Nestled in the foothills west of Nephi sits Cedar Ridge Farm, a family-owned dairy. The dairy was founded by Dean and Christine Blackhurst, who continue to be involved with its operation, along with their daughter and son-in-law Sheila and Matt Sherwood and the their seven children – Shan, Leon, Mattie, Robyn, Bailey, Taft, and Maren.
The days may be long and the work hard, but they have a clear picture of why they do what they do – “We raise cows so we can raise kids,” Matt said.
Dean & Christine Blackhurst started their dairy in Pleasant Grove with 15 cows, and then added another 85, but with increasing urbanization in the area the Blackhursts decided to move the dairy to Nephi where they could expand their business. Once established in Nephi, the Blackhursts grew the dairy to include 1,000 Jersey cows. Jerseys cows are brown and smaller than the familiar black and white Holstein cows, but they produce milk with higher fat and protein levels. By nature, Jerseys are curious, friendly, and good milk producers which made them a great fit for the growing dairy.
After time, Dean and Christine realized the farm was getting too big to run alone, and they needed help. Meanwhile Sheila and Matt were living in Colorado and had earned their master’s degrees in animal reproduction and animal nutrition respectively. Dean offered Sheila and her family the opportunity to come back to the family farm and their partnership was born.
In the best of times dairy farmers watch their bottom line very closely. They try to minimize expenses and inputs to positively influence their profitability. Recent world events haven’t been the best of times and have made profitability for dairies even more challenging.
Dairy farmers have been hard hit amid the Covid-19 pandemic because it shut down big dairy markets, like the school lunch program, cruise ships, and restaurants. Understanding how milk is produced and processed can give context to the challenges dairy farmers are facing.
Global events, like Covid-19, can shut down the world, but cows don’t watch the news and they continue to produce the same amount of milk everyday regardless of the changes in demand.
Milk is also a perishable product. Cows are milked two to three times a day in an automated milking barn. Milk is immediately flash cooled to 33 degrees and held in refrigerated tanks until it’s picked up and transported daily to a processing facility where the milk is pasteurized. Dairies don’t have enough refrigerated storage capacity to hold extra milk nor do they have processing capabilities or bottling facilities. All the processing is done off the farm.
At the start of the pandemic the supply of milk was outstripping the demand driving down the price. Gallons of milk had nowhere to go, so some states saw farmers dumping milk, but Sheila & Matt are grateful they have not had to do that.
Cedar Ridge Farm is part of the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) co-op. DFA markets the family’s milk. The Sherwood’s are proud their milk stays right here in Utah, going to The Creamery in Beaver, the Meadow Gold plant in Ogden, and the Smith’s/Kroger plant in Layton. DFA has also been able to donate excess milk to food banks to help Utahns facing food insecurity.
Strict federal and state guidelines ensure that milk shipped from Cedar Ridge is safe and secure. Two samples from each tank of milk is tested. The tests identify possible bacteria counts, traces of antibiotics, infection and temperature variances. Samples of milk are tested again when they arrive at the processing plant. Milk cannot be unloaded until its safety can be assured.
A Family Affair on the Farm
What are some of the things that keep Matt and Sheila up at night? Sheila’s quick answer is, “The public’s perception of the dairy industry and that dairy products aren’t healthy.” She works in a volunteer role to help promote the truth about dairy products and their nutritional value.
For Matt, “It’s definitely my employees. Are they happy? Are they making enough to support their families? Are they safe? Those are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.”
The dairy is certainly a business venture but remember Sherwood’s raise cows so they can raise kids.
The dairy is an effective classroom. Farm kids learn how to work hard, take responsibility, and solve problems.
Sheila and Matt’s second son, Leon, just left to serve in the United States Marine Corps. His parents are confident that Leon’s hard work ethic and the lessons he’s learned on the farm will help him find success in the military.
Interwoven into all those practical lessons from the farm are opportunities to build good, moral character.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from my dad, is the importance of good character. If had a disagreement with someone, my dad encouraged me to apologize even if I didn’t think it was my fault. Sometimes relationships get tricky when your business partners are also your family, but you want to do everything you can to maintain good working relationships,” said Shan Sherwood, Matt and Sheila’s oldest son.
Thinking of his time growing up in Arizona on a cattle ranch, Matt reflected on the best lesson he learned from his father, Lincoln. “The best thing I learned from my dad was integrity. If he looked you in the eye and said he would do something, he would do it. You could count on him to always be true to his word.”
For Sheila, her father Dean has taught her how important it is to be involved in agricultural organizations. Sheila serves on Utah’s Dairy Farmers of America board.
“Volunteering allows you to understand your industry better, bring home new ideas to your own farm, and share your knowledge with your friends and neighbors,” Sheila said.
A Normal Day?
So, what does a typical day look like at the dairy? For Sheila, the day usually starts around 5 a.m. as she makes her way from their family home to the milking barn to plan the breeding schedule for the day. Four or five calves are born every day at the farm. The work varies, but it lasts as long as there’s still daylight.
“There isn’t a typical day on the farm and that’s what makes it so fun,” says Matt. But one thing both make clear, the dairy is a 365-day, 24/7 endeavor. They give their paid workers Christmas off, but the Sherwood family can be found working at the dairy milking, feeding and taking care of the animals on that special day before any family celebrations are held.
Everyone in the family brings value to the farm. They all have jobs and responsibilities. Bailey, their 15-year-old daughter, is the chief irrigator and drives the combine to cut all the hay. Taft, their 11-year-old son is Matt’s number one farm hand—he knows more about farm work than most adults. Dean takes care of the farm finances, and 5-year-old Maren, well, she’s “the boss.”
There’s a lot of work done by dedicated dairy farm families to get that glass of milk on your table, the cheese on your burger, or the ice cream in your cone. It’s no secret that Utahns are especially fond of ice cream, but what are Sherwood’s favorite dairy treats? Matt and Sheila agree that cheese is one of their favorite healthy snacks, and it’s chocolate milk all the way for Shan.
Cedar Ridge Farm is a third-generation dairy, with the fourth generation coming along this August when Shan and his wife will welcome their first son. They’ll name him Lincoln after his paternal great-grandfather and the legacy of “raising cows so they can raise kids” will continue on.