Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

A Breed Apart

Margie Pensak

They spend the bulk of their waking hours on the family cattle farms in Pennsylvania, but the Gutmans would never consider living outside an established Torah hub — a lesson in priorities as deeply ingrained as the family's multi-generational affinity for cattle dealing. Four generations after Max Gutman first found a foothold in York County, his Jewish values and uncompromising convictions still drive the family business

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


They navigate halachic queries about cattle feed and firstborn calves as they steer their tractors through the family farm, but the Gutmans know that davening from the heart is the best way to make a deal (PHOTOS: Esky Cook)

Gutman Brothers Dairy Cattle│York County and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania│Established 1942

Abe Gutman was still a kid when he realized how much time his father spent commuting from their Baltimore home to his livestock farm in Pennsylvania. “Why don’t we move out to the farm already?” he asked. 

He’d never forget Ernst Gutman’s response. “You’ve got to live in a makom Torah,” the German immigrant told his son. 

The Gutman family continues to do that. Just as Abe’s father and grandfather managed the long commute when they started catering to America’s dairymen in 1942, Abe and his sons hit the road every morning for their daily trip from Baltimore’s Torah-observant hub to the pastoral farmland of Pennsylvania. 

Identical twins, Binyomin and Doniel, started helping out their father at age ten, and are now seasoned cattle dealers. All three make a daily commute of about an hour to the family’s four farms in York County, Pennsylvania, totaling 450 acres. Then there’s their Lancaster County farm, just “down the road a piece” — a 50-minute drive. 

The Gutmans sell about 25,000–30,000 heads of cattle per year, and milk between 200–500 cows every day, the number fluctuating with the day’s sales and the amount of calves that are born. The turnover is constant, with hundreds of cows constantly being traded and transported. But Ernst Gutman’s dictum remains as powerful today as it was when it was first spoken. “As much as we feel at home on the farm, we would never be here for Shabbos,” says Doniel. “You just don’t mix those two. You go a hundred miles an hour every day, every week, and then when Shabbos comes, it’s like a switch, where nothing else matters. And then you make Havdalah and it matters a lot again. You’re back on your phone, back on the job.” 

Winds of Change

 The Gutmans’ York County farm is just a 50-minute ride from Baltimore, but it feels like a different world. The air is country-fresh, and the ambiance is different, too. Photographer Esky Cook and I are greeted by Abe, whose work attire includes a plaid shirt, large insulated vest, faded jeans, suspenders, work boots, and a baseball cap. Amid the symphony of chirping birds and ear-tagged mooing cows, he reassures us that we can safely leave our valuables in the car. 

“This is my Park Avenue office!” Abe announces, holding open his office door. The interior is dusty, as to be expected on a farm, and the decor a bit outdated — a beige linoleum floor; assorted sizes of green, rusty steel cabinets; an old-fashioned pencil sharpener on the wall; a black refrigerator covered with magnets; a small cabinet with drawers marked with “Meat” and “Dairy” signs; and an old wooden desk graced by a huge copy machine, piles of paperwork, and a corded telephone.

"My father would always tell us it's not our smarts that make us successful." Now a seasoned cattle dealer who's seen Divine fingerprints guiding his success, Doniel Gutman credits his father Abe for the best business lessons

As we walk to the adjacent feeding barn, built by Abe’s sons, he tells us that as early as the mid-1960s, he could see indications of change in the industry. “The white people no longer want to work in York County — the only help I can get is from Mexicans,” he says, before we enter the barn to find one of the workers administering sonograms to determine if the cows are pregnant. 

Four employees currently work on the farm here in York County; eight work on the Gutmans’ Lancaster farm. “As early as the 70s, we stopped milking our cattle in York County and opened up the Lancaster facility in 2005. In Lancaster County, you have the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Mexicans who are willing and eager to work. When the cows are ready to give birth, they’re sent to our Lancaster County farms, where there’s no shortage of skilled hands available to help them out.” 

That’s not the only change he’s seen over the years. “My father sold cows to farmers and financed them, charging them interest,” continues Abe. “Back then, you never heard the word ‘bankruptcy’ in the countryside. If you signed a note saying that you owed somebody money and then you couldn’t pay, you called and said, ‘I’m short this month and I can’t pay. Can we work it out somehow?’ But I saw in the mid-60s that the country was changing.”

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"