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The Cow's Coop

Farming is more than a job for young couple

By John Fitts

Staff Writer

Chris Lawler and Ashley Deming at Perry's Dairy Farm in Canton Center.

CANTON – For most people, a full-time job at a dairy farm would likely be enough when it comes to work. 

Milking, rotating cows in and out of pasture, birthing, supplemental grain feeding and a thousand other daily chores at Perry’s Dairy Farm in Canton Center keep Ashley Deming and Chris Lawler plenty busy. 

The young couple makes up two thirds of the full-time staff (there are part timers as well) at the farm, which has a milking herd of approximately 33. 

But the dairy is much more than a job in the minds of Deming and Lawler. They are fully committed to keeping the farm going and, like most farmers, have found ways to diversify. 

Notably, the two own and operate The Cow’s Coop at Perry’s Dairy Farm. 

It started in 2018 as a side business out of their house.  

The Cow's Coop at Perry's Dairy Farm.

“We loved cows, and we loved chickens, so we wanted to combine the two,” Deming said. “And then we got pigs and goats later, so who knows what it would be called otherwise.”

One staple of the business has been cold-process soaps, which Ashley initially made using cow’s milk, and later expanded to goat’s milk as well.  

“I wanted to do something else with the milk to get the community involved a little bit,” Deming said. “I have a lot of nervous energy I need to get out sometimes. That was a way for me to relieve that.”

In May of 2021, The Cow’s Coop moved to the farm itself and while it’s a separate business, the two operate hand in hand. Visitors to The Cow’s Coop farm store can shop for items such as the various soaps, beef produced by members of the Perry family, regional farm-produced goods, apparel, eggs, small gifts, and Cabot Creamery products. The latter is a natural as Perry’s Dairy is a member of the Agri-Mark Dairy Farmer Cooperative – which includes Cabot Creamery and McCadam Cheese. 

The Cow’s Coop has gained a following on social media and there’s no shortage of cute calf photos, excitement for seasonal soap releases and other engaging content, mixed in with some education about farming, food labels and more. 

But while the pastoral pictures are authentic, they perhaps don’t fully convey the incredible amount of hours involved in farm work.  

Inside The Cow's Coop farm stand.

Deming, for example, often finds herself milking as early as 3 a.m. and making soap at 8 p.m. In between are a myriad of other tasks physical, mental and technological in nature. 

“I grew up here in Canton and I didn’t know a 100th of all that goes into the farm,” Deming said. “It looks pretty from the side of the road but until you’re inside that barn behind closed doors, the amount of hard work and labor and love and…”

“Sleepless nights,” Lawler added. 

“And crying,” Deming continued, noting that the circle of life – with its joys and sorrows – is ever present on a farm. “Everything happens.”

But the two also love the work. 

Lawler, 31, who grew up in Canton, first came to the farm at age 11. 

“I needed something to do when I was younger” he said. “My parents had a family friend that used to work here when I was younger that said ‘bring him down to the farm.’ I pretty much never left.”

Seasonal soaps are always a favorite. (Submitted photo)

He did, however, take the time to further his education and participated in the agriculture program at Suffield High School, graduating in 2010. He also studied at SUNY Cobleskill in 2010-2011 for a year, majoring in Agriculture Engineering, Power and Machinery program.

Deming, 29, is a 2012 Canton High School graduate who also spent some of her formative years in Avon. An avid athlete, she suffered a concussion in her junior year and that helped push her away from such careers as sports medicine or physical therapy toward another love – animals. 

She worked at a campus dairy in her first year of college. Upon returning to Canton, she was led to the farm.

“When I was working one shift at the Whole Donut, Walter LeGeyt overhead me say ‘I just want to be milking cows’ and he gave me Scott Perry’s number and I came here, worked full time and decided this is what I want to do.”

Inspired by her experience at the farm, she enrolled for the 2014-2015 University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm & Industry Short Course, majoring in Dairy Herd Management. She had started in the same educational system – studying animal science at UW-Platteville for a year in 2012-2013.

Deming also worked for a time for Dairy 1 in New York – being intimately involved in another side of dairy farming – extensive milk testing.  

“I’m watching everybody farm, but I wasn’t doing it,” she said. 

She found her way back to the dairy, also working part-time as a vet tech before eventually committing to farming full time. The farm is where her heart truly lies. 

“When you come here, no matter what, you belong,” she said. “Loving cows and animals in Canton isn’t really a common thing but when you come here – We’re kind of like the land of misfits. Everybody here didn’t fit in out there, so you come here and you kind of join the herd.”

Ashley Deming and Chris Lawler with Scott Perry (center) of Perry’s Dairy Farm.

Scott Perry said his parents bought the Barbourtown Road property in 1946. His late mother “Peg” raised the last Ancon Sheep – now an extinct breed – on the land. 

The dairy farm came a little later. 

Although their mother had said no cows, Scott’s late brother Robert brought home a calf from a nearby farmer – Carl Dewey – sometime in the mid to late 1960s. 

One thing led to another and Scott Perry, who graduated high school in 1969, said he started dairy farming around the Spring of 1972. 

“Some people in the family knew you needed money. I didn’t know that. I just thought you needed to do what you wanted to do so I wanted to build a barn. My father figured out somebody had to pay for it. Between him and my mother’s sister, they put up all the money, but I did all the work.”

In the ensuing years, the farm continued to grow and is a multi-faceted operation that involves several family members in different capacities. The farm sits on 170 acres – and benefits from numerous hay fields and pastures owned by the family. Currently there are approximately 33 milking cows, with approximately 16 heifers, 20 dairy calves in addition to 17 or so beef cows. 

Ashley Deming milks a cow at Perry’s Dairy Farm.

Dairy breeds include Jerseys, Holsteins, and Guernsey crosses. Beef varieties include Angus, Hereford, Limousine, Simmental, Wagyu and Akaushi.

Lawler and Deming are putting in their share of hard work, particularly with their own business and on the dairy side. The two are soaking up all the information Scott Perry is passing along from his years of experience running the farm’s dairy operations. 

“You can’t really call Scott a boss,” Deming said. “He’s a mentor, because he’s just very special.”

“That’s been my gift to try and get them going,” Perry said. “It’s difficult just walking into this business without someone trying to help you.” 

And Deming and Lawler hope to keep at it - and keep things going - as long as possible.  

“The Cow’s Coop and Perry’s Dairy are working together to keep the dairy operating,” Deming said. “Perry’s Dairy will always be Perry’s Dairy; we are just here to keep cows in the fields as long as we can.” VL

The Cow’s Coop at Perry’s Dairy Farm 

• 24 Barbourtown Road, Canton Center, CT 06019

• Instagram: thecowscoop

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Another view inside The Cow's Coop.
Ashley Deming at Perry’s Dairy with Tapioca, a Holstein/Guernsey cross.

Chris Lawler puts out grain for some of the dairy cows. While the cows are rotationally pasture raised, the starch in grain gives them extra protein and energy.

– Perry’s Dairy Farm recently took 2nd Place Regional Milk Quality Award for 2023 at the AgriMark meeting. In the photo are Ashley Deming and Chris Lawler. (submitted photo)

Chris Lawler among some of the numerous calves born on the farm in the fall of 2023.

Ashley Deming milks a cow at Perry’s Dairy Farm.

Ashley Deming hooks a milking hose into the DeLaval pipeline system in the tie-stall barn at Perry’s Dairy. In background is Chris Lawler.


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