The Jersey Barnyard is a third-generation working dairy farm featuring "Belle, the singing cow."
The Jersey Barnyard in the magical, fertile rolling hills between La Grange and Round Top is the perfect home for a singing cow. Belle, the brown cow with puppy-dog eyes, floppy ears, and famous for her ice cream commercials, makes her home here along with a menagerie of other farm critters waiting for friendly visitors to arrive.
The Frerichs family farm has become a touchstone for hundreds of city folks cut off from their rural roots. As soon as you get out of the car at the red barn, the sights, smells, and sounds of a working dairy farm fill the dusty air. Ralph Frerichs, third-generation owner of the 850-acre spread, says a combination of several factors persuaded the family to open the operation to the public. The farm is a favorite school field trip, Belle's fan club wanted to see her in person, and inviting city folk out was a good way to market their gourmet cheeses.
The pen across the parking lot from the barn is full of a couple of dozen Belle look-a-likes acting like the next car is going to bring a load of hay or a Hollywood talent scout as they crowd at the gate to watch the car doors swing open. In another pen nearby are a dozen 4-foot-tall, baby Belles; curious but skittish of approaching guests.
Visitors can get as much or as little of the farm experience as they want. Tractor-pulled hay wagons take the curious on tours of the real dairy farm over a hill and out of sight of the red welcoming shed. Milk becomes more than something in plastic jugs as you follow the process from feed growing in the fields to the automated milking equipment in the big barn. The short course in dairy farming lasts about an hour or so and includes the opportunity to try hand-milking a patient cow.
Or a visit to the Barnyard can be a scoop of Blue Bell ice cream and a quiet moment looking over the wind-swept pastures. There is a bench under a tree next to a re-circulating pond for just such an opportunity. Along with the snacks, the gift shop sells an assortment of gourmet foods, jellies, and farm-related gifts and toys.
For the kids, after a dripping cone, it is time to explore even if they don't go on the tour. The open end of the red barn is full of animals to see and touch. Cages of chickens, rabbits, and a huge turkey bring the storybooks to life. Of course there is Belle, placidly standing in her stall showing little interest in the little munchkins running around.
Actually, this is Belle's daughter; the singing Jersey cow of the commercials passed away a couple of years ago, Frerichs says. The average life span for a Jersey cow is 10 to 13 years. The original Belle grew up in the backyard pasture.
The real entertainers of the Barnyard are a small herd of goats begging at the fence for food pellets sold by the handful from a small vending machine. All different sizes and colors of the goats stick their necks between the wood slats waiting for a handout. No wonder the Barnyard is a favorite place to have a birthday party. The covered area next to the gift shop hosts a party or reunion just about every weekend.
Three generations of Frerichses have been milking a herd of about 300 Jersey cows since 1948. A fourth generation of brothers, sisters, and cousins is learning the craft. When Ralph's parents were married, one of the wedding presents was a new Jersey cow. At one time there were more than 70 dairy farms in Fayette County; today there are fewer than 10.
In 1996, the Frerichses became the only dairy in the state with its own cheese factory. Currently housed in a warehouse in Schulenburg, the Texas Jersey Cheese Company offers area grocery shoppers high-quality dairy products. Ralph, who learned cheesemaking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, adds no preservatives to the hormone-free Jersey milk used to make the cheese. Some of the milk is sold to Blue Bell Creamery in nearby Brenham through the local farmers cooperative.
In the refrigerated case next to the ice cream is an assortment of cheddar, pepper cheddar, Colby, pepper jack, and Monterey jack cheeses hand-prepared from all-natural ingredients. The cheese company also makes three flavors of cheese balls. For a real treat try a slice of Texas Jersey cheese along with a chocolate cow cookie.
You won't find any video games at the Jersey Barnyard, just a good excuse to get out into the country for a ride along the wildflower-lined back roads. Once you get there it doesn't take long to see and do almost everything, but it is such a nice place to visit that there doesn't seem to be any hurry to leave. The only thing missing is grandma standing at the kitchen door with a plate of fried chicken.
The Jersey Barnyard is on a hill 1.4 miles east of TX 71 on TX 159. The red barn is open for business Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm, Saturday, 9am-6pm, and Sunday, 1-6pm. Farm tours are optional and cost $5.50 for adults and $4.50 for children. Group discounts are available and reservations are recommended. The farm is closed on Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
Look for Texas Jersey Cheese Company products at H.E.B., Central Market, Whole Foods, and other area supermarkets. The Frerichses also will mail gift boxes and baskets. For more information, call 800/382-2880 or go to their Web site at www.texasjersey.com.
Coming up this weekend ...
Ice Cream Festival in downtown Brenham includes lots of Blue Bell Ice Cream along with arts & crafts fair, May 5. 888/273-6426.
Airshow at the Georgetown airport features Stealth Bomber fly-by, night aerobatic show, fireworks, and flight demonstrations, May 4-5. 512/869-1759 or www.gtuairshow.com.
Coming up ...
Crawling Cave Tour at Colorado Bend State Park offers a look at the underground world of speleologists. Come prepared to get muddy, May 12. 915/628-3240 or www.tpwd.state.tx.us.