Kayhart Brothers Dairy spans across 1,800 alluvial acres, and two states, along both Vermont's and New York's picturesque shores of Lake Champlain. In just over 30 years, under the direction of Lee and Pat Kayhart, along with their sons Steve and Tim, the family dairy farm has grown to become one of the highest milk producers in the state of Vermont.
Lee Kayhart got his first taste of Vermont when his family started working on a farm in Vergennes in 1969. In 1979, he, along with his wife Pat, purchased an 80 cow dairy farm in nearby Addison. Over the years, the couple had two sons and a daughter, and the business slowly grew. In 1984, Lee tragically lost both arms in a farm accident that would have ended the careers of most people. But Lee is not like most people. After spending three months recovering in the hospital, he returned to the farm and all the duties that accompany it. “My dad is quite an extraordinary guy,” says Steve. “To this day, he can still operate machinery, plant corn, and do pretty much everything else, with the exception of milking a cow, that he could do before the accident.”
Steve went off to college in the late 1980s, while Tim joined the Marines and served in the Gulf War. By 1992, Steve had finished school, and after working for a few years for an agricultural financing company in Virginia, returned to the farm. “From the time my dad was a kid, he knew he wanted to be a farmer,” says Steve. “It took me a bit longer to realize just how much I loved the lifestyle.”
At the time of Steve’s return, Kayhart Dairy owned 250 cows. Two years later, Tim returned from his overseas tours, and in 2000, the brothers officially formed a partnership with their parents, sharing ownership of the farm. During those years, the farm grew more rapidly, as the brothers took more control of the day-to-day operation. “As our parents neared retirement, the goal for me and Tim was to eventually buy the farm from them,” says Steve. In 2010, that goal was realized when Steve and Tim successfully completed the purchase of what has become Kayhart Brothers Dairy.
“Successfully transferring the farm from one generation to the next has been one of my most proud achievements,” says Steve. “It is something that can be difficult to accomplish.”
One of the other points of pride for the brothers is their award-winning milk, and the massive amount of it they produce. The farm generates more than 6,000 gallons of milk per day, making their herd of 700 mostly Holstein cows one of the highest volume producers in the state. Quality is just as important as quantity, which is evident by the multiple milk quality awards, along with a Dairy of Distinction Award, and a Vermont State Conservation Farm of the Year Award, that Kayhart has won.
Steve and Tim have continued in the same hard working tradition of their parents, who still help out with the planting and harvest when they aren’t traveling the country, or biking across it like they did a few years ago. In addition to the 200-acre property they purchased on the New York side of Lake Champlain, they also rent an additional 500 acres from another New York farm where they keep 200 cows. Their dedication runs so deep that for two years, they spent each and every day ferrying between their Vermont and New York farms after a local bridge was condemned and demolished, before a new one was eventually built.
With the brothers on the farm are their wives and children. Steve and his wife Samantha, a school teacher, have three kids: Alexa, a sophomore studying pre-vet at UVM; Andrew, a junior in high school; and Olivia, who is in eighth grade. Tim and his wife Shannon, an office manager for a local feed company, have two kids: Jamie, a senior in high school; and Ben, who will also be starting eight grade in the fall.
With a growing business, a productive herd, and amazing families, the brothers have a lot to be thankful for, including each other. “I feel extremely lucky to have someone with whom I can make decisions, bounce ideas off of, and share the day’s responsibilities,” says Steve. “Having two adult brothers that are able to equally share the responsibilities of running a farm together may be somewhat unusual, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”