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Pasa Sustainable Agriculture Dairy Grazing Apprentice Grad to Study in New Zealand

When Madeline Eby graduated high school a few years ago, she didn’t have a good idea of what her future would hold or what her next steps would be. Now, at 20 years old, she's packing for New Zealand.

May 28 2024

Rebecca Schweitzer-Benner
Lancaster Farming

When Madeline Eby graduated high school a few years ago, she didn’t have a good idea of what her future would hold or what her next steps would be.

But her employer at the time, Matt Byler of Peachee Farms in Belleville, Pennsylvania, suggested she look into Pasa Sustainable Agriculture’s dairy grazing apprenticeship. Now, at 20 years old, Eby is packing for New Zealand where, in July, she’ll work on a dairy farm to better understand the country’s grazing style.

The apprenticeship helped her realize her passions for rotational grazing and the soil health it promotes.

“I love the fact that I get to be a part of something bigger, which is changing the soil, making a good product — whether that’s a cow who lives a good quality life or the milk and dairy products that will be produced down the road,” Eby said.

Madeline Eby kneels with a newborn calf, a product of one of the three cows that she bought herself.

The 3,700-hour program pairs apprentices with grazing dairies. Individuals also complete independent, online coursework.

Eby stayed with Peachee Farms, getting more involved with the 215-head milking herd and the other groupings. A large part of her work involved helping to build pastures, which is done with a New Zealand-influenced style.

Byler taught Eby what to consider to prevent cows from causing damage to land. Cows will find areas they like and paths to get there, causing additional wear to certain areas, Eby said.

“You can set up the same pasture so many different ways and disrupt the soil and create a different pattern each time you go through,” she said.

The herd at Peachee Farms in Bellevill, Pa. returns from milking. The cows are mostly crossbreds, but they have a large New Zealand breed influence.

Eby was born in the Belleville area. Her parents had a small herd of cattle and some cropland when she was young, but she wasn’t raised on a farm.

Her first exposure to farming was when she decided to get a part-time job at Peachee Farms at age 14.

But she wasn’t working with the cows. She didn’t milk a cow until she later got a completely different job.

“I had this random desire to milk cows, so I went and got hired at another farm and milked tie stall for about seven months, or so,” Eby said.

But she was still in high school, and it was a time of experimentation. From playing sports to holding different jobs, Eby bounced around.

The constants — Peachee Farms and dairy.

“That’s kind of when I really was like, ‘Oh, I keep coming back to this, and I really enjoy it.’ There’s something to be said for that,” Eby said.

That passion has continued since graduating from her apprenticeship and trying a couple other fields of work. That’s why she’s excited to go to New Zealand.

She wants to experience grazing dairies in a number of climates.

“What happens in New Zealand can’t necessarily happen the exact same way somewhere else,” Eby said. “You have to be kind of conscious of what works best for you and the land and the cows.”

As for what Eby’s long-term future looks like, she’s not sure, but it could include running a grazing dairy of her own.

“I would not be against it,” she said. “That’s for sure.”

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