Chisholm Family Farm

photo Creamery
Orchard Hill Creamery is the center piece of Chisholm Family Farm.  This is where cheese, ice cream and yogurt are made by the Chisholms for sale on the Nebraska Food Coop, at different farmers markets, special activities and at their on-farm store near Unadilla.


Andy Chisholm has traveled many miles since leaving England and moving to the United States.  In the southeast US he met his wife Laura and they traveled to Nebraska. They started out wanting to produce food for their family and their dream was to start a dairy and creamery to make dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream.  They have been at several locations in eastern Nebraska the past few years, but have finally found a home in southeastern Nebraska near Unadilla in Otoe County.  Andy was a member of our second Farm Beginnings class in Syracuse, NE a few years ago.

Andy, Laura and their children have a small herd of Jersey cows which produce milk, high in butterfat which makes excellent dairy products.

Their farm and creamery are located northwest of Unadilla at 1875 D Rd, Unadilla, NE.  While their main focus is the dairy, they also have some other food they raise and sell.  This includes: asparagus, strawberries, eggs and pork.  The Chisholms participate in the Old Market Farmers Market in Downtown Omaha and Ak-sar-ben Farmers Market regularly.  They have also sold at the Village Point Farmers Market in Omaha and they are a member of the Nebraska Cheese Guild.  While Laura participates in these farmers markets, the bulk of the dairy products produced at the creamery are sold to food coops, restaurants and stores.  You can purchase dairy products on the Nebraska Food Coop, an on-line food coop, Open Harvest, a Food Coop at 1681 South St. in Lincoln, NE and at Daddy’s Neighborhood Fresh Market at 4811 NW Radial Hwy in Omaha, NE. Some of their dairy products are featured at area restaurants, including: M’s Pub, Dante’s and Block 16 in Omaha and The Lied Lodge in Nebraska City.

A major event that the Chisholms have hosted at their farm in the past couple of years is Milk Fest.  This year it is scheduled for October 22nd and 23rd.  This is a fun event for the whole family which has drawn several hundred people.  There are a number of venders present, local food, music and drink, games for kids and several fun activities for anyone interested in supporting the local food community.

Here is a photo blog and tour of Chisholm Family Farm and Orchard Hill Creamery located at 1875 D Rd, Unadilla, NE.


