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Bittersweet: Easters look forward to retirement, life without their Jerseys

THOSE JERSEY GIRLS — Glen and Marilyn Easter laugh at the antics of Elli, one of the 80 or so Jerseys remaining at their Eastglen farm in Laurens. The couple is gradually selling the last of their herd in hopes of retiring this year. Photos-Judith Brown

Laurens, South Carolina – The proverbial saying that when God closes a door, he opens a window, proved true for Glen and Marilyn Easter when the couple failed to get the farm they wanted and instead purchased the land which would become Eastglen Farm.

It was 1978 and the Easters were considering moving their entire herd of Jersey milk cows from Vermont to the mild winters of South Carolina. When the f irst sale fell through, they eventually found the beautiful rolling acres which have made up Eastglen Farms.

“I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” Marilyn said, standing in front of the white cement block building which has served all these years as their dairy.

Located on Old Airport Road just outside the eastern edge of Laurens city limits, Eastglen Farm is in the process of selling its herd, and it’s not an easy thing to accept.

“Glen told me when we got married that I needed to understand I’d be in second place to the Jerseys,” she said. “And sometimes when he’d be out milking at all hours of the day and night, I started to think he wasn’t joking!”

Of course it was in jest, but now as they both near 79 years of age, and having endured a winter which included days near Christmas when temperatures were so cold they had to break 12-inch blocks of ice in the troughs, both Glen and Marilyn know it’s time.

“Actually that day I couldn’t believe we hadn’t already closed up,” Glen said, recalling the cold and difficulty.

As they continue selling the cows, though, they know they won’t be leaving Laurens, because they’ll remain in their home on the farm. And they’ll continue encouraging farmers in the local volunteer organiza- tions they actively participate in.

The Easters both grew up in separate areas of the Vermont countryside and met for the first time at a 4-H leadership conference in Washington, D.C. Their wedding 58 years ago is the stuff of Vermont winter leg- end, with the groom and best man’s car stuck in a snow bank miles away from the church and finally arriving cold, wet and very late.

As with any farm lifestyle, memories of running a family dairy include the tough and the wonderful, and the Easters have plenty of both. They’ve both served on boards promoting dairy and farming on the state and national levels, Glen traveled to Dubai to explore milk exports to the Middle East, they’re both in the Clemson University Dairy Hall of Fame. Their own dairy has participated in countless research projects proving the health and safety of Jersey milk.

Costs have gone up and down as do the numbers of farm staff, and many have become like family. A few of their staff over the years have actually been family members.

Retiring from dairy farming means giving up the Jerseys, with their doleful eyes, and the way they run over to meet Glen every time he walks into the f ield or follow behind Marilyn in her golf cart.

“Dairy cows are handled by their owners and farm staff so much so they like being with people,” Marilyn said as four or five of them followed the golf cart. “And they will always come out to meet Glen.”

It’s a mutual attraction.

“I’ve helped raise Jersey cows since I was 4 years old when my father brought home our first Jersey calf,” Glen said. “That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

When the couple prepared to move the farm in 1978, it involved Marilyn staying by herself in Laurens for two months to install the electric fence while Glen sold the farm in Vermont. She hired contractors to put a roof on the existing shell of a dairy and worried that her fence lines wouldn’t hold the 75 cows once Glen arrived with them.

“That was in the days when, in the South at least, farm wives didn’t really seem to be getting out in the muck to do this kind work,” Marilyn said, “and people didn’t quite know what to make of me.”

When Glen, their cows and farm staff arrived, the fences held. The Easters eventually grew the herd to about 350 in recent years, and every other day was sending out 4,000 gallons of milk to the processors.

But it’s small scale compared to the big operations out west.

“We’re a dying breed and we know it,” Glen said.

They have sold many of the milk cows and have about 80 cows and a few heifers left to sell. Until then they’ll continue feeding, milking and being dairy farmers until the last of the herd is sold.

“If you’re in animal agriculture, and I don’t care what part of it – what animals – these animals are totally dependent on us,” Glen said. “If somebody doesn’t go to the barn tomorrow morning, they have no future. And these animals end up being like our kids because they are totally dependent on us, which is why it’s hard to give them up.”

This story originally ran page 1B in the Wednesday, March 29 issue of The Laurens County Advertiser.

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