It’s Time to Milk the Cows!
Conversations with Today's Dairy Farmers
What makes a farmer decide to begin a dairy farming project? For some, it is a strong history. The early mornings milking the herd, processing the milk for sale and cleaning the barn lend a known rhythm to daily life. Others may be looking to change their life to an earthier, less urban lifestyle. When a dairy farming project is being considered, contacting a dairy farmer is a good place to start for honest advice.
For Katie Millhorn, of Millhorn Farmstead Creamery, she started her dairy after falling in love with the family milk cows. Her family background in farming helped pave the way. Before long, Katie had a career in the dairy business. Initially, she milked Nubian dairy goats, but soon found a passion for Jersey cows.
Why She Chose the Jersey Breed
Jerseys are a shorter stature cow than the Holsteins. Their size and mostly gentle nature make them an excellent family milk cow. In Millhorn’s words, “I chose this breed based on its genetic heritage and glorious, high percentage of butterfat. Milk from Jersey cows makes excellent cheese and butter, which is perfect for a homesteading, whole foods family.”
Jerseys carry the A2A2 casein gene. This genetic protein form is easier to digest. Human milk and goat milk are also A2 protein milk. It is important to Millhorn and her dairy to offer the A2A2 milk. The Millhorn dairy offers raw, cream on the top, milk direct to customers at the farm.
Many people are interested in consuming raw, unpasteurized milk. Raw milk benefits are popular with those seeking less processed foods and foods higher in nutritional content.
Family History in Dairy
For some, dairy farming is in the blood. Dairy farmer Scott Terry carries on the multi-generation family history of dairy farming. Running the rural dairy farm in upstate New York has always been a large part of Scott’s life. The farm switched to a certified organic dairy classification about 10 years ago. The dairy operation includes milking the mainly registered Jersey cows and managing 130 acres of pasture. The milk is sold to a co-op for distribution to consumers.
The Biggest Challenge
Terry believes that Jerseys are good grazers and high producers. Jersey cows show good reproductive traits with few calving difficulties. In a business sense, Jerseys are the most profitable choice. “Whether you are organic or conventional, dairy farms run on tight margins, with little room for error. Our biggest obstacle has been the weather. A good grazing season is required for us to make money,” explains Terry.
Millhorn echoes the sentiment about the weather being a big challenge. Although these two dairy farmers reside on opposite sides of the United States, they both deal with hardships of weather extreme. From cooling the milk during the extreme Pacific Northwest heat waves, to the muddy weather season, to the extreme cold, all are challenges in Millhorn’s daily life. Muddy cow udders require extra cleaning before milking, which adds time to an already crowded daily schedule for this mom of four children.
Business Planning and Philosophy
Dairy farming is an all-consuming business and often the family participates. Millhorn says the time management can be challenging. “Being a stay at home mom of four kids is busy enough, without throwing in a herd of cows! Dairy cows are especially needy. I say they are the most high-maintenance women on the planet.”
Is it possible to have business advice and plans for a dairy farming project? Both Millhorn and Terry shared their business philosophy. Terry states, “We produce the highest-quality product we can. Our animals are treated like family and raised the way they were created to live, on pasture. We don’t use any pesticides, antibiotics, GMOs, or synthetic fertilizers on our farm. We really strive to be good stewards of the land we manage.”
The Millhorn dairy is also their family home and farm. “We sell our cream on the top milk, farm direct. Several of my dairy customers drive at least an hour to the farm for their family’s milk every week. We have a kitchen in our dairy barn which allows our customers to come grab their milk and eggs at will. This also allows them to see our dairy and homestead operation. I have always had an open-door policy. I think it’s incredibly important for folks to see exactly where their food comes from. When customers come out, their kids chase the bunnies and the piglets, and it helps them connect with the farmer and the animals. They learn an appreciation for the hard work and sacrifice that goes into raising food for their family’s table.”
Is a Dairy Farming Project Right for You?
Katie Millhorn would love to see more people get involved in the dairy industry. She finds it rewarding. If you are thinking of a career in the dairy industry or starting your own dairy farming project, she advises analyzing the market and your long-term goals. Decisions include choosing goats vs. cows, cheesemaking, raw milk or grade A. After that, proceed on to choosing your breeds.
Terry offers this piece of life and business advice. “You have to be a top-notch business person. Don’t take on huge amounts of debt. Scale the operation so the business will actually have cash flow. It is a 24/7, 365-day commitment. You work hard. Harder than anyone can imagine and for little financial reward. You have to love it. Every part of it, the manure, the flies, the late nights, and the early mornings.”
Learn more about Millhorn Farmstead Creamery on the website: rawsomedairy.com.
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