Capital Press | Dairy Capital Press Sat, 1 Oct 2016 11:53:45 -0400 en Capital Press | Dairy At 107, Tillamook Cheese still growing Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:42:47 -0400 Gail Oberst TILLAMOOK, Ore. — In 1853, three dairies were operating in the area, according to “The Tillamook Way,” a history of the Tillamook County Creamery Association by Northwest author and journalist Archie Satterfield.

By 1856, Indian Agent William R. Raymond recorded making the first vat of cheese in Tillamook County. Thus began a tradition in the region now famous for its dairies.

Coincidentally, Patrick Criteser, president and CEO of Tillamook County Creamery Association and Tillamook Cheese, has traced his ancestry in Oregon back seven generations. Although his ancestors settled in the Willamette Valley, Criteser said he took the Tillamook job nearly four years ago because he wanted to work in his home state, Oregon.

The association board recruited Criteser after he had worked in administrative posts for brands including Nike, Disney and Proctor & Gamble and, more recently, as CEO at Coffee Bean International. Criteser is the eighth CEO of the 107-year-old farmer-owned Tillamook County Creamery Association.

The association is one of the Northwest’s largest dairy cooperatives, but unlike many others, Tillamook develops and distributes branded consumer products from almost all of the milk it gets from its Tillamook County owners.

Those products are marketed under the Tillamook brand, and 95 percent of them are sold west of the Rockies, although some non-branded milk byproducts such as powdered whey and lactose are sold internationally.

Criteser joined the company during a volatile period in the milk prices, from highs in 2014 to recent lows. Added to market, environmental and political challenges are those of running an operation that purchases milk from its 97 dairy owners, then manufactures, distributes and promotes Tillamook dairy products to make a profit for its owners.

When market prices for milk are low, the challenge is to increase profits for farmer-owners at the sales end. When prices for milk are high, the challenge is to increase sales or reduce other costs to maintain profits.

Tillamook’s revenues have grown by about 45 percent in the past four years, with profit growth exceeding that pace, Criteser said. The expanded earnings have come with expanded employment, up from about 650 four years ago to 850 this year in Tillamook and in Boardman.

In 2014, the company completed a 64,000-square-foot expansion at its production facility in Boardman allowing it to increase whey processing — a $95 million investment.

In addition, more than 1.3 million people visited the Tillamook Cheese factory in Tillamook — “About as many as the Space Needle,” Criteser said.

He said his goal has been to spread the power of the Tillamook brand beyond its cheeses to its ice cream, butter, sour cream, yogurt and other products. Already, products are now made with fewer artificial ingredients — notice the mint chocolate chip isn’t green anymore? — and new products, including Greek yogurts and ice cream bars are seeing success.

A new line of super-premium ice creams, gelatos and frozen custards was released this year.

“We think we can be strong in anything dairy, as long as we can bring something the consumer doesn’t already have,” Criteser said.

Farm produces milk from start to finish Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:39:08 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Third-generation dairy farmer Garry Hansen has found a clear niche selling milk in glass bottles.

In 2000 Hansen purchased a dairy farm near Mulino, Ore., a stone’s throw from the farm where he grew up. He has raised and managed cows since childhood and is dedicated to his herd of registered Jersey cows and the Jersey breed.

Like his family before him, Hansen sold his milk to the Darigold co-op but grew weary of government-regulated prices and other limitations. When financial troubles hit the dairy in 2003 he decided to go it alone and set out to build Garry’s Meadow Fresh brand.

He purchased processing equipment from a retired milk producer-processor and spent five years putting the infrastructure in place that would allow him to produce milk from start to finish.

The going was slow; for two years Hansen and his team raced around to five Portland farmers’ markets every weekend.

Hansen bottles his milk in both glass bottles and plastic jugs. One Saturday in 2009 he brought an equal number of plastic and glass containers to Beaverton’s Farmers’ Market. The glass-bottled milk sold out within the first two hours.

“That kind of unclouded our vision and put us on the right path,” Hansen said. Over the next year they worked in earnest to build the brand and get it on local store shelves. Hansen said his training and experience as an auctioneer proved helpful in his marketing.

Another pivotal point came in 2010 when Garry’s Meadow Fresh got the nod from New Seasons Market, an upscale Portland-based chain. Hansen finally withdrew from the co-op.

“New Seasons is good about giving local people a try and they’re really growing,” said Hansen. At this time, 60 percent of the dairy’s milk goes to New Seasons.

