Local Guernsey dairy farmers dish on benefits of specialty milk

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Shannon Smith holds a cow for the classifier, left, to evaluate. The process of classification identifies the most valuable and profitable cows in the herd. Photo by Sarah Sharp.

By Sarah Sharp

In anticipation of the Whatcom County Farm Tour, The Northern Light visited MyShan Dairy, a small farm on the edge of Lynden that will open its barn doors for free self-guided tours on Saturday, September 10, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If you want to thank a local Guernsey dairy farmer, thank Mylon and Shannon Smith of MyShan Dairy.

If you want to thank a dairy cow, thank Shannabelle.

The Smith family will always reminisce about “Shannabelle,” or Rozelyn Kurtis Justice, the beloved 4-H project that affirmed Mylon’s lifelong dream of owning a dairy farm – with no other breed but Guernseys.

Shannon fondly recalls Shannabelle’s gentle disposition, the snowflake pattern that dotted her golden coat and the beaming pride her daughter, Maleah, felt guiding her around the show ring at 11 years old. Maleah fell in love, she said, and the Guernsey fever soon spread to the rest of the Smith family.

“We just fell in love with everything about the Guernsey – not just the cow, but also the people, the association,” she said.

Their superior milk quality also makes Guernseys the obvious choice for dairy farmers, Shannon said. It’s why the Smiths call their milk “Golden Guernsey Goodness.”

Shannon can describe all the benefits of the slightly golden milk, right down to the molecular level. Any carton touting the Guernsey name should contain three important properties: beta-carotene, omega 3 and beta casein A2.

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Darcy the calf peaks her head out of a calf dome. Photo by Sarah Sharp.

According to the English Guernsey Cattle Society, each property sets the Guernsey milk apart from that of other breeds. Because beta-Carotene, which is found in green vegetable matter, passes into the milk without digestion, some believe it may protect against certain cancers. Omega 3 and beta casein A2 also make up a greater percentage of Guernsey milk than others. While Jersey milk generally produces 40 percent of the A2 protein and Holstein milk 15 percent, Guernseys churn out a milk with 95 percent of the protein intact. The A2 protein tends to be friendlier to the lactose sensitive than its A1 counterpart, commonly found in Holstein milk.

“You can get your antioxidants for the day with just one glass of milk,” Shannon said, adding, “Besides getting the good fat.”

Case in point: a trainer at Homestead Fitness Center in Lynden recommends MyShan milk for a sports recovery drink, Shannon said. No whey protein, fruit or added vitamins necessary.

“He says it has everything you need right there in the milk,” she said, just before taking a sip from a half-gallon carton.

Before November 2015, there was no carton to sip from. For the first six years of MyShan Dairy’s existence, Mylon and Shannon sold milk directly to other distributors.

“Sometimes dreams can change and as the farm has grown so has their dream,” MyShan Dairy’s website reads.

Now, the dream extends about 100 miles from Lynden to Seattle, where grocers throughout the region are saving space in their fridges for MyShan’s product.

“We have stores calling us now and saying, ‘Hey, we have a request for your milk. When can you bring some by?’” she said.

They can’t keep milk on the shelves of Seattle stores, she said, with a tinge more pride in her tone than concern for the grocer’s predicament.

Although the Smiths plan to expand their herd of 75 cows sometime in the foreseeable future, the change will never be drastic, Shannon said.

“We will never be Edaleen,” she said. “We will always be small.”

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Micah Smith milks one of the “Guernsey girls.” Photo by Sarah Sharp.

Their workload, on the other hand, is far from miniscule.

Both Mylon and Shannon work full-time day jobs on top of running their own dairy. Mylon manages his late father’s business, Gillie’s Funeral Home in Lynden, and Shannon works as a nurse at Bay Medical Center in Blaine.

It’s not uncommon for the three career paths to merge. Sometimes a quick trip to the barn calls for Shannon to slip rubber work boots over her scrubs. Other times it means filling in at the funeral home when she’s needed.

“It’s just a balancing act,” Shannon said. “Wherever I’m needed is where I go.”

Like most dairy farmers, Mylon and Shannon don’t resent the long hours and calloused hands. They’re grateful for the farm instilling a strong work ethic in their four children, two of whom hope to pursue dairy farming in the future, Shannon said.

Those interested in making a stop to MyShan Dairy along the Whatcom County Farm Tour will have the opportunity to meet the Smith crew, chat with a dairy princess and adore the unmatchable combination of baby humans and newborn calves.

For more information about the tour, visit Sustainable Connection’s website, sustainableconnections.org.

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