Carl and Debra Chaney own Chaney’s Dairy Barn in Bowling Green. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Carl and Debra Chaney, the owners of Chaney’s Dairy Barn, have dished out ice cream at the Kentucky State Fair for about a decade. This year is no different, but next year is expected to be.

Although Chaney’s Dairy Barn makes its ice cream at its 54-acre cow farm in Bowling Green, Ky., the milk, cream and sugar mixture used in the ice cream is from Prairie Farms, a major dairy operation out of Illinois. Starting this fall, ice cream from Chaney’s Dairy Barn will truly be Kentucky-sourced, as the farm will begin using milk and cream from its 60 producing Jersey cows.

“There won’t be anybody else in the state that can do that,” Carl Chaney said.

Chaney estimated that it will use 30 percent to 35 percent of the milk its cows produce annually to make its extra creamy ice cream. This year, Chaney’s will make a total of 20,000 gallons to 25,000 gallons, which is served at the farm, events like the Kentucky State Fair and attractions such as Mammoth Cave National Park and the National Corvette Museum.

Flavors include banana, birthday cake, brownie batter, strawberry and bourbon, among others. Each uses real ingredients like actual cake and Maker’s Mark bourbon.

Chaney’s offers up to 31 flavors of ice cream made with real ingredients. | Courtesy of Chaney’s Dairy Farm

Using their own cow’s milk has always been the goal, but the equipment needed to process it to meet federal food standards is expensive, Chaney explained, adding that they’d already made a big investment in the early 2000s in a robot that milks the farm’s cows, as well as getting the ice cream operation off the ground.

Chaney’s has been a cow farm since 1940, which alone is impressive, but Chaney acknowledged: “The ice cream is the cool part. Everybody loves the ice cream.”

Since 2003, Chaney’s Dairy Barn has run a scoop shop on its property, 9191 Nashville Road, and allowed people to take self-guided tours of the farm for $4 a person. The Chaneys built a small section of wood stadium seating for people to observe the cows, watch a video about the history of the farm and see a video feed of the cows being milked by the robot.

“It’s been crazy since,” he said, noting that 5,000 people completed self-guided tours in 2017 and thousands of students visit the farm each year.

Farms, even family-owned ones, are more high-tech nowadays, which surprises many whose families are several generations removed from farm life, Chaney told Insider while sitting behind the business’s mobile ice cream counter at the Kentucky State Fair. “They don’t know what agriculture is all about.”

Chaney’s has been milking cows with mechanical help for decades, and now with the robot, the owners don’t even need to attach the milking mechanism themselves. The cows, knowing they will get feed while being milked, simply walk through a gate; the robot attaches pumps to the udders and milks away. Once finished, a second gate opens allowing the cow to roam.

“The robot milks the cows whenever they want to be milked,” Chaney said, which can be anywhere from two to five times a day depending on how much milk the cow is producing. Some make as much as 11.5 gallons of milk daily, he added.

The robot is even smart enough to know when not to milk a cow. By reading a collar on each cow, it can identify which one it is and when it was last milked. If it’s been less than three hours, the robot won’t give the cow food and open the front gate to shoo it out. The robot will also do that if it knows a certain cow is only producing enough to warrant milking it two or three times a day.

Still, the cows try to trick the robot into giving it feed. “We have some cows that will come in 35 times a day,” Chaney said.