewhat seasonal element that coincides with milk demand and the weather.

Borden milk plant

At the Borden milk plant in London, Kentucky, producers saw many of the Dean, Grupo Lala, DFA and private-label fluid and soft product labels produced there, and they observed how many types of chocolate milk are made according to a variety of recipes from low-lactose, low-fat to rich and creamy whole-milk varieties.

Ingredients and packaging supplies come daily to fulfill the scores of recipes and packaging preferences unique to the various labels. The London plant distributes to nine states and processes 1 million gallons of milk weekly – especially during the school year. They also make ice cream mixes for a variety of outlets, including Dairy Queen. PD

Sherry Bunting is a freelance writer based in East Earl, Pennsylvania.

PHOTO 1: Dairy barn on the KDDC Young Producers Tour.

PHOTO 2: Variety was the high point of the KDDC Young Dairy Producers Tour to Tennessee, according to attendees. They enjoy visiting and picking up new ideas. The full agenda spanned conventional and organic, parlor and robotic, registered cattle and commercial, both individual calf housing and group housing as well as dairies relying on either tunnel or naturally ventilated barns for cow comfort.

PHOTO 3: Everything freshens at the home farm, a century farm for the Harrison family. Steve owns and manages Harrison Dairy Inc. which has two locations. The satellite has only milk cows, while the main farm is home to dry cows, youngstock and this bedded-pack transition barn.

PHOTO 4: Three generations of the Beaty family are involved with the dairy and crops at Beatyview Holsteins, McDonald, Tennessee.

PHOTO 5: Sweetwater Valley Farm hosts thousands of visitors annually. In addition to making and selling award-winning gourmet cheddar cheeses, the farm is home to East Tennessee’s Premier Educational Dairy Exhibit, “The UdderStory: Dairy farming – milking the past and moooooving forward.”

PHOTO 6: Some of the producers finished their tour of the Borden plant in time to taste the delicious whole-milk chocolate milk. Photos courtesy of Sherry Bunting.