From childhood dream to outstanding young breeder

LITTLE MEADOWS, Pa. — Turning up the drive with a peek around the west side of the red barn came the feeling of being transported to a Swiss hillside — under clouds heavy with the promise of much needed, but unrealized, rain.

Just past the sign for the hamlet of Little Meadows, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, are the little meadows of A Joy Swiss, where Abbie (Kuhlman) Evans and her husband Andrew Evans milk a small herd of up-and-coming registered Brown Swiss on a rented farm.

Having talked with the young couple at the Mid-Atlantic Brown Swiss Invitational in Frederick, Maryland — where they were named Premier Breeder for the third time a few weeks earlier — this visit was especially appropriate.

Abbie and Andrew Evans pictured with A Joy Braid Crown Royal OCS 3E94. Crown is the cow that put A Joy on the map with a 30,000-pound record and four All-American nominations, including honorable mention as a junior-three. She goes back to the one-month-old 4-H calf Abbie, then 11, purchased in 2000 from Towpath Farms that became a foundation family for A Joy Swiss, awarded 2022 Outstanding Young Breeder at the National Brown Swiss Convention in June.

A week earlier in June, Abbie and Andrew and Abbie’s sister Michala (Kuhlman) Forrest were named 2022 Outstanding Young Breeder at the National Brown Swiss Convention in Colorado for the accomplishments of A Joy Swiss and Kuhl Kows. While busy clipping cows for the Mid-Atlantic Show, Abbie pulled up the convention livestream on her phone to watch. She recalls the flood of emotions hearing their bio being read and their names announced.

“We were surprised, and it was exciting. We were nominated and filled out the application, but didn’t know we were chosen,” she reflects.

The Evanses have been renting this farm on the Pennsylvania / New York line since 2019, when they were recognized as a Dairy of Distinction, later receiving the American Dairy Association Northeast Dairy for Tomorrow.

They milk 42 cows in 42 tiestalls and had previously milked 20 at another rented farm. They raise their own calves, and keep some of their replacements at another farm.

With 16 acres of pasture and 29 acres of hay ground, they buy forage from other nearby farmers, who are particular about quality, and they feed a custom mixed grain from the local feed mill. Their own grass is baled dry hay, and they purchase baleage and more recently some corn silage.

They feed the milking herd the old fashioned way.

“It’s labor intensive,” says Andrew, explaining the routine: For their evening chores, he will sweep up and then give grain. When they eat that, he’ll put down corn silage, just 13 pounds. When they eat that, he’ll put out the dry hay. When they are done milking, the cows go out to pasture overnight where he’ll put supplemental baleage. In the morning, the cows come in with dry hay, followed by grain, and when they are done milking, Andrew will clean the mangers and put down baleage.

“Since we have started that one feeding of corn silage, components have come up and milk per cow also,” Andrew notes.

In addition to doubling the herd size in the past seven years, the Evanses also increased their rolling herd average almost 25% with a current RHA of 18,600M 4.2F 3.4P in a herd that is over 50% first and second lactation. They produce high quality milk with somatic cell counts averaging below 100,000 and recent tests as low as 73,000.

“When we started, I used to get excited when a cow made a 20,000-pound record,” Abbie reflects. “We have had a handful now that have made over 30,000-pound records.”

They have 12 Excellent cows in the herd today, including one at 94 points and three at 93. When animals that have been sold or have passed on are included, A Joy Swiss has bred over 30 EX Brown Swiss.

Grazing in a group are some of A Joy’s Excellent dry cows Peach 3E91, Witchita 3E93, Shiver 4E92 and the lone Ayrshire Sunny Acres CA Ginger 2E94.

Abbie and Andrew operate the farm and make all of the breeding and management decisions. Michala is an agriculture teacher at Northern Bradford. She still owns a few cattle in the herd and pitches in where she can.

Continually raising the bar, they have implemented more genomic testing of females to selectively mate for type and production with a goal of breeding for bull mothers. Abbie explains that when she and Michala first started out, they used only proven type bulls and looked to established breeders for guidance. 

“Later, we began using young sires from good, solid cow families with type and production,” she relates. “We also use a variety of proven bulls that have made the kind we like — strong and balanced with good udders and feet and legs.”

