Farming In Focus: April – Dairy

This is my second Farming in Focus post as part of a new project where I visit at least one farm each month and do kind of a day-in-the-life of a farmer through photo essay. This month I focused on dairies – I visited three, in fact. I had an ulterior motive, though, because I’m simultaneously working on a story about milk labels (more on that later) so I wanted to sample a few different approaches to milk-production, if you will. I visited one dairy in Oregon and two dairies in Washington as part of a trip I took to Spokane for the AgChat Pacific Northwest Regional Agvocacy conference.  This is also why I’m a few days late with this post – I have too much on my plate!

First I visited Cloud Cap Farms, an organic dairy in Boring, Oregon. (It’s really not all that boring, though, it was really interesting.)CloudCap Farm-1Melissa Collman is a fourth generation dairy farmer. Her family’s  dairy has been in business since 1924 and chose to go organic in 2004 as a way to financially stabilize their business. Organic dairies get paid a contracted price for their milk, where most conventional dairies get paid a fluctuating price based on current market value. Part of being organic means they are unable to treat their cows with antibiotics. One way that they reduce the need for antibiotics is to “hutch” raise their calves (each calf in it’s own hutch with an outdoor paddock) instead of “mob” raise them (all together). This way if one calf gets sick, they don’t all get sick. After about 60-90 days, they are moved to a group environment. If a cow does get sick, they try to use alternatives to antibiotics, but in the event that a cow gets something like pneumonia that can only be treated with antibiotics, they either treat with antibiotics and sell the cow to a conventional dairy or, very rarely, euthanize the cow.

CloudCap Farm-2One difference Collman has noticed since they went organic is that they feed their cows less than they used to, and as a result the calves are smaller and require less assistance in birth and the cows have fewer Displaced Abomasum (DA) or twisted stomachs. As a downside to not feeding the cows so much, they produce less milk. Part of that difference is because the components of the feed is different – for example, they can’t feed cottonseed or beet pulp because they can’t source it organically, and even if they could it would be cost-prohibitive. They currently feed their cows a forage-based feed with about ten percent grain, whereas when they were conventional they feed them about 25 percent grain. While the contracted price they get for their milk stays the same, they do suffer fluctuations in feed costs.  “It’s been a rough few years for us, I’m not going to lie,” Collman said. “The cost of feed is going up and not going down – the drought in California is hurting farmers. I really feel for my conventional counterparts who don’t get that contracted milk price.”

CloudCap Farm-3Something that really surprised me as I was walking around all three dairies is the amount that cows poop. Seriously, non-stop pooping. They poop where they lay, eat, sleep. They poop when they get up, they poop while they’re laying down. It sounded like someone continually dumping bags of oranges on the ground (and I’m not even going to talk about the pee-faucet those cows turn on.) So, what to do with all that poop? Most dairies have a lagoon to which they move all the manure. On Collman’s dairy, they flush manure water down these chutes and out into the lagoon. They separate the “solids” into a compost that they use to fertilize their alfalfa fields and re-circulate the manure water to wash out the barn. Stinky, but efficient.

CloudCap Farm-4One requirement for organic dairies is the cows must be on pasture, but Collman’s dairy was pasture-based before they went organic, so that made it a little easier for them. “I still thought we were amazing farmers as conventional farmers,” said Collman. She noted that she doesn’t believe organic is just a marketing ploy, that they truly believe in what they do and this production method is a good fit for  her family. “But what’s best practice on our farm isn’t necessarily best practice on another farm,” she said.

 

Next I visited Stauffer Dairy, about an  hour north of Spokane, Washington.

Stauffer farm-1

Brandon and his wife Krista milk about 150 cows on their first-generation dairy they started in 2009. They also have three young kids who were dashing about the whole time I was there, climbing on fences, hanging on Krista and trying to coerce me into coming to see their baby chicks. They seemed immensely happy to be there and to show me their way of life. Part of that way of life is to rake out and level the stalls twice a day, as Brandon is doing here. All the stalls get new pine shavings weekly. The heifers were moved from outside to be checked by their veterinarian before being moved to summer pasture and in this photo are in a corner of the freestall barn that isn’t normally used for milk cows. Krista also pointed out that some of the stalls need to be repaired. “Cow size stalls  and young heifers do not mix well. As you can see they made a mess and it is a work out to clean up after them.” Summer pasturing provides a welcome break for that particular chore.

Stauffer farm-2

While the cows were in the parlor being milked, Brandon was cleaning out the barn. (I like to think of him as a manure management engineer.)He drove this tractor equipped with what looked to me like a reverse-snow plow and shoveled those massive amounts of manure I mentioned before into their lagoon. Unlike Collman, their dairy is not set up to flush the manure into the lagoon, so they must push it out manually. Yes, those wheels are covered in cow manure and yes,  he’s smiling about it. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job. Props to him, though, he didn’t bat an eye. The tractor scrapes all the manure to a slot that then transfers it to the lagoon. All the Stuaffers’ manure is used as fertilizer for feed that is grown for their farm as well as a neighboring dairy farm.

Stauffer farm-3

After filling up with feed, Brandon feeds the heifers in a transition pin (a heifer is a young female cow that has not yet had a calf.) The heifers stay in this transition pen for a short period after they are weaned off milk to be monitored for health, and checked by the veterinarian to make sure all is well. Then they are vaccinated for bangs (Brucellosis, a reproductive disease) and moved to pasture.  Stauffer farm-4The Stauffers purchase all of their feed – they feed a combination of alfalfa hay and silage, mixed with grass, barley and corn. Hay is dried forage like grass or alfalfa where silage is fermented forage.  I mentioned to Krista that Cloud Cap Farms has experienced fewer assisted births and DAs since they went organic. I asked her if they felt like conventional dairies suffered more in that regard than organic dairies. She told me, “Each farm is different. On our farm, we rarely have a DA, maybe once a year. As far as pulling calves, it is not common practice on our farm.”stauffer-6The Stauffers have 25 calves on whole milk right now. The feed changes as they get older, but one thing that remains constant is that they are feed alfalfa hay and/or silage as well as barley for their grain.

 

The last farm I visited was Douglas Falls Creamery and Barton Hay in Colville, Washington.

Barton farm-1Angie Barton and her husband, Dennis, own Douglas Falls Creamery, a certified raw milk micro-dairy on 470 acres two hours north of Spokane. They can only farm 80 of those acres (the rest are mountainous) but they lease an additional 100 acres  for a total of 180 acres to grow alfalfa, alfalfa/grass hay and barley or oat hay for the local goat, horse and family cow market. Barton is an animal expert with 40 years of experience  – she started working with goats when she was five years old. On their farm they have horses, Jersey cows, Icelandic and Friesian sheep, Alpine goats, one donkey, one pony, one llama, guinea pigs, two pot-bellied pigs, Blue Slate turkeys, laying hens, banty chickens, ring-necked doves, Japanese quail, emus (seen in this image), geese, Muscovy ducks, guinea fowl, pigeons and two dogs. They also have Barton’s four children and her niece living with them on their farm.

Barton farm-2I’ll freely admit that I’m not a morning person (and my husband will back me up on this) but I got up at 5:30 a.m. to take pictures of Barton’s twin daughters, Ellie (seen here) and Claire doing the morning chores. I said to Claire, “You do this every single morning?” and she said, “Yes. And every evening.” I said, “How do you go on vacation?” and she said, “We haven’t gone on vacation all together since we got cows.” Twice a day from March through November Ellie hand milks six to eight goats. And it was 30 degrees out there!

Barton farm-3 Barton got certified to sell raw milk in September of 2012 and they sell approximately 75 gallons a month at $4 per half gallon, the rest they mix with grain to feed the chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and about five butcher hogs per year. In order to sell raw milk, you must have a small herd – Claire milks between three and five cows twice a day. They fully recognize the risk associated with raw milk and Barton told me they only do it for the taste, she doesn’t believe there is a nutritional advantage. “Jerseys have higher butterfat which we skim off mostly, but the milk is sweeter,” she said. “I’m not sure if it is because of the Jersey breed or not being heated or what we feed them, but I always say it’s like a fresh peach off the tree compared to canned peaches. I continue to tell my customers that pasteurized milk is the safest and that we don’t drink it for any other reason than the taste and that we know we can do a safe job, but there is always that risk.”

Barton farm-4

Barton says selling the milk provides them with enough to pay the costs of feed and a little extra, but they also have a hay business and Dennis has a seasonal full-time job. Dennis grew up on a dairy farm and has been in the haying business all his life. She says between all that, it’s enough to get by. “Although we don’t make our living entirely by farming, it just seems to be what we were meant to do and I can’t imagine living and raising a family any other way. I am so thankful that we have this opportunity.”

