Hartford’s Guernsey Farm

This story is from the June issue of Lancaster Farming. Dana

HARTFORD, N.Y. — Wayne Foote kept getting asked the same question for several years after buying his farm.

“How come you don’t have any cows?” his neighbors would ask.

Foote always answered the same way.

“I haven’t lost my mind yet.”

Today, he and his wife, Betsy, have a 57-head herd of Guernseys on their dairy farm in Washington County, New York.

The Footes and their adult children — Wayne Jr., Mary and Suzanne — are chairing the National Guernsey Convention scheduled for June 26-July 1 in Saratoga Springs.

More than 350 people from throughout the U.S. are expected at the convention, based in neighboring Saratoga County, where Wayne Sr. and Betsy are from.

Both grew up surrounded by Guernseys at Welcome Stock Farm, owned by Betsy Foote’s father, Bill Peck, who is renowned in the dairy industry for his work with genetics. Wayne Foote Sr. worked there and eventually married Betsy.

The couple bought their current farm in Hartford, Washington County.

While Welcome Stock Farm has a large Holstein herd numbering in the hundreds, the Footes have stayed true to their dairy roots. Wayne Foote Sr. is president of the New York Guernsey Breeders Association.

Things got started when his daughter, Mary Foote, bought Welcome Stock Farm’s last Guernsey, named Apple, from her grandfather, Bill Peck, for a dollar.

Before long, Wayne Sr. and Betsy Foote went to a Guernsey auction in Vermont and came home with another cow, named Jessica.

“The bids kept getting higher and finally got up to $1,650,” Wayne Foote Sr. said. “My wife said, ‘We can’t afford that!’ But I said, ‘Listen, today’s Saturday. I’ve been doing a lot of work for people who owe me money.’ So by Monday I had the money.

“Everything’s got a story behind it,” he added.

In 2005, Jessica won grand champion female at the New York State Fair and was named honorable mention junior All-American 5-year-old. Two other cows, Jessie and June, won top honors at the New York State Fair in 2009 and 2013. These and other cows from the farm have won many prizes at the annual Washington County Fair, New York’s third-largest county fair.

The Footes’ farm is known as Welcome Stock Guernseys and they do a great deal to promote the breed at the local, state and national levels.

Betsy Foote is an agricultural science teacher at Greenwich High School. Students in the 4-H program lease cows from Welcome Stock Guernseys to raise and care for, and then show at fair time in late August.

“A lot of kids want to do this,” she said. “They come up here and work with their cow during the summer. They might not become dairy farmers, but they’re getting a connection to agriculture, which is so important.”

This month’s convention has a “Turning Point” theme because the 1777 Battles of Saratoga, 240 years ago, marked the turning point of the American Revolution, when Patriots defeated General John Burgoyne’s highly superior British army.

Likewise, the Footes see the convention as a kind of turning point for promoting the Guernsey breed in upstate New York and New England. Guernseys now comprise less than 1 percent of America’s dairy cow population, as the industry has trended toward Holsteins, which are stronger and produce greater volumes of milk.

However, Guernsey milk is famous for its rich flavor, high protein and butterfat content, and health benefits related to the A2A2 protein.

“This was a dominant breed before refrigeration,” Betsy Foote said. “This breed had the milk with the highest butterfat. Protein was excellent for cheese making. Then refrigeration happened, so they didn’t have to turn the milk into cheese right away. So Holstein became the breed of choice because of their quantity of milk

“Today, people are recognizing the value of the Guernsey milk because of the value of the A2A2 protein that lactose-intolerant people can drink with a problem,” she said.

Guernseys have a distinct orange/red-and-white color.

“They’re beautiful animals; they’re very docile and calm,” Wayne Foote Sr. said. “They like human contact. At a large farm, cows are numbered. Here, everybody has a name.”

The breed originated on the Island of Guernsey, a small island near the coast of Normandy, where Allied forces stormed ashore 73 years ago this week on D-Day — June 6, 1944.

From the 1950s to the early 1970s, Golden Guernsey trademark milk was sold in the U.S. and Canada as a premium product. Its light yellow or golden color is from its high beta carotene content, a source of vitamin A.

The high protein and butterfat content nets a slightly higher price, about $1.50 to $2 more per hundredweight than Holstein milk, Wayne Foote Sr. said.

The couple’s only lament is that customers don’t get to experience their milk’s unique flavor because it’s blended with other milk during regular pickups. They simply don’t produce enough to warrant separate pickups, sales and marketing.

“We have this awesome quality milk and its going in with all the other milk,” Betsy Foote said. “I would love to be able to turn it into cheese or bottle it as Guernsey milk and offer it locally. Right now, locally, that’s not an option.”

So for the time being, the family is content knowing they’re keeping an important part of dairy history and heritage alive while contributing greatly to its economic well-being.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Betsy Foote said.

Paul Post is a freelance writer in eastern New York. He can be reached at paulpost@nycap.rr.com.