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Eby Manor sees growing demand for Guernseys and niche milk products

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairy Published on 02 June 2020
Jim Eby

Jim Eby is a contented man, living his dream.

The Waterloo, Ontario, area farm he calls home was purchased by his parents, Howard and Annie, in 1959.

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At the time, Howard milked Holstein cows, but a new contract for milk in the early ’60s requested they shift to the Guernsey breed. This was prior to the marketing board, and most farmers had a surplus of milk, but with this contract there was no surplus and better pay. They made the shift to “Golden Guernsey” and have never looked back.

Guernsey milk is noted for a distinctive rich full flavour and golden colour, which is due to a higher level of beta carotene than standard milk. It mostly contains the A2 beta-casein protein, which is often easier for people with milk intolerance to consume. It is thought to have non-inflammatory properties and to help alleviate migraines, eczema and joint inflammation. It seems less likely to cause sugar spikes in diabetics, and many autistic children function better and have fewer stomach upsets with this type of milk. Jim is breeding with the goal of having 100% A2 beta-casein producers in his herd by this summer.

Note: While preliminary research suggests these benefits occur, the jury is still out concerning absolute scientific proof. People can have intolerance to other components in milk besides proteins, and this variation may not help those people. Still, Jim notes that many of his customers with intolerance to other milk testify they can consume Guernsey milk with no adverse results.

With the advent of the marketing board, breed-specific marketing came to an end. Some dairy producers changed to other breeds at that time, as Guernseys cannot compete for milk volume with breeds like the Holstein.

Left to right: Jim, ruth, Sheri and Ben Eby

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Jim and his son, Ben, work 167 acres, growing both grain and silage corn, wheat and hay, mostly alfalfa. The wheat is a cash crop, with the straw used for bedding. They have a tiestall barn with a pipeline system. The Eby family dreams of building a loose housing facility with robots, but that is not on the horizon yet.

Sixty milking cows inhabit spacious stalls in the barn. All are purebred Guernseys, type-classified and on DHI. Youngstock are housed in adjoining buildings with an outdoor yard, and the youngest calves have a nursery with individual pens next to the milking barn.

These cows are calm, contented and show friendly curiosity to visitors. They are well-built cows, with strong bone and good width and depth. Jim is breeding for soundness and longevity, as well as milking ability. He points out a cow called Wanda, still sound and producing at 14 years old. Jim has supplied bulls from his herd to breeding units.

Jim dreamed of seeing a revival of interest in the Guernsey breed and of being able to see Guernsey milk marketed as such and sold from the farm. When regulations concerning this changed, Jim looked into processing. It made more sense for him to work in conjunction with a co-packer so he could focus on the production aspect.

Hewitt’s Dairy in Hagersville, Ontario, began processing Guernsey milk in May of 2012, and Jim still works with this dairy, although it is now part of the Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. system. A local trucker picks up milk at the farm each Tuesday and Friday to deliver to Hagersville, where it is processed. On Saturday, milk goes into the regular pool, as milk can only be held for three days. Processed milk is sold as Eby Manor Golden Guernsey at the farm store, in Hamilton, Toronto and as far as Montreal, although the largest amount is in the Waterloo area.

Eby milk is processed into 2%, whole-cream milk with a minimum of 4.8% fat, 4% chocolate milk, 10% cream with no additives, whole-milk natural yogurt and cheddar cheese. Jim says the “cheese is very unique … a buttery quality with richness to it.” They also have “a decadent premium ice cream,” he says, adding, “Everything we do, we want to make it a superior product.” Hewitt’s processes the milk and yogurt while the cheese is made by the Bright Cheese and Butter Company.

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Wanda, is a 14 years old and still producing well.

The 60 cows at home cannot produce enough milk to meet demand, so Jim sources milk from another Guernsey herd. He says Guernseys are becoming popular again due to the opportunity to process milk on-farm. This is resulting in stock now commanding premium prices.

It has taken a lot of hard work to get to the position the Eby family enjoys now. “It has been extremely rewarding to be able to do this,” Jim states, adding they “have had a lot of positive feedback. It’s very satisfying to be able to provide a product with health benefits.”

Jim was quick to note that he is not in this on his own. He credits his wife, Ruth, for running the store, keeping records, doing orders and basic bookkeeping and more; then he jokes that she says he works too hard. Ben and his wife, Sheri, are handling most of the farm operations now, and they have part-time students to help with milking. Jim says he does a bit of everything – he could be full-time involved with the retail part of things but really likes being around the cows. It shows.

Future plans for continued growth of the retail business include more sourcing from other herds – a second outside herd will soon be in production. Expansion of the home herd is also a possibility, but there are no immediate plans for this.

Ben and Sheri are now equal partners in both the farm, Eby Manor Inc., and retail, Eby Manor Ltd., businesses. Jim and Ruth have no immediate plans for retirement and will ease out gradually. Jim is still very motivated and enjoying the business far too much to step aside yet. They are bringing in a new employee soon to assist with management of the retail business.

As far as community involvement, Jim admits he is not as active as in previous times, as the new business has been “all-consuming.” He does maintain involvement in the Guernsey breed and in his church. He looks forward to the time when he and Ruth can take some holidays, which will likely include a trip to the Philippines to visit their daughter and her family.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Jim Eby enjoys working with his Guernsey herd, and seeing Guernsey milk appreciated for its unique qualities. 

PHOTO 2: Eby Manor is a family farm and business operated by (left to right) Jim, Ruth, Sheri and Ben Eby.

PHOTO 3: Jim Eby’s breeding decisions have focused on soundness and longevity, as well as milking ability. This cow, Wanda, is 14 years old and still producing well. Photos by Alice Guthrie.

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

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