photo certified organic sign
The Chisholm Family Farm and Orchard Hill Creamery are Certified Naturally Grown. They are committed to producing food without synthetic chemicals, in harmony with nature for their local community.
photo milking cow herd
I mentioned the Chisholms have a herd of primarily Jersey dairy cows, which produce milk that is rich and is excellent for producing cheese, ice cream and yogurt. This is their current milking herd
photo cows grazing in pasture
The cows are on a forage based diet, rotating through pastures for a major part of the year.  The remainder of the year cattle will be fed alfalfa hay.  The photo above shows cattle grazing a mixture of cool and warm-season grasses, which most pastures are comprised of on the Chisholm Farm.
photo dry cows
The dry cows, shown above  are kept in a separate pasture across the driveway from the milking herd.
photo cattle waterer
Cows received fresh water in a tank every day.
IMG_0444 calves #1
Above is a photo of the replacement heifers grown on the farm. The heifers are bred by a bull at about 15 months and the young jersey heifers will join the herd and start to produce milk when they are 2 -2 1/2 years old.
photo milking parlor
This is the milking parlor where Andy Chisholm can milk four cows at a time.  He stands down in the lower area or (pit) and washes off and sanitizes the cows teats before putting the milking machines on the cows.  Notice the milking machine hanging up and also a feeder where Andy can provide a little grain if desired  to the cows while he milks them.  
photo bulk tank #1
This is the bulk tank where the milk is stored at a refrigerated temperature until it is taken to the creamery to be processed into a value-added dairy product such as: cheese, yogurt or ice cream. The bulk tank is located in the milk room.
IMG_0440 milking equipment
Here is the milking equipment hanging up in the milk room already for the next milking on the Chisholm Farm 
photo andy in milk room
When I visited the Chisholm Farm by myself and interviewed Andy, I caught up to him when he was cleaning the milking equipment in the milk room.  I grew up on a small Grade A Dairy Farm in southeast Nebraska so I am familiar with the duties and requirements for a Grade A Dairy.  The milk room has to be cleaned daily, with milking equipment sanitized following milking.  The milk room and milking facilities are inspected monthly by a Nebraska State Inspector. 
IMG_0438 Farm Beginnings
Andy Chisholm talks to members of the Farm Beginnings class in his milk room when we toured his farm last Saturday. 
photo bulk tank
I was able to look through the door into the Cheese Plant or Creamery at the Chisholms when we visited. This is a photo of the vat where cheese is processed.  Sanitation is very critical in the creamery so we just looked at the equipment from the outside.
photo cheese plant #1
The ice cream machine is a major piece of equipment at Orchard Hill Creamery as the Chisholms are making several kinds of ice cream and selling it at different venues.   
photo farm store
The on-farm store at the creamery offers their dairy products plus some other locally produced Nebraska products as well as unique foods and specialty items from other places. 
photo yogurt for sale
Different flavors of yogurt are a big seller for the Chisholms. 
photo cheese for sale
Cheese is still the heart of their operation.  This photo shows different types of cheeses in the refrigerator at Orchard Hill’s On-farm Store. 
photo ice cream
Ice Cream has been an excellent dairy product for the Chisholms at Orchard Hill Creamery. I had the opportunity to try some of their ice cream and it was very good.  
photo grain Grain Place
One of the other products sold at the On-farm Store is Organic Rolled Oats from the Grain Place, from Marquette, NE; one of the pioneers in organic farming and processing of grains in Nebraska. 
photo goat milk soap
Another fun non-edible product in the store is different kinds of goat milk soaps.  
IMG_0446 chicken
The Chisholms have a few laying chickens and they do sell eggs at the farmers markets and in their on-farm store. 
IMG_0447 chicken laying boxes
On our tour last Saturday the kids looked in the mobile egg laying building where the chickens go in and lay their eggs. 
photo strawberries
The Chisholms have a bed of strawberries that they are setting on and may provide another type of produce for the farmers markets.  They also have a bed of asparagus they have been marketing this spring. 
photo high tunnel #1
The Chisholms hope to work with a partner interested in growing produce in their high tunnel so they can market it along with their dairy products.  



This concludes our tour of the Chisholm Family Farm and Orchard Hill Creamery.  The Chisholm’s are committed to producing local food, especially a variety of several different value-added dairy products. You can purchase their products at several different locations or you can come out to their farm near Unadilla.  It is a very short drive from Lincoln and just a little farther from Omaha.  For more information about their farm and/or creamery, go to or  Stay tuned for next time when we visit another local food producer in Nebraska or a bordering state.


As Nebraska State SARE Coordinator, the use of cover crops is an important initiative that I am focused on. Cover crops have been used for a number of years particularly in organic cropping systems.  They have been a source of nitrogen, organic matter and other nutrients when incorporated as green manures in these systems.  Cover crops have also been planted as forage crops for livestock for grazing or hay for many years.  In recent years there has been increased interest in the use of cover crops in conventional cropping systems. The USDA NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) has promoted cover crops and provided cost-share programs for farmers to encourage their use to help improve soil health and reduce erosion and degradation of soils.

Cover crops have many potential benefits.  Legumes fix (N) nitrogen from the atmosphere which is a source of N for the subsequent crops. Biomass from the cover crops adds carbon and organic matter to the soil.  A primary function of cover crops is prevention of erosion with their roots holding soil in place and reducing impact of rain drops by covering the soil. Other benefits include: improve water infiltration, scavenge nutrients, weed suppression and forage for livestock. A number of farmers across Nebraska and in other states have utilized cover crops for several years and are seeing benefits.  The University of Nebraska has conducted research and is conducting research to evaluate how cover crops can best be utilized in crop and livestock systems in Nebraska.  Nebraska Extension is also cooperating with farmers using cover crops to document impact on soil and subsequent crops.

