Jenny Butcher and Wes Kuntz’s dream of processing milk to serve the community has earned them provincial recognition.
The couple, who operate Little Brown Cow Dairy Farm and Store in Brant County, have been named Ontario’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2021.
“There are a lot of farmers doing exceptional things on their farms to stand out,” said Butcher in a conversation outside their bustling store on Cockshutt Road.
She said “farming is a lifestyle,” with farming operations that are “complex, rich and interesting.
“It’s an extremely difficult thing to compare.”
Still, Butcher said she and Kuntz, who both grew up on dairy farms and have a deep love for the vocation, have a skill set that makes them tailor made for the work.
When it became apparent neither was going to take over their family farms, Butcher said they determined to “forge their own path” with an approach that has become their trademark – “putting one foot in front of the other with a firm direction, not a goal.”
Needing to be within commuting distance of their full-time jobs in Guelph – Butcher was a manager at an organic agricultural co-operative and Kuntz worked in dairy management software sales and support – the couple rented a barn and a house trailer in Paris in 2008. And they “started buying cows with what little money we had saved,” said Butcher.
“We milked cows before and after work every day for three years,” she said. “When we first started our farming venture, our goal was, literally, to make it to the end of each day intact.”
After three years of renting, they amassed enough capital to buy their 40-acre Brant County farm. For the next two years, Kuntz used his construction skills to frame a milk house, pour concrete, build a parlour, make freestalls and install curtains inside an existing barn.
The couple eventually got their dairy licence, and Kuntz renovated a former butcher shop on their property into what would become their cheese plant.
“We started out incredibly small,” said Butcher. “We produced the world’s smallest amount of dairy.”
Kuntz said the first week they sold about 10 tubs of cheese curds in a tiny space at the front of the creamery. People loved the curds, which have become Little Brown Cow’s signature offering. They sell about 2,500 containers a week at the peak of production.
In 2017, the couple purchased the building, a former auto body shop, that would become Little Brown Cow, again renovating it themselves.
Since then, their original herd has tripled. They now milk 70 cows and raise 130 young stock for both dairy replacement and beef for the store.
“We process 100 per cent of that milk into cheese, milk and chocolate milk to supply our thriving on-farm store,” said Butcher.
Now a full-service grocery store, Little Brown Cow employs eight full-time staff, including two chefs, who prepare an array of frozen dishes, such as cannelloni, beef Wellington, shepherd’s pie and cheesecake. They also have an extensive keto section.
Virtually everything sold in the store is sourced within 100 kilometres, said Butcher.
“Where else do they grow the corn eaten by the cow, milk the cow, pasteurize the milk, make the cheese, prepare the food and sell to the customer?” said Kuntz. “It’s rare to have all this happen on the same land.”
The couple plans to make some changes to the store to make it more accessible to everyone. And, while people are encouraged to do self-tours of the farm, Butcher and Kuntz would like to one day have a barn where people can more easily see the milking operation.
“We are captaining the ship,” Butcher said of their business.
“But we feel almost like it’s not ours anymore. We feel like this belongs to the community. Where they tell us they want to go, we’ll go.”
Winning the Ontario Outstanding Young Farmers title, open to those under age 40, means Butcher and Kuntz in December will move on to the national competition being held in Saskatchewan, where they will compete with seven other provincial winners from across Canada.
Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ program is an annual competition that has been held for 41 years. It is sponsored, in part, by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.