[originally posted at my other blog, Confounded By Quilting]
Today was the day for the much-anticipated cow share farm visit at Our Farm & Dairy. It’s gorgeous and sunny out, completely, spectacularly beautiful at a balmy 18 degrees F. Fortunately, Mike’s mom got me some CuddleDuds for Christmas, and wowsers – these things are warm. I could probably turn the heat in the house plumb off if I could convince Mike Neir to wear them – we shall see about that.
The farm is about 45 minutes away, near St. Johns, tucked back along some lovely, farm-filled country roads. I do love drives in the country, past houses and barns built in the 1800’s, some of them well-kept, others less so. Give me a good barn to look at, and I am le happy.
We met John, the owner, in the driveway and he took us into the calf barn, where there were about a dozen, perhaps year-old cuties and a very affectionate barn cat. They keep about 20 dairy cows, largely Jerseys, with some Holsteins and a New Zealand breed, as well. It’s not a huge operation – a couple of barns, a few dozen animals, and John, Patti and their seven children keep things running; this is one local family who have chosen to be good stewards of their animals and their planet.
Here is their family portrait from their website, although now they have a three-week-old baby in addition:
My camera ate its batteries very quickly in the bitter cold, so sadly, I didn’t get nearly as many photos as I would have liked, and many of the exposures of black calves in the dark barn didn’t turn out as well as they could have, but here are a few glimpses into the farm. An explanation of the cow share program itself follows.
I could spend all day looking into eyes like these, I swear, and certainly all day taking photos of them.
Here’s how it works for our group, but you can also just sign up yourself and go to fetch your own milk weekly, or bi-weekly.
We’re joining a group of families in Williamston who team up to go fetch the milk every Friday. There are eight families, so we’ll only have to go to the farm to pick up the group share once every two months – that’s not bad! It came as somewhat of a surprise that the milk is self-serve from the large tank. I had envisioned it pre-bottled and ready to go, but that would entail a lot more work for John’s family, not to mention require a bunch more storage space and perhaps a greater chance of contamination.
John walked us through their self-designed milking parlor, which is very nice – this photo is from their website:
This is a far better design than other milking barns I have been in, and it was very clean. The milk is run through those overhead pipes into the next room, where it is dumped into a large cooling tank, which will cool it right down to 33-34F without the milk ever having been exposed to open air. John gave us some really great explanations of the milking process, why they’ve made the choices they’ve had, and even answered my questions about veterinary care.
He told us the expected seasonal changes in the milk, how it goes from nearly pure white now, in winter, to a deep, golden yellow once the cows are out on good pasture after winter, and how the taste will change a bit, as well. The milk given out is whole and raw, meaning it’s not homogenized or pasteurized, and thus, it may not keep as long as the store-bought stuff. It will need to be shaken before pouring, unless you want to pour off the cream for your coffee.
All of this is totally worth it.
Everything is pretty laid-back and relaxed, even the contract walk-through. He explained most possible contingencies that might result in a “no-milk” week, or a delay, and that they’d contact us for any unusual event.
On pick-up day, it’s BYO Containers. They offer very nice half-gallon glass milk jugs at the farm for $3 apiece, and he gave us four complimentary ones (plus a gallon of milk!) to get us started. They offer cream separation service, sometimes have eggs in the summer from another farm, and sell a local maple farmer’s syrup.
He poured us our jugs, explained how to work everything and told us where stuff would be. Raw milk from glass bottles – I could not be happier. 🙂 He poured Mike and I a cup to sample, just to make sure we thought it was delicious – it was, despite Mike Neir’s brief apprehension.
The bucket under the spigot gets fed to calves and pigs, so it’s not wasted.
For those of you Michiganders who are interested in this program, there will probably be a delivery group near you. For non-Michigan folks, you may be able to find a local source here: Real Milk.
Here are the details for this farm’s program, from an email exchange I had with Patti:
“The 125.00 is pro-rated 20% a year. Meaning if you sold it in year 2 we would write you a check for 75.00 to buy back the share. After 5 years there is no monetary value, but you’re welcome to stay with the program for as long as you continue to pay boarding.
“All cows are grazed in season. They usually have a good grazing season from April 1 – Nov. They and the land are all certified organic, which means they never get any supplementation (hay in the winter, for example) that is not certified organic and they are never treated with any hormones or antibiotics for any reason.
Seems like a good system to me, and the milking barn hours are from 9am – 5pm, then from 7pm – 9pm to accommodate all manner of schedules.