In Nebraska there are also many questions and challenges with the incorporation of cover crops in cropping systems.  Probably one of the primary questions and challenges is how to successfully plant and establish cover crops in a timely manner in corn/soybean crop rotations? Another challenge is developing a herbicide program that allows you to plant and graze cover crops successfully without impacting the previous cash crop of corn or soybeans.  A final challenge is balancing the use of cover crops to reduce the impact on the previous and subsequent crops. These are questions currently being addressed by Nebraska Extension, other universities, agri-businesses and farmers across the Midwest.

Diversified multi-species cover crop mixes are used by some farmers. These mixes are generally more expensive, but they have a number of different types of plants which can impact the biology of the soil, attract different pollinators and beneficial insects.  They also provide excellent multi-species forage for livestock and nutrients for the diversified microorganisms in the soil as the forages are broken down.
cereal rye #1
Cover crops can be used for specialty crops, like apples in orchards. Cereal rye was planted in the fall of 2014 on land that was going to be planted to apple trees.  The rye was shredded after it had headed out and made seed in the summer of 2015.  The cereal rye re-seeded itself in the fall of 2015 and had an excellent stand. This spring at Union Orchard, near Nebraska City, NE; apple trees are planted in rows after the rye was knocked down with a shredder.  According to Vaughn Hammond, orchard manager, this field was solid weeds before the rye was planted into it.  As you can see, the cereal rye successfully suppressed weeds.   Research has documented the weed suppression attributes of cereal rye which has been confirmed by farmers in different cropping systems.
Cover crop in an orchard
Apple trees will be planted in this cover crop of clover and grass at Union Orchard in southeast Nebraska in the future.
Field Peas in an orchard
A cover crop of field peas was planted in the summer of 2015 to provide nitrogen for vegetables at Shadowbrook Farm near Denton, NE.
Oats cover crop at Shadowbrook
Kevin Loth of Shadowbrook Farm uses oats as a cover crop. Here he shows where oats have been plowed down.  With their dairy goat herd, oats has the potential to being used as an excellent forage.



These three images illustrate how erosion had a major impact in southeast Nebraska in 2015.  With torrential rains, even no-till cropped fields showed significant erosion.
This field of terminated cereal rye from the spring of 2015 illustrates how erosion can be prevented with the use of cover crops.  Notice the rill erosion in the soybean field in the background.  This field is only a few miles from the first image (shown above) of the eroded corn field planted in the soybean stubble.  These areas received 5-8″ of rain in one day in May 2015. The cover crop held the soil very well. This field also had tillage radish which can help break up compaction and increase soil water infiltration rates.
With all of the rain in 2015, there were several prevented planted acres in southeast Nebraska.  Here is a prevented planted field of oats that winter-killed.  If you are just starting to investigate using cover crops, oats is a good one to try because the seed is cheap and you do not have to worry about terminating it in the spring before next year’s crop. Many people have planted oats following corn silage when beginning to use cover crops.  This field above will be planted to corn or soybeans in 2016.
Sprayed out cereal rye
This field of cereal rye was terminated with chemicals and will be planted to soybeans this spring. The challenge is to terminate the rye crop to get the most benefit from the root growth without impacting the subsequent crop.  Cereal rye can tie up nitrogen and also use valuable moisture impacting the following crop.
This field of cereal rye was planted following corn silage harvest.  This photo was taken in mid-April.  It will be terminated soon and planted to soybeans.
Field of cereal rye in mid-March that was drilled in the fall, mid-October.  This field will probably be grazed by cow/calf pairs this spring before it is terminated.  Notice the irrigation in the background.  This can take a lot of the risk out of allowing cover crops to put more growth on in the spring either for forage or as a method of improving soil health.  Soil water that is depleted by the cereal rye crop can be replaced through irrigation.
Cow/calf pairs graze cereal rye in mid-March under a center pivot.  Rye can provide a significant amount of forage for cattle, especially in the spring. It is probably the most common cover crop used in southeast Nebraska.
The cereal rye on the right was planted in mid October, 2-3 weeks earlier than the rye on the left.  The earlier planted rye benefits from warmer days and put on more growth.
Some farmers have cereal rye aerially seeded from mid-August from mid-September into standing corn or soybeans.  In 2015 excellent late summer rains benefitted this field of cereal rye.   It was grazed in late fall and again this spring into early May.  The soybeans will be planted into this field later this spring and the cereal rye will be terminated.
This is a field of a cover crop of brassicas.  Several farmers are also using brassicas for grazing, i.e. tillage radish, turnips and rape.  Seed corn producers overseed or aerial seed brassicas into their seed corn fields in August.  Tillage radish is used to break up compaction, increase pore spaces which will improve soil water infiltration, scavange excess nitrogen and help recycle other nutrients, besides providing excellent forage for cattle.  Nebraska research has shown cattle gain 1.5 – 2.0 lbs/hd/day grazing a cover crop consisting primarily of brassicas.


