This Kentucky Dairy Farm Lets You Spend the Night With Cows

When high winds blew down an old barn, cheese maker Kenny Mattingly saw an opportunity—and created a destination.

Photograph Courtesy Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese

In 2016, Kenny Mattingly had been making cheese on his family’s 350-acre dairy farm in Austin, Kentucky, just over 200 miles (and one time zone) from Cincinnati, for 18 years. He’d also been thinking about what was then one of the hottest trends in the dairy farming industry: robotic milkers. These machines make it possible for cows to essentially set their own milking schedules. Without them, cows depend on the farmer to milk them—usually twice a day, every day—making dairy farming a highly labor-intensive proposition. That July, a summer thunderstorm with extremely high winds swept through Barren County, knocking down the existing dairy barn on the Mattingly farm.

Photograph Courtesy Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese

While losing the barn created a mess, Mattingly looked at it as an opportunity. In addition to modernizing the milking operation, he also took a cue from his daughter Sarah Mattingly. She and her husband, Ben Botkins, own a bicycle shop in Louisville called Parkside. The same year the barn blew down, Sarah and Ben converted storage space above their shop into an Airbnb rental. Today, the concept is known as Bed and Bikes, and there are 14 units above the shop. “You can’t put cows on the second floor,” Mattingly told a group of guests this past summer. “So why not let people stay there?” That led to the construction of two apartments above the barn.

Each space has a bedroom with a queen-size bed, a full bath, and a living room area with a queen-size fold-out couch. One kitchen has a stove; the other has only a microwave—and in both refrigerators, you’ll find cheese samples for you to try. There’s an adjoining door, so if you have a larger group, you can share the whole space easily. The apartments’ foyer features viewing windows that overlook the dairy barn, where the cows spend the night, and there’s also a large deck with expansive views of the farm’s rolling hills. (If the thought of staying in the barn is just too much for you, the farmhouse itself is also available for rent.)

You have a better view of the robotic milker downstairs, where you can pull up a chair and watch. Cows (about 100 of the 250 cows in the herd are milking) amble into the milking stall, which is unlocked by a kind of 21st-century cowbell that’s more fancy keycard than noisemaker. Once in the stall, a tray of oats keeps Bossie busy while the udders are cleaned and a laser-guided system attaches the milking apparatus. Each cow gives about 10 gallons of milk per day, and 70 percent of that milk gets piped directly to the cheese making operation in the shop next door.

Photograph Courtesy Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese

If your visit coincides with a production day (they’re making cheese four or five days a week, and usually on Saturday if there are guests staying), you can watch the process in action. They can make 750 pounds of cheese a day and 10,000 pounds a month. Peek into the cheese cave, where rounds of Kentucky Bleu or Bleu Gouda age into peak funkiness. And yes, there’s a shop, so you can take home as many packages of cheese curds, Ted cheddar, or Kentucky Rose farmhouse cheese as you can carry. Mattingly is a gracious guide when he’s on-site and is happy to talk shop, especially with enthusiastic cheese-heads.

Side Trip: Glasgow’s Scottish roots, Civil War battles, and Italian food.

On your way to the farm, you’ll most likely go through Glasgow, Kentucky, a town of roughly 14,000 people that’s best known for its annual Highland Games, held in May. The Games celebrate feats of strength by men in kilts, as well as the town’s Scottish heritage—many early settlers were Scottish Revolutionary War soldiers who’d been granted land in the area. Glasgow’s also home to a Civil War battle site—Ft. Williams, a Union fort located in what is now the Glasgow Municipal Cemetery, was built after Morgan’s Raiders attacked the town in December 1862. Whether you’re interested in history or just hungry, the town is a perfect place to stop for a meal. We recommend Gondolier Pizza, which goes beyond pies, calzones, hoagies, and salads to full dinners, including steak. (Just peek at the dessert case and save room for cannoli.)

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