Today, Abbie and Andrew look more closely at DPR, milk and UDC — wanting “long lasting cattle that pay bills.” They make individual mating decisions and constantly evaluate the sire inventory in the tank. 

More recently, they have used two homebred bulls on some of their replacements and expect to start collecting one.

They also market their genetics, had two tag sales in the past two years to reduce numbers, and have provided animals for national sales. Four junior exhibitors lease six animals for the showring, and they’ve shared the Brown Swiss passion already with nephews Blake, 7, and Dawson, 4, who spend three days a week at the farm and are happy participants in the care of the cattle.

“I’ve always liked working with Brown Swiss,” says Andrew, fitting cattle for other breeders and exhibitors. Having grown up milking his family’s Sunny Acres Ayrshires in Georgetown, New York, Andrew still has Sunny Acres CA Ginger at the farm as a dry flush cow and another milking in the barn, but he says he has always had a few Swiss of his own, the first being a cow he purchased as a calf at the New York Spring Show. A handful go back to her.

He and Abbie are longtime customers of Udder Comfort, as an essential product for fresh cows at home and show cows on the road. (In fact, Andrew’s father Dr. Doug Evans was one of the first loyal customers to use Udder Comfort when it first became available for his own Sunny Acres Ayrshires and other herds he worked with as a veterinarian.)

“We love Udder Comfort. We use it on all of our fresh cows and any cow with any sign of a mastitis issue. It’s extremely rare that we have to treat a cow for mastitis,” Andrew reports. “This product works better than anything else. It quickly removes edema for that quality udder, helping cows reach their potential with high quality milk.”

Abbie agrees. “We also use it a lot when we are showing — before, during, and after a show,” she explains.

You could say it was the cows that brought Abbie and Andrew together. They would see each other at shows, and then Abbie became friends with Andrew’s sister Rachel while attending SUNY Cobleskill. It was fate.

Today they manage the prolific herd together, and are definitely spreading its influence. A Joy Swiss will register the 200th calf with the birth of the next heifer, excluding partnership cattle.

But this first-generation herd’s story really began when Abbie was just 10 years old and purchased her first show calf — a Brown Swiss from the Daubert family of McElhattan, Pennsylvania. Her mother Connie Kuhlman recalls that calf was all Abbie wanted.

While Abbie doesn’t remember why she was drawn to the breed, she knows her first calf — Victory Acres Naughty – led her to love them.

“Brown Swiss are so easy going,” Abbie observes. “They are a good breed for juniors, and now that we are milking our own herd, when you look at components, I’m even happier with this choice.”

Abbie and Andrew can’t wait for nephews Blake, 7, and Dawson, 4, to be old enough to ‘legally’ show. Already they are a big help around cows and calves.

Andrew notes the Brown Swiss are “fairly low maintenance, and the salability of the calves and offspring is going nuts right now.”

“If they are well put together with a decent pedigree, they sell well,” Abbie reports. “This has saved us (as young and beginning farmers) to get through the last several years in the dairy business.”

In the herd today, there are descendants of Abbie’s first calf purchase, “Naughty” in 1999. This includes three that did well at the Mid-Atlantic Brown Swiss Invitational recently: Summer yearling A Joy W Nike (left) was Junior Champion of the Junior Show for Brooke Calkins. Her dam A Joy C Nissan 3E91 (right) was second place 5-year-old in the open show, and granddam A Joy Braid Neon (center), at age 9, also 3E91 with over 110,000 lifetime, was Component Merit cow.

At the Cortland Classic the following week, Nike repeated as Junior Champion of the Junior Show. She and a few others will see the New York State Fair later this summer and the All-American and World Dairy Expo this fall.

Abbie’s second calf purchase in 2000 solidified her passion for Brown Swiss and led to the foundation C-family with the largest number of descendants in the herd including their highest achieving A Joy Braid Crown Royal OCS. At just shy of 8 years of age, Crown has a 30,000-pound record, has produced over 116,000 pounds lifetime, and was nominated All-American four times, including the year she was honorable mention as a junior-three after winning at Harrisburg and standing fourth at Madison.