In 2009 Hansen was milking about 50 cows; he now milks 85, bottling about 300 gallons of milk a day in glass half-gallon, quart and pint-size bottles.

Beyond the glass, the milk appeals to customers because it’s fresh, locally grown and processed differently from the norm.

The milk is vat pasteurized — heated to 145 degrees and held there for 30 minutes. Most milk is ultra pasteurized — brought to 280 degrees for two seconds.

“It doesn’t have as long a shelf life — ours is 18 days to three weeks,” Hansen said, “but it preserves far more active enzymes and the flavor is better.”

Another difference is that Hansen doesn’t homogenize to break down the milkfat and blend it into the milk.

“Except for the fat-free, the cream will be on top, just the way it came from the cow,” he said, adding that many older folks claim its taste hearkens back to the milk of their youth.

Running a dairy and processing plant, finding a niche, building a brand and staying on top of supply and demand is hard work.

“The price points may look high — whole milk averages $4.50 a half gallon with a $2 bottle deposit — but you’ve got to put heart and soul into all aspects of the business,” Hansen said.

Happy June Dairy Month Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:41:46 -0400 Lee Mielke Here we are at another June Dairy Month and most consumers don’t give it a second thought. They have never seen a day that they walked into their local grocery store and found the dairy case empty. And, probably never will.

Like so many things in this country, we take it for granted and we assume there’ll always be rows and rows of gallon jugs of milk sitting there, as well as the numerous varieties of cheese proudly displayed, and the awesome selection of premium ice creams in flavors we may never have even heard of.

But, while consumers are never really concerned about the future of the dairy industry “because they get their milk at the grocery store,” dairy farmers walk a very fine financial line every day, especially considering where milk prices are today compared to the record highs of just two years ago.

Plus, they face an ever-increasing threat from so-called environmental activists, many of whom have a vegetarian agenda.

June Dairy Month 2014 saw U.S. dairy farmers in a position they hadn’t been in many years, with on-farm milk prices that actually paid the bills, but they were short-lived.

Those prices set record highs and provided badly needed relief from the last painful lows, which occurred in 2009 and put many operations out of business.

There are bright spots for dairy farmers today and dairy products are as popular as ever.

Butter has been exonerated and is replacing margarine as the spread of choice at home and in fast food chains, which now proudly boast of their use of butter in today’s menus.

Whole milk sales have also seen positive growth as new health studies show that dairy fat is not the demon it was once made out to be.

Unfortunately, fluid milk consumption overall is still slipping but there have been some promising powerful new efforts even by non-dairy companies to stem the tide and bring consumers back to the milk beverage category so fluid milk consumption has not been surrendered.

Cheese consumption remains strong in the United States but we still have a ways to catch up to many other countries in the world in per capita consumption. New product innovations will hopefully boost that category even more.

The song many years ago said, “The times, they are a-changing,” and they are. A very small percentage of the U.S. population today is involved in agriculture or even has ties with it, a huge contrast to what it was not that long ago.

But consumers still have an affinity for the farm, and farmers, for the most part, are held in high regard.

Consumers also have a new zeal to know more about their food, where their food is coming from and how it is produced. Dairy has an excellent story to tell and is doing so.

As I have said before, to fully appreciate the availability and wholesomeness of today’s dairy case, today’s consumer needs to know what’s on the other side of the dairy case, especially the long hard hours and dedication that dairy producers throughout the country put into their product. June Dairy Month tells that story.

Dairy products continue to offer consumers a wonderful nutrient package for newborns to seniors and, thanks to this dedicated industry, they will always be available any day of the week at any time of the day because, even as you read this, there’s most likely a dairy farmer somewhere at work on your behalf.

Growing dairy heifers on pasture a plus Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:40:12 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Studies are showing that dairy heifers raised on pasture are healthier, cost less to raise and ultimately give more milk.

Jennifer Blazek, a University of Wisconsin Dane County dairy and livestock educator, began a project last year to encourage more dairies to raise their heifers on pasture.

“We have a lot of large farms that raise heifers in confinement,” she said.

Grazing heifers is a cultural adjustment for many dairy farmers.

“They have invested in facilities for heifers and feel they would be going backward to raise them on pasture, because that’s what small farms do,” she said. “The big dairies feel they can do it better and more efficiently in modern facilities.”

She first did a survey of every dairy in the watershed. The idea was to reduce phosphorus and runