Picture Book Setting – Modern Day Storytelling!

Featured in our Summer 2019 Issue was Lucky Hill Jerseys from Danville, VT, written by Kathleen O’Keefe.

Milking isn’t just business when the kids help in the parlor!

Take a little trip on Google Images and search for ‘Vermont Farm’. You’ll see column after column of pictures of red barns tucked into rolling green hills. Every photo seems prettier than the one before. It’s no different with Lucky Hill Farm located in Danville, VT. Granted the red barn may be a little bigger than many of the others, but the breathtaking landscape is the same. The story of the McReynolds family is also similar to many rural New England histories – a small family homestead that grew into a larger, efficient farm. Their dedication to telling the family side of the story on a modern dairy helps build bonds with consumers that will lead to future success.

Currently owned and operated by Henry and Jenn McReynolds, the family’s Vermont story began in 1919 when Henry’s great grandparents purchased the farm and moved south from Quebec. Over the decades, the farm was home to all of the major breeds, primarily Holsteins. In the 1970’s, Henry’s parents, Everett and Martha, took over the farm and began switching to Jerseys – Martha grew up with the breed on a farm in Quebec – and by 1981, the herd was all Registered Jerseys. The farm is home to the 3rd (Everett & Martha), 4th (Henry & Jenn), and 5th generations (Luke-15, Andy-13, Abby-11, Nick-10) of McReynolds.

“Even with depresses milk prices, the number of Registered Jerseys Keeps growing. One would think as a farm gets larger, their desire or need for that registration paper would be less, and the registered cow would go by the wayside. but we aren’t seeing that with the Jerseys. Producers seem to see the value in registering and in knowing the pedigree of the animal.” -Jenn McReynolds

The farm has undergone significant growth over the past 20 years. A new 160-stall freestall barn was built in 1999, and a later 52-stall addition and new double-12 parallel parlor allowed them to attain their current herd size of 188 cows. Henry and Jenn have been managing the farm day-to-day since 2009 and took over ownership in 2017. It’s a real family affair organizing the labor on the farm: Henry tackles the field work, feeding, general barn chores, and both milking. Jenn milks nights and weekends, handles the bookkeeping/record keeping, and does the matings and breeding, and oversees the calf raising with the help of the kids. Brother-in-law, Jeff, helps with the morning milking and with field work. All of the kids as well as Everett help with the general barn chores and field work. They farm 610 acres of which about 300 are open/crop acres (and rent an additional 40 acres to crop). About 150 acres are put to raising corn silage and the rest is grass for silage.

When you visit the Lucky Hill Facebook page, it’s evident that Jenn believes in sharing that family farm story along with sharing their love for the Jersey breed. The page is full of photos of Jersey calves, scenic views of the farm, the family at work milking, feeding, cropping, etc. The information accompanying the photos gives the calf’s name or explains what is happening in the picture – using a modern medium to tell the story of day-to-day life on a modern family farm, and showing their love for their animals and their work.

The McReynolds are true believers in the Jersey breed. “They are such efficient producers of components leading to a higher value per cwt of milk’, states Jenn. “They have advantages in maturing faster, fewer calving problems, and greater fertility which all lead to an economic benefit, along with their smaller carbon footprint.”

The breeding goals have remained pretty much the same for the primarily homebred herd since Henry and Jenn took over the breeding in 2000. “We want to breed high producing / high solids cows with trouble-free udders that last. When choosing bulls, fat and protein percentages and pounds of milk are the first things we look at. Those components are very important to us (our tank runs between 5.3-5.5% butterfat and 3.7-3.8% protein).” The RHA for the Lucky Hill herd is 17,744M 924F 676P, and the herd averages close to 4 years of age.

After production, type traits also matter in sire selection, according to Jenn. “We also place a lot of weight on udders. High, wide rear udders with strong attachments are what we want…those cows produce and last!” Their breeding program has evolved with the use of polled bulls and creating polled female lines in the herd, as well as paying some attention to and choosing bulls that carry the A2/A2 trait.

They have marketed some high JGPI females, and recently had a Lucky Hill bull enter the active lineup at Semex. JX Lucky Hill Whambam {5}-ET is +1446M +78F +59P +1.9T with a GJUI of +18.3 and a GJPI of +183. A Harris son out of Lucky-Hill Ballistic Winnie VG-85%, Whambam hails from their ‘W’ family and is backed by four generations of VG dams.

“Genomics is a tool that we added to our ‘breeding kit’ quite a few years ago now. Every heifer calf is tested at birth. When we first started genomic testing, we tested a few of our best cows and found some big increases over parent average. That’s when we found our ‘W’ and Ph’ families”, explains Jenn.

They consign some of their best to high-profile sales like the All-American and the National Heifer Sale. In 2017, they consigned the third high seller at the All-American Sale, JX Lucky Hill Wildflower {6}-ET, sold to Vierra Dairy Farms for $24,700. She’s still on the top 1.5% list at +174 GJPI +21.1JUI +1.9T. In all, there are currently 24 Lucky Hill heifers on that breed leading list. “We have had private buyers for some top animals that contact us because they saw the heifer on a top GJPI list,” notes Jenn. They also snare inquiries from people that have seen the farm Facebook page.

They haven’t been blind to the farms of all sizes exiting the business, but feel fairly confident in their farm’s ability to survive and to see the 5th generation take over. Jenn remains optimistic about the Registered Jersey business as well, “Even with depressed milk prices, the number of Registered Jerseys keeps growing. One would think that as farms get larger, their desire or need for that registration paper would be less, and the registered cow would go by the wayside, but we aren’t seeing that with Jerseys. Producers seem to see the value in registering and in knowing the pedigree of the animal.”

That’s a positive note for a family farm that has been in existence for 100 years. They haven’t been afraid of changing, growing, and adapting new technologies — here’s to another 100 years of success for Lucky Hill!