Family dairy farm finds success through innovation
On-site ice cream shop helps Chaney’s Dairy connect with the community
It all started in 1940, when Carl Chaney’s father started milking two Jersey dairy cows by hand on his family farm in Bowling Green, Kentucky, establishing the foundation of Chaney’s Dairy. The Chaney family has been embracing innovation and change to ensure the continued success of their operation ever since.
Carl’s family is still milking Jersey cows today, nearly 80 years later., However, Carl’s ancestors might be surprised to see some of the changes, including the thousands of people who flock to the farm now to get a tasty treat at Chaney’s Dairy Barn, which first opened in 2003.
Despite low milk prices in the early 2000s, Carl and his wife, Debra, saw an opportunity for diversification and took a risk by opening the Dairy Barn, an on-site ice cream shop. That risk has been reaping rewards for nearly 20 years, and Chaney’s Dairy Barn currently goes through 1,200 gallons of ice cream a week.
The Chaneys are humbled by the support from the community and the burgeoning interest in what once seemed like a crazy idea — and yet, the popularity of the Dairy Barn is not especially surprising.
“Ice cream makes our world go round,” Carl says.
Tours give visitors a peek at life on the dairy farm
The Chaneys’ farm has more to offer than just ice cream. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the dairy barn, where they can watch and learn about how cows get milked.
“They get to see what real agriculture is all about,” says Carl.
In 2019, 15,000 people walked through Chaneys’ dairy barn. Carl and his family see this as a critical component to educating the average person about the dairy industry and food production in general, as many people no longer have a direct connection to agriculture.
“It is always about education and making the connection,” says Carl. “Connecting with the consumer is what we’re continually trying to do.” The success of the Chaneys’ dairy operation is especially notable when considered in the context of the dairy industry at large. In 2001, Kentucky was home to 2,900 dairy farms — but by February 2022, that number had dwindled to 398. The Chaneys, however, continue to break the mold. In 2016, they installed their first Lely A4 robotic milking system, and they subsequently founded the J.R. Chaney Bottling Co. in 2017. Now, Chaney’s is processing its own milk, which is sold in multiple locations throughout Kentucky.
Reaching the next generation of dairy shoppers
The Chaneys are especially excited about the availability of their milk because there has been a dramatic change in the way people consume dairy in recent years. While the consumption of some dairy products, like cheese and butter, is currently on the rise, the way people drink milk has transformed.
“We are losing ‘long’ milk drinkers because of the change in young children’s habits,” says Elizabeth Lunsford, Carl’s daughter and the fifth generation of her family to work on the dairy farm. “Some of that is based on changes in school milk and quality and the introduction of so many alternative beverages.”
Elizabeth and Carl have both seen children who say they don’t like milk light up at the first taste of milk from Chaney’s Dairy.
“Cow comfort and milk quality are our specialty,” Carl says.
The Chaney family intends to continue introducing quality dairy products to people who visit their farm and, in the process, play a role in building demand for dairy in the next generation of shoppers.
Being successful in the dairy business requires resilience, and the Chaney family’s dairy operation is thriving thanks to their willingness to embrace change. They continue to find new ways to connect people with agriculture, whether that’s by hosting movie nights with films projected on the side of the barn or welcoming thousands of students in school groups every year. When it comes down to it, though, the Chaneys contribute their continued success to the stars of the show: their cows, who they value above all else — and it shows.
“We truly do have some of the happiest cows in the state of Kentucky,” says Carl.
Want to visit Chaney’s Dairy Barn? Check them out here: Home | Chaney's Dairy Barn (chaneysdairybarn.com)