An All-American fairy tale come true

Please Wait a Moment

Creating opportunities, fulfilling dreams

Weeks expands Swiss herd to benefit on-farm processing

By Danielle Nauman

RINGOES, New Jersey – Growing up next door to a family dairy farm in central New Jersey, Jared Weeks witnessed a life he thought he would like to lead and, from there, a passion for the dairy industry – and eventually the Brown Swiss cow – began to grow.

      “I grew up next to a dairy farm and was involved with 4-H, leasing calves. I caught the bug that way, and it just kind of escalated from there,” Weeks said. “It seemed like a nice lifestyle.”

      Through his involvement in 4-H, Weeks began to take a shine to the Brown Swiss breed, purchasing his first heifer in the annual calf sale in Maryland.

      Upon his high school graduation, Weeks began milking cows on his own, spending two years in a rented barn before building his current tie-stall barn in 2008.

      “Being the first generation, I didn’t have anything to start with, just piecing it together from the ground up,” Weeks said. “In some ways that’s kind of nice, and other times you wish that you had three or four other people that had been there, done that.”

The Weeks – Jared (left), Treacy holding daughter Allison – stand in their tie-stall barn with their herd of registered Brown Swiss cows in Ringoes, New Jersey.

      Weeks began with a herd of cows comprised primarily of Holsteins with what he called a few token Brown Swiss who were there because he enjoyed them.

      “In the milk market where I’m located, there are no premiums for butterfat or protein – it is just paying for volume,” Weeks said. “Today, the milk market in New Jersey is really going by the wayside. If you wanted to start milking cows now, there isn’t a market; no one is taking new farms.”

      Today, the herd Weeks built consists of 50 cows, about half Brown Swiss and half Holsteins. With his wife Treacy, Weeks is in the process of making another dream come true – processing their milk on their Hunterdon County farm. Despite a process that has become longer and more drawn out than he originally planned, Weeks said he is hopeful the new on-farm processing plant will be operational in early March.

      While working through the planning and construction phase of the plant, Weeks faced pressure from his milk market that was at odds with the dream of on-farm processing. That pressure led him to move ahead with another shift in his dairy farming career.

      “The small processor I was shipping to shut down, and everyone got pushed to DFA,” Weeks said. “With my plans to develop the on-farm processing, they told me if I wasn’t sending them all my milk, they didn’t want anything. So, I’ve been a feather in the wind for a year and a half now.”

      To help allay his milk marketing woes, Weeks made connections with some small cheese processors in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, two hours away. Working with one of his current processors, Weeks has been able to begin bottling milk under his own label and making ice cream to establish a customer base.

      “They were looking for steady milk and wanted high butterfat,” Weeks said. “That is where I decided that if I was not getting paid for volume, and if I was going to pivot to the whole processing thing, I might as well begin to switch gears and head in that direction now.”

      That pivot included growing the Brown Swiss herd when what Weeks considered the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself in the form of the R-Hart herd from western Ohio.

      “The timing wasn’t great, as I wasn’t really looking to make that switch until we were a little bit closer to processing on-site,” Weeks said. “But the Rineharts had them for sale, and it was just one of those things you had to jump on, something you would kick yourself for if you passed it up. I’m glad I made the decision to pursue that group.”

      Weeks reduced his Holstein herd, opening up stalls for the Brown Swiss.

The herd of Brown Swiss cows purchased from the
Rinehart family settle into their new surroundings at
Hun-Val Dairy in Ringoes, New Jersey.

      “Some people thought I was crazy, taking a herd of Swiss cows used to a parlor, freestall, and pack barn setting into a tie-stall barn,” Weeks said. “They are the quietest and easiest group of cows to work with and transitioned beautifully. In less than two weeks, they were all trained to the new environment.”

      With the herd of cows came what Weeks feels is an obligation to the Rinehart family to continue their tradition of breeding high-quality Brown Swiss.

      “The Rineharts have a phenomenal amount of passion and time that they have put into the breed,” Weeks said. “I feel a pretty big responsibility to Alan and his family to keep that going. They have developed a lot of good cows throughout their family’s history with the breed.”

      Weeks said that he turns to Alan Rinehart as a mentor frequently when making mating decisions, and while the offspring of the R-Hart herd will carry the Hun-Val prefix, the Rinehart influence will remain for the near future.

Jared Weeks credits the Rinehart family – Randi (left) and Alan – with
developing the herd that has given him the foundation on which he will
build his herd at Hun-Val Dairy in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

      “I have always had some Brown Swiss, but breeding a couple of cows is a much different task than breeding an entire herd,” Weeks said. “The herd was terrifically uniform. Alan definitely had a set way he bred cows, and he has been great at giving guidance and suggestions on how to continue mating them.”

      Weeks said his own goals mirror what created the foundation of the R-Hart herd. “With any breed, you want a balanced cow who will hang around for a long time,” Weeks said. “One that will live a good, long productive life.”

      Some bulls seeing use in the Hun-Val herd include Cozy Nook Doboy Tank, Kar-Linn Reeses Rampage, and HF Design.

       As the finishing touches are being put on the creamery at Hun-Val Dairy, Weeks has been reflecting on the journey his dreams have taken him on. Weeks said direct marketing his milk is a great opportunity to educate consumers, and that connection is something he remains mindful of.

      “People are very detached as a whole from agriculture. In New Jersey, we are short on farms but not on people,” Weeks said. “The people around here are very supportive of the local farms. When you’re going down the road with a disc and the tractor, you might complain about all the traffic and stuff, but looking at it from this angle, it’s your customers.”