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12 Comments

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12 Responses to Farming In Focus: April – Dairy

  1. Grace

    I love that you visited such different types of dairy farms! It gives such a good picture of what is out there. Plus, it helps people realize how much work it takes to run a dairy farm. Your milk, no matter what kind, takes a lot of hard work!

  2. Really great blog! I definitely learned more by reading this, I’ve been wanting to know more about the dairy industry. I’m also looking forward to your milk labeling blog. Just this morning on Idaho TV, there was a commercial for I believe it was called “Pure Dairy”, but I could be wrong. It was something along those lines. Their marketing said that their label was the only one with a 5 point safety standard that made it sound like it was better than all other dairy. As a consumer and a mom, I would definitely like to know more. Not like it’s your responsibility to teach me, but since you said you were doing anyway, yay!

    • Sara

      That post is going to take some time for sure. There is SO much to include. But I’m really looking forward to learning more about what the labels mean and sharing it!

    • Love seeing people get to know their farmer! It’s great when folks learn not only where their food comes from, but from whom! Thanks for sharing your adventures on farm!
      The Dairy Pure label is a nation wide label from Dean Foods that will now be on all their dairy products, nationwide. Still local milk, but one label. With regards to their 5 point promise all milk is antibiotic free and all milk from licensed producers and bottlers is tested for antibiotics ; milk that is produced without artificial hormones is usually labeled, despite the fact that there is no discernible difference between milk produced with and without it; quality testing is de rigeur for most milk bottlers, but you can check with your own for their particular standards; most co-ops and milk bottlers demand a certain standard of care for their farms and cows. One program is FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) which requires certain standards of care, well being, safety and diet for animals; milk is kept chilled on farm and to the milk bottler.
      Milk is one of the most regulated and safest foods in the U.S. and we dairy farmers are proud to put it on our neighbours’ tables and happy to share our way of life! Thanks for sharing it with your readers!

  3. William

    Nice blog. Couple of quick points:
    First farm – the individual hutches are also used by most conventional dairy farms and, although very good for health (fresh air), you can still get calf to calf disease transmission, just slower (because each calf only contacts two other calves). Not that the calfs can touch nose to nose through the wire.
    Second farm – what breed(s) have they? Seems like a mixture of Holstein, Guernsey and ?
    Third farm – I’m in Canada but surprised that any farm in the US is allowed sell raw milk given the chance of Brucellosis, etc. But glad that the farmer was honest about the lack of nutritional value and the inherent risk. Not sure why it would taste better other than freshness.

    • Hi William,

      Our farm is the second farm. We have Holsteins, jerseys & Holstein-jersey crosses. We like our mutts. 😉 We also use the hutches but in a group setting. No issues with illnesses and the calves do very well in a group as they are social animals!

      If you have any other questions about our farm, please let me know.

      Krista

  4. Great post Sara! I love how you went to three different types of dairies. Each one does something a little bit different, but in the end they are all providing a nutritional and safe product. I was most interested in the raw milk dairy. As a young girl my dad would milk one Jersey cow (Jenny) and we would have fresh milk part of the year. I still remember her coming into the barn every night and standing at the hay bunk to eat while dad milked her. Wonderful that others are providing a product that I enjoyed as a child.

    I would like to invite you to check out the Country Fair Blog Party. This monthly link-up is for anyone who wants to learn a little more about the country and/or country life. Be it where their food comes from, homesteading, DIY projects, gardening or anything else country related. This would be a great post to add to the link-up! Here is the link: http://new.inlinkz.com/view.php?id=508275

    Thanks Sara! I truly enjoyed your post!
    Laurie – Country Link

  5. William

    What happened my post from hours ago? Never appeared….. 🙁

    • Sara

      I’m having trouble with my spam filter! For some reason it randomly sends totally legitimate comments to the spam folder. I’m getting it checked out, because I don’t filter comments – unless someone says something truly hateful, I approve everything. So sorry for the delay.

      • William

        Thanks for getting it sorted Sara! BTW, meant “Note that the calves”, not “Not that the calfs”….. 🙂

  6. So glad you came to visit! It has been fun getting to know you!

  7. Pingback: 2015 Year End Review: Advocacy | The Farmer's Wifee

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