For half a century, the Claycamp family has operated a dairy farm just north of Cortland, producing quality milk for commercial buyers.
It’s not a huge operation, with less than 100 head of Holsteins, but it’s enough to keep second-generation farmer Jon Claycamp busy year-round.
“We milk around 70 head, twice a day,” he said. “Once in the morning and then again at night, so it’s not like you get a day off. People will ask, ‘What do you do on Christmas or Thanksgiving?’ Well, you get up and milk just like you do every other day.”
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The milking is done with mechanical milkers, which Claycamp hooks up to the cow’s teats. He milks eight at a time, which takes around five minutes, or two hours for the whole herd.
Milk flows through tubes into a collection jar, which then funnels into refrigerated vats. The milk never is exposed to air throughout the whole process, keeping it pure and contaminant-free. In bigger operations, robots are used to milk herds 24 hours a day.
Claycamp, 41, who also is a certified auctioneer, works alongside his father, Bob Claycamp, 70, to keep the herd happy and healthy so the milk keeps flowing, which in turn keeps the bills paid and the farm running.
While his dad sells and ships milk to Dean Milk Co. in Louisville, Jon has found a different niche.
Thanks to a partnership with a world-renowned gourmet cheese maker and an opportunity to sell cheese at the revamped Seymour Area Farmers Market this year, Lot Hill Dairy Farm is getting a lot of attention these days.
“It’s hard to make it because the big creameries and the big farms have pushed the little guys out so much you have to find that special niche market,” he said.
Back in 2004 or 2005, when the Claycamps were experimenting with organic farming, Jon got to know Fon Smits, the founder of Tulip Tree Creamery located on the northwest side of Indianapolis.
Originally from the Netherlands, Smits has worked for and consulted with cheese producers all around the world until he decided to open his own business in Indiana in 2014.
“When he really got going and could handle a steady supply of milk, he got in touch with us,” Jon said.
Sixteen months ago, Smits chose Lot Hill Dairy Farm to be the sole provider of milk for his creamery because he wanted to know where the milk was coming from and personally know the farmer responsible for the main ingredient needed for his cheeses.
Now, Jon drives the Lot Hill Dairy Farm trailer up to the creamery three times a week to deliver between 275 and 300 gallons of milk each trip or around 900 gallons a week.
“That’s a lot of milk,” he said.
Tulip Tree began by selling cheeses at farmers markets in and around the Indianapolis area. As the creamery got popular and grew, they were picked up by food distributors in Indianapolis and St. Louis, and their products are available in 40 Whole Foods stores in the Chicago area.
“There’s a distributor in southern California that wants their product, but that hasn’t taken off yet,” Jon said.
And thanks to the venture, customers looking for quality, farm-fresh gourmet cheeses made with local milk can purchase Tulip Tree products at the Seymour Area Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. The market also is open from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays.
Jon sets up the Lot Hill Dairy Farm trailer at the market and invites people to sample the different cheeses available, including soft-ripened, semi-soft and fresh. Favorites include Dutchman’s Breeches, Snap Dragon, Haymaids, beer cheese, nettle, fromage frais, fresh mozzarella and cheese curds. Cultured butter also is available.
He worked with the Jackson County Health Department to get the proper permit to sell the cheese at the market, and his milking operation is inspected every six months by the state.
“That’s how I’m marketing it, as my milk,” he said. “And it makes my milk worth that much more.”
And the marketing is definitely working, he added.
“I was completely shocked,” he said of the demand. “That first week, let’s just take a little bit to see how it works, and I sold out in an hour, everything that I had, and I think I had taken around 40 pieces.”
So the next week, he doubled the supply, taking about 80 pieces and sold out pretty quick then, too.
“I was really surprised because the market is new, and I didn’t know how the people would react to it,” he said. “But they’ve done a great job of promoting it.”
He said the reason he believes the cheese is so popular is because of the quality.
“If they taste it, they buy it,” he said. “It’s just that good, and if you can buy the cheese in Seymour and drive here to see where the milk comes from, I just don’t know what else you can ask for.”
It was important to Smits that the cows were treated well. Claycamps’ herd is fed non-GMO hay and silage grown on their farm, and no antibiotics or growth hormones are used.
“He’s big on quality, and it shows up in his cheese,” Jon said of Smits.
Operating a small dairy farm, Jon said there is no room to be selfish, and no shortcuts are taken.
“The cows come before anything else does,” he said.
Lot Hill Dairy Farm was established in 1966 and got its name because when the milking business wasn’t doing as well, Bob Claycamp said all he had was “a lot of hills.”
At one time, Jackson County was home to many dairy farms and the old Thompson Dairy Co. in Seymour, which produced and distributed milk, butter, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products.
Nowadays, there are only a few commercial dairy farms left.
“It’s just so labor intensive,” Jon said. “But knowing that people are enjoying our milk, it’s a great feeling. It’s rewarding.”
Jon said he loves farming and being an auctioneer because he’s providing a service to people.
“To see people get excited, it makes me excited,” he said.
Having grown up helping their parents, farming is all Claycamp and his sisters have ever known, but it wasn’t until he turned 40 that Jon said he discovered his passion for it and realized it was all he wanted to do.
“When I graduated in ’93, then I bought a herd of cows and started myself, but that’s all I’ve done is farm,” he said. “You either like it or you don’t. It’s got to be your passion to do it right.”
What: Seymour Area Farmers Market
Where: Walnut Street Parking Lot in Seymour
When: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays
Products available include honey, frozen beef and chicken, produce, coffee beans, baked goods, fairy gardens, hand woven rugs and other crafts, dog treats, cheese, eggs, books, mushrooms, jams and herbs.
Lot Hill Dairy Farm
Started in 1966 by Bob and Linda Claycamp at 10025 N. County Road 375E, Seymour, just north of Cortland.
Around 100 head of Holsteins. The farm also produces its own hay and silage to feed the cows.
Providing milk to Dean Milk Co. in Louisville and Tulip Tree Creamery in Indianapolis.
Family operated by the Claycamps; their children, Jon Claycamp, Dana Claycamp and Melissa Christian; and grandchildren, Heather Morris, Jacoby and Jaden Begley and Marshall, Max, Merissa and Miller Claycamp.