A Joy Braid Crown Royal OCS

Classified EX-94, Crown puts Abbie closer to one of her childhood dreams — to someday breed a 95-point Brown Swiss cow.

Crown is the jewel that put A Joy on the map and hails five generations from Towpath Star Cara 3E90. Abbie purchased Cara as a baby calf from the Demay family of Towpath Farms, Palmyra, New York. In fact, the Demays nominated A Joy for the 2022 national young breeder award.

“Cara was the first Excellent cow we ever had,” says Abbie. “Her first daughter A Joy Jetway Clover was our first bred and owned Excellent cow, and she was Crown’s great, great granddam.”

Other prominent cow families are the W’s, including Witchita 3E93 with a record over 35,000 pounds, the S’s and the ‘snows,’ including Shiver 4E92 with records of her own.

Nearly 80% of the herd can be traced back to the first four Brown Swiss calves young Abbie and Michala acquired in 1999 through 2003. In recent years, they combined their separate ‘childhood’ prefixes AJK and Kuhl Kows and now register fully under the A Joy prefix.

Raised by parents who both came from Holstein farms with a passion for agriculture and the dairy industry, their father left his family’s dairy farming partnership in Bradford County when Abbie was very young, so the girls were not raised on a dairy farm but grew up surrounded by the industry.

With the merged prefix today a play on Abbie’s name, first initial A, middle name Joy — but also a description of her feelings for these big brown calm and curious cows — the path has had its twists and turns, but Abbie says:

“I don’t quit things. That’s why we are doing this and will continue to do this, until we can’t.”

Abbie Evans says it takes a team, and this is her team at the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Brown Swiss Show in June (l-r) Connie Kuhlman, Dylan Klossner, Brooke Calkins, Andrew and Abbie Evans, Kassi Bailey, Jodi Calkins, and Beth Dahl.

In those early years, she shuffled animals, placing them wherever she could as she grew the herd while she was growing up, herself, always keeping front-and-center her dream of milking her own herd someday.

“It’s hard for young people to get in,” Abbie says. “If you are going to jump into dairy, you’ve got to have something else, not just the milk check.”

Nephew Blake with ‘Madison’, the pup they got the year World Dairy Expo was canceled (2020).

At A Joy Swiss, the ‘something else’ includes fitting, showing and selling animals as well as getting a Pennsylvania Raw Milk Permit a year ago. This involved a lot of paperwork and inspections, and they sample for testing every day that they jug — separately from the tank and test that goes to their cooperative.

The raw milk sales, along with feeding whole milk to calves, help them manage the base program as they improve their small herd. They have purchased some extra base as DFA members, but penalties are still incurred when shipping more than 93% of base. They appreciate having a consistent market with DFA, and at least these penalties now are less severe and not imposed at 85% of base like when milk was long.

Abbie notes that most raw milk customers are local, wanting to support local farms, and a few will drive 30 minutes for their milk. These interactions give her a platform to talk about dairy farming and cow care, to share the passion and the big brown cows with the public.

“The biggest questions we get are people wanting to know if we are organic or if the milk is A2,” Abbie reports, noting they have not started testing for the A2 genetics yet.

“People also want to know if they are grass-fed. I say, indirectly, and point it out: ‘See that big round thing out there, it’s rolled up grass,’” adds Andrew. Of course, the cows also get out on pasture at night, weather permitting.

A Joy Swiss has received grants from the Center for Dairy Excellence for things like the tunnel ventilation fans.

Each year, the Evanses do something new in production, the showring, or the farming operation. Their dream now is to one day have a bedded pack barn with a robot or a step-up parlor, if they can buy a farm or build on a parent’s farm.

There’s already a crew of younger family members getting bit by the Brown Swiss bug. A visit to A Joy Swiss would not be complete without seeing nephew Blake bring out his cow to show. Not to be outdone, little brother Dawson promptly walks into the barn to halter-up a herdmate.

Yes, it is labor intensive in the current setup, but they love working with their contented cows. The enjoyment, they say, finishing each other’s sentence “is to come out here and see 23-years-worth of hard work ready to milk, to see how far they’ve come from the start to now.”

By Sherry Bunting, portions appeared previously in Farmshine, July 15, 2022

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