This article was featured in our 2019 Summer issue and is written by Lynnette Wright.
“The Guernsey cow has been really good to Bonnie and me, in lots and lots of ways. We always liked the cow and we like the people, we like the social part of the Guernsey fraternity,” proclaimed John Ayars as he reflected on his family’s life with the Guernsey cow.
A golden chapter is coming to a close for John and Bonnie Ayars and their son Lucas, of Land of Living Farm in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. Land of Living Farm has been home to over 20 National Champions and numerous All-Americans over the last five decades. On June 3rd the farm will play host to the 2019 World Guernsey Conference Sale & Ayars Guernsey Dispersal.
The sale will feature 60 head of Land of Living Farm Guernseys and 20 consignments from some of the top herds in the Midwest. Several factors went into the Ayars’ decision to disperse their herd. The main reason is the weak dairy economy with little hope for much improvement soon. Lucas Ayars has taken over day to day operation of the herd, and while he loves the cows, it’s a lot of long hours away from his family, for no financial reward right now.
“I always liked to make deals; I didn’t win on all my deals! But I did a lot of dealing; one by one we would buy some more land, and buy some more cows. I love to buy and sell, trade and dicker and take all these gambles and risks to make the next deal,” John exclaimed. However, “Lucas doesn’t want to do all that. He just wants to milk cows,” his father says, but sadly, just milking cows on a small dairy won’t pay all the bills in today’s economy.
Additionally, the World Guernsey Conference, which takes place every three years, is coming to the US, and the demand for Guernseys in North America right now is high. Therefore it seemed like the right time to have an auction. “Guernseys are running as hot now compared to any other breed as they ever have. Partially due to the scarcity of them, and partly due to A2 milk,” proclaimed John. The Ayars’ have tested their herd for the A2 milk protein and almost 90% were A2A2. Many of the consignment lots are A2A2 as well. Studies suggest that milk from A2A2 cows is easier to digest than milk with the A1 protein, which most cows produce.
A highlight of the sale is that any national Guernsey junior member will get 10% off on any purchase they make that day. The Ayars enjoying giving back, donating time and money to many causes. Teaching and mentoring youth have always been important to the Ayars family. John and Bonnie both have worked as teachers, as did John’s mother before them. Bonnie is in her 47th year of teaching, now at The Ohio State University, where she also serves as the dairy judging team coach. Bonnie states “I cannot think of a time when youth and students were not a part of my life. I have said it so often but I will say it once more….my students and work with kids has defined my life and at times, saved my life.”
Land of Living Farm was established in Ohio by John’s parents in the 1940s. They moved there from Kansas after the Dust Bowl, with dreams of starting a farm. They raised a wide variety of livestock from sheep to pigs to beef cows, and of course Guernseys. In the 1960s John and his brother took over the farm, renting it from their father. They sold everything but the Guernseys and ran it as a dairy. When John and Bonnie got married he soon stopped teaching and she soon started teaching! John stopped farming with his brother, and he and Bonnie continued Land of Living Farm together. They raised three boys on the farm, Eli, Austin, and Lucas. Austin, unfortunately, passed away a few years ago in a farm accident. Eli currently works on the farm, and Lucas plans to stay on the farm after the sale and focus on their ice cream and cheese business, Ayars Family Farm.
Even after the sale, there will still be cows at Land of Living Farm. It will be more of a hobby farm in the future instead of a commercial dairy. They still own several Brown Swiss in partnership with Kenny Manion, including the 2018 Reserve All-American Winter Calf, New-View C Bravo, that was recently Junior Champion at the Ohio Spring Dairy Expo. John also spoke of a Jersey cow he thinks has potential. “I’ll play with any breed! Needless to say, I like to work with cattle, I like to go to shows and I like to win! I may not ever win again, but I’ll be alright!” John laughed.
Furthermore, John and Bonnie have several grandkids that will need show calves! John noted, “Bonnie will not let those kids pass through life without having a 4-H project and those calves will probably be Guernseys.”
When asked which Guernsey he had owned was his favorite to work with, John mentioned several names. From Jenny to Grace, to Captain Betsy, to many Guernsey fans’ favorite, Lavon Farms Turn Point Layla EX-94. “When Layla was on, no one was going to touch her! But that happened to be the same damn year I judged Madison! How in the heck could that happen?” John recounted. “She was Grand at Harrisburg and Louisville that year and was quite a cow in her own right… I’ve had some exceptional cows, there are more I could talk about. I’ve walked the dog and had so much fun; I mean I’ve had a ridiculously good time. Bonnie and I love it to death, we love the people, and we’ve had so much fun, but we just need to dial it back now.”
“Bonnie and I get up every morning and are able to do all the things we want to do, and feel good about it. We are just so lucky in so many ways! I stay away from the negatives; I don’t need to dwell on the negatives. We all have them and you’ve just got to take them on. We should not let those things define the rest of our lives entirely,” John expressed. “Don’t let those negatives totally affect the rest of your life.”