Tim and Katlyn Kinsella have known each other since high school, where they both studied in the agricultural program and were in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. “We joke that our farm is our 4-H projects gone horribly wrong,” says Katlyn. 
When they started their own farm in Falls Village, Connecticut, they merged their two small herds of registered Brown Swiss (Katlyn’s) and Ayrshires (Tim’s) and bought some Holsteins from the farmer from whom they took over. Shortly after that, they merged their lives even more closely by getting married, and now have one daughter with another baby on the way.
The couple named their farm Birch Mill after Katlyn’s grandfather’s farm, where she grew up until he sold it when she was 10. Tim’s mother’s family was also in dairy and Tim always imagined he’d be a farmer. He worked for a time at another co-op member farm, Laurel Brook Farm in East Canaan. “He’s a jack of all trades,” his wife says appreciatively. “He can make or fix anything.” 

When they had the opportunity to launch their operation, Tim started full-time on the farm while Katlyn initially worked off-farm part-time as a milk tester, traveling around the county collecting milk samples and keeping herd management records for the farmers. “I got to visit lots of farms and help them, while also getting to learn about different ways to manage a dairy,” says Katlyn.

These kinds of insights helped the young couple build their own knowledge base. They also rely on the strong, local farmer network. “The dairy farming community in this area is very close- knit,” says Katlyn. “Everybody is willing to share information and lend each other a hand when needed. It is super important to us. They’re like extended family.”

Once they had their own farm, Katlyn explains, “We spent a lot of time defining our own vision.” A key priority was cow health and comfort. That included remodeling the barn to create generously sized, personalized stalls for each cow and replacing bedding material with waterbeds. (Yes, you read that right.) The couple dubbed the project, “Operation Comfy Cow.” 

While waterbeds for cows might sound funny, “they are an economical way to optimize cow comfort,” explains Katlyn. The significant one-time investment, she says, has paid for itself in an overall healthier herd and increased milk production. “The cows do so well,” Katlyn says happily. “They really seem to appreciate the fluffy, floating water beds. Our cows sleep better than I do!”

Read more about the Kinsellas and Birch Mill Farm.

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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming, and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).

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