Jerry Dell Farm
Hard work and special care of their cows deliver the best milk for Vaughn and Sue Sherman of Jerry Dell Farm.
From its modest beginnings, Jerry Dell Farm has grown to become one of the largest organic dairy farms in the Northeast. The herd is mostly Holsteins, Sherman family’s favorite breed, with 75 recently acquired Jerseys mixed in. The farm was founded in Dryden by Vaughn’s parents, Gerald and Ardella Sherman in 1946. In fact, the name Jerry Dell comes from a combination of the founders first names.
“All the cows have their own personalities and they tell us what they like and don’t like,” says Vaughn. Quality is the top priority at Jerry Dell and the Sherman’s are continuously monitoring the cow’s health and milk quality. “It’s amazing how important cow comfort is for the production of the best milk,” says Vaughn, “we give them lots of space and lots of time to roam and graze. We’re always keeping an eye on them to see if they’re stressed because stress can really reduce the quality of milk.” Sue adds, “We’ve got it down to a science.”
In the barn, each cow has their own comfortable space to lie down and take a rest. The Sherman’s line the laneways with special limestone dust that is softer on the cows’ hooves. Heat can be a big source of stress, so the Sherman’s do everything they can to keep their herd cool and shaded on hot days. Not surprisingly, flies are also a point of stress for cows, so special measures are taken to keep the flies at bay.
At the age of 23, Vaughn took over primary responsibilities for running farm operations and at the young age of 26, he bought the farm operation from his father, Gerald. And, while Vaughn’s wife Sue didn’t grow up on a farm, she couldn’t imagine life without the farm.
The Sherman’s children, Jeremy, Trevor, Derek, and Ryan all have joined the family business. Jeremy manages the Freeville and Groton farm operations, as well as the Jerry Dell Farm store. Ryan manages the shift from conventional to organic on a recently acquired farm in Dryden, and is responsible for all the organic crops grown on 2,000 plus acres, while Vaughn runs the original Dryden farm. Derek takes care of all of the farm finances. Trever grows organic produce for his company, Ithaca Organics, and runs a 200-member CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
The Sherman’s are up every morning before the rooster crows. Each day, the cows are milked from 3 am – 9 am, they all go out to pasture for the day, and then return at 3 pm for another milking.
For years, the Sherman family has hosted school groups for “a day on the farm” featuring hay rides, visiting the baby calves, and watching the cows being milked. From elementary and nursery school kids to BOCES classes and Cornell students, the Sherman family enjoys sharing the farm life with others. “It’s a lot of work to pull everything together for the day, scheduling the day and who is going to do what to make sure they have a real experience.” says Sue, “But the hugs and thank you notes we get in the mail the next week make it all worth it.”
“We’ve really enjoyed our relationship with the Byrne family,” says Vaughn, “we’ve been with Byrne for about three years now and we haven’t looked back. They take good care of us and really care about their family farm partners. We love that they’re a local company, in fact they’re right down the road, and that they always pay us a fair price as long as we hold up our end of the bargain. The Byrne family runs a very professional outfit that is really focused on quality. So we’re very aligned on the importance of quality and we each appreciate that dedication to quality in everything we do. It’s very gratifying when you go to the plant and see all your hard work headed out the door to local communities and families. For us, the fact that they’re great people that we like has been a big bonus.”
Both Vaughn and Sue agree that life on Jerry Dell Farm is a great life and they wouldn’t trade it for anything. “It’s a good life,” says Sue, “every day you’re close to nature. When the work is done for the day and you’re sitting outside on the farm in the evening and everything is all quiet…it all feels pretty special. We wouldn’t trade it.”