Paul Hockman remembers a meeting of the minds back when he and his younger brother John were entering the family dairy business: A wise old man explained that a farmer had to be either where there were people or land. The Hockmans’ Penn View Farm is located in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, so they have the people, but not necessarily the land.
“He said, ‘You have to cater to what you’ve got,'” Paul recalled. “Even today as we lose more and more farmland [in the region] to development, we have to look at that differently. For us, those are homes for our future customers.”
Penn View still sells direct-market Holstein milk in glass bottles with deposits, but for how long? None of their five children have an interest in dairy farming, not when they can work 9-to-5 jobs and have the entire weekend off, not just Sundays (milking aside). They are what’s called producer-handlers. Years ago, they were called “juggers.” Now, John said, “We just keep chugging along.”
The farm is a 50-50 partnership between the brothers, which includes a 50-50 split of labor and responsibilities.
“It’s a two-man operation, and we both do everything,” Paul explained. “There are some that say I should be in charge at one end of the farm and John should be in charge of the other end, but I say baloney. If something goes wrong at that other end, then I would say, ‘John, that’s your problem.’ This way, we can’t [do that].”
John said they both need to understand the entire operation of the farm, from herd health to marketing, so if one of them were to go away for even a week (which never happens), the other would know what needs to be done. “You can’t have someone go away and have the one who is left not know how to process the milk,” he said.
They both agree that in any farming operation today you need to have a niche. Penn View’s niche is the half-gallon glass bottles of milk.
The Hockmans split the processing work. Paul and his wife, Edith, do the work on Tuesdays, and on Fridays John and his wife, Norma, do the processing. There’s one full-time hire and four to five part-time, seasonal helpers, often high school or college students or retirees. When processing begins at 1:30 a.m. and ends at 8:30 a.m., you’re open to any help you can get. “After 8:30, then we play farmer and do all the field work,” Paul said.
At the peak of the producer-handler days in the mid-1970s in Pennsylvania, the Hockmans were one of 300-plus similar operations. Today, there are only 20 or so left. The farm store is also a sort of museum, paying homage to those earlier days. Displayed on shelves and windowsills throughout the store are half-gallon bottles from many of the local dairies that have gone out of business.
Of course, central to one display is an original Penn View bottle, dated 1970. At that time, the bottle cost 33 cents. Today, the Hockmans pay $1.65 per bottle and get $1.75 on each as a deposit.
There was never a question as to the bottle size they’d use after a salesman explained that kids are the ones who open the refrigerator door the most, and they could lift a half-gallon glass bottle, but not necessarily a gallon jar, which may weigh 10 pounds when filled with milk. It’s double the bottles, but seemed a safer choice.
All producer-handlers began bottling in glass, and then some switched to a plastic bag. Later, some switched to molded plastic. Penn View has always bottled in glass, which requires a bottle-washing machine.
“We became known as too old-fashioned to change,” Paul said. “Now, we’re as cool as can be. We’re still in glass. We’re recycling. The milk stays colder in glass and tastes better. There’s no off-taste.”
A humble starting ground
Their father, Howard Hockman, bought the farm in 1941. At the time, it was more of a homesteader’s farm. Howard bought some cows and started milking them. Paul and John joined the business in 1970 after returning from military service. Together, they had to find a way to increase revenues so the farm could support three families.
Today, 3,500 to 4,000 gallons of Penn View milk are sold every week at farmers markets and through the on-farm store, as well as preordered for home delivery. The back rooms of the store also serve as the processing plant.
John said, “The costs today for anyone to start on their own are too much. The interest alone would kill you. We’re established, and we had our start because our dad started us and we’ve just kept it going. It’s the way we would have to do it with our kids. We’d have to give them their start.”
The brothers have about 200 cows and are currently milking 95. Cows are added to the milking herd when they’re 2 years old.
Once the milk has been rotated through old-fashioned glass piping it’s transported to the processing rooms, where it is pasteurized. A 25 hp, oil-fired steam boiler heats the short-time pasteurizer and the bottle washer. Penn View heats above the state-required temperature to 178 degrees for 16 to 18 seconds; the brothers claim this gives the milk a longer shelf life. Once the milk goes into the separator, which takes the cream out to varying degrees while spinning, the equipment produces skim, 2 percent, whole and chocolate milk, which moves on to additional stainless steel equipment that homogenizes it at 2,000 psi. “It’s regeneration, really,” Paul said. The milk cools down in a holding tank before moving into the bottle-filling apparatus.
“We’re known for our chocolate milk. It’s not a syrup, it’s a malt,” John said. “Archbishop Wood football players [PIAA state champions in 2011 and 2013] swear by our chocolate milk after weight lifting, after practice, after any workout.” Eggnog is another best seller from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
Cream from the farm goes to Longacre’s Modern Dairy, Inc. in Barto, Pennsylvania, to be made into ice cream.
Penn View milk is not sold across state lines, so it’s only sanctioned and inspected by state officials, not the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 60 percent of the half-gallon jugs of milk are sold through various markets; the rest is sold at the farm store. “Getting our dealer’s license was a smart move,” Paul said.
They’ve been selling to the markets – Paul calls them satellites – since 1980, beginning with Bolton’s Farm Market in Silverdale, Pennsylvania, and adding others, such as Rick’s Egg Farm in Kintnersville, since then.
Dairymen in the field
The Hockmans own and farm 130 acres and rent 570 additional acres within a 5-mile radius. These fields provide the
forage for their herd. “The people want us to farm it because we treat their land like it’s our own land,” Paul said.
They grow corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, alfalfa and timothy. It’s less expensive for them to grow it than to buy it.
Energy for the herd comes largely through the corn silage produced. They buy a supplement for protein, but also rely on their 80 acres of alfalfa hay; the better the alfalfa crop, the less they have to spend on the supplement. Eight tons of feed will last 10 days; 3 tons of feed for calves will last a bit longer.
“We’re really running two different shows here,” John explained. “There’s a lot of farming but a little bit of marketing.”
“We’re not marketing enough, but that’s because we enjoy the farming so much,” Paul added. “There aren’t many dairy farmers left because of the hours and the days you have to work. With crop farming, it’s seasonal. Here, the cows need to be milked twice a day, every day for 365 days a year, but it’s always been part of our life. It’s the life of a dairyman.”