This is a photo taken in May 2015 of a field of terminated cereal rye and tillage radishes that winter killed. Notice the large holes in the ground.  These are left after the carcasses of the tillage radish decompose.  This provides an excellent water storage reservoir in the top 6-12″ of soil which helps reduce runoff and potential erosion during large rainfall events like we saw in the spring of 2015.  
This is a photo of our probe truck taking soil samples in Elbon Cereal Rye down to 8′ on Prevented Planted Acres on the Jon Keithley farm in Richardson County in southeast Nebraska.  This rye was planted in late August, 2015.  Growing roots of the cereal rye were found at almost 7′ in the soil core taken on April 15, 2016.  
Here is a soil pit dug down to about 8′ under the Elbon cereal rye from the previous photo. The Elbon cereal rye was almost 3′ tall above ground. Next to this plot was VNS (Variety Not Stated) Cereal Rye planted which was only 18″ tall.  It has growing roots down to over 6′ though.  There was also Annual Ryegrass planted in these plots.  It was only 12″ tall, but it also had growing roots down to over 6′.  This indicates there may be much more biomass below the ground then what we see above the ground which  should benefit the soil in the long term.  This project is part of a Nebraska NRCS Innovative Grant Nebraska Extension and several farmer cooperators received in 2014. We conducted a field day at this site on April 18th.  this was one of 4 field days and 5 workshops that have been or will be held to provide education on the use of cover crops and understanding soil health.   
This is the side of soil pit in the Elbon cereal rye.  See the fibrous roots growing in the top 12″ of soil with single roots going down much deeper. This field has been in no-till about 10 years, but only the first year with cover crops.
As part of a SARE Research and Education Grant the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is evaluating cover crops in crop/livestock systems on farms at different locations across  Nebraska.  Here soybeans planted on May 8th are emerging through the cereal rye.  As part of this project in Nemaha County in southeast Nebraska, we have treatments of a control with no cover crop, a cover crop grazed and a cover crop ungrazed treatment which are replicated three times.     
Dr. Humberto Blanco, Soil Scientist at the University of Nebraska and project leader takes penetrometer readings in the cover crop plot. Several measurements will be taken over the 3 year period of the grant including soil physical, chemical and biological properties, crop yields, cover crop biomass production, livestock carrying capacity and performance  and  economics of the systems evaluated.   
Soil temperature at 2″ and 6″ depths is one of the several soil measurements that will be collected throughout this research project. 

I have just scratched the surface in regards to cover crops.  I hope I have provided you with a glimpse of how some producers in Nebraska are using cover crops and some of the research and education that is taking place in Nebraska and in other states to determine how cover crops can best be utilized in agriculture today and in the future.  There are a number of  excellent resources where you can learn more about cover crops and soil health. Here are a few publications and links you may want to investigate.


Cover Crop Resources  Midwest Cover Crop Council Field Guide  Dryland Cover crops as a grazing option for Beef Cattle Cover Crops following weather damaged bean and corn harvest. 2016 Cover Crops Insurance and NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines USDA Cover Crop Chart Midwest Cover Crop Council