DAIRY DIARIES: It’s all about the ladies

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

As the scenery on Nashville Road changes from suburban to country, a big red barn looms off the side of the road. This is Chaney’s Dairy Barn where the Chaney family has been milking cows every single day for 79 years. Holidays aren’t on a dairy farmer’s calendar. 

Inside, visitors can buy sandwiches, ice cream and tickets to tour the farm. The family created the agritourism business when they realized the farm couldn’t survive on milk sales alone.

At the farm you can treat yourself to lunch and top it off by choosing among 30 flavors of ice cream. This includes the popular “Bourbon Crunch,” made with Kentucky’s famous Maker’s Mark.

Dore Baker, 26, is the herd manager, a key player in the farm’s daily operation.  She is one of a large group of family members who have made Chaney’s what it is today, a popular destination for tourists and locals.

Baker, who considered career paths in history, photography and veterinary science said she always knew she would wind up working with animals.

“None of those things fulfilled my life like working with cows does,” said Baker, who knows every one of the 54 milking cows by name. She also knows their habits and personalities.

Some of the cows have simple names like Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Other names are more whimsical, such as Pokey, Hokey, Artichokey and Okie Dokie. Baker comes up with a lot of the names but sometimes asks for input from the community by having a naming contest on the dairy barn’s Facebook page. 

She lovingly refers to all the cows as her “ladies.”

After two years of college at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Baker said she received a job offer she couldn’t pass up. “My uncle needed me,” Baker said.

Her grandfather originally owned the farm until Baker’s uncle, Carl Chaney, bought it in 1986. “They said they had a position for me here and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Herd management is not a simple task.

The farm is home to 128 cows, including the 54 milking cows. When Baker first started, she and a coworker did all the milking by hand.  If the coworker couldn’t make it to work, Baker would sometimes have to herd and milk the cows alone. 

“You can only imagine what kind of position that put me in to have 55 to 60 cows to milk,” Baker said.

Baker and her uncle considered other options for efficiency, eventually deciding to invest in a $260,000 milking robot. The robot is a modern marvel of farming, allowing the cows to walk into the large machine when they choose. Each cow ends up being milked four times per day. The robot also keeps tabs on the cows’ statistics to track herd health. 

“Our facilities were so out of date,” Baker said. “We knew we needed an upgrade.”

While the robot is extremely helpful, Baker wasn’t always a fan of the idea. 

“That’s for lazy people who don’t want to milk their cows,” Baker said she once thought.

Over time, she’s grown to love the robot’s reliability and efficiency. It’s also given her the time and the freedom to spend more time with her bovine charges.

“This allows me to not be in a milking parlor and not seeing just the udders and the legs,” Baker said. 

The health and happiness of the cows are paramount.

“We have to make sure these ladies are taken care of,” Baker said. “They are our top priority.”