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Till the Cows Come Home

July 1, 2020

By Linda Halley

Origin: A longstanding colloquial expression found in print as early as 1593. Exact origin unknown.

Meaning: A long, but indefinite time.

Explanation: Cows are notoriously languid creatures and make their way home at their own unhurried pace.

Milestone: After 30 years, the cows came home to Gwenyn Hill.

There stands an arched barn, nestled in the valley on Bryn Drive. No one, descending from the east or west, can fail to notice it, straight-ridged and dairy white. Once a hub of activity on the fifth generation Williams’s dairy farm, it remained empty since 1989. Jeremiah Williams sold the herd, cleaned the gutters and closed the doors. Little else changed until June of 2020. On the 12th of the month the cows came home.

Ryan Heinen, Gwenyn Hill’s Land and Livestock Manager, oversaw the transformation of the barn’s lower level from stanchions to a modern parlor. For most of the winter, contractors hustled to move out the old and install the new. Now, twice a day, a herd of 70 files into the barn, each cow taking her turn, twelve at a time. It’s an orderly affair. Single file, the bold leaders go in first, the timid ones take up the rear.  Ryan selected an organic herd of crossbreds with Jersey, Holstein, and Norwegian Red genetics. They are small in stature, docile, and with the butterfat-to-protein ratio best for cheese. On odd days of the month, a big silver truck hauls the milk to small plants on the eastern side of the state. Currently they are making it into organic provolone and cheddar.

When the Welsh farmers settled in these hills they pastured sheep and milked cows. It’s what a farm like Gwenyn Hill is made for. So, too, was the original plan for Gwenyn Hill in 2017; bring back the dairy and a flock of sheep. It is common knowledge that dairy farmers have been struggling here in Wisconsin. The possibility of a Gwenyn Hill dairy farm seemed unlikely in 2017 and less likely as the months went by. But patience won the day. Demand for organic cheese is slowly rising and, fortunately, the family-scale, organic dairy industry still exists in our state. While many corporate buyers of milk have transitioned to purchasing from only the largest farms, Westby Co-op Creamery is still committed to, and comprised mostly of, small farmer members, many of whom are certified organic. It is our belief that a diverse foundation of grazing livestock that includes sheep, dairy cows, and beef cattle will provide a strong foundation for this farm long into the future.

Linda Halley is the General Manager of Gwenyn Hill Farm and was blessed to grow up with beef cows and orphan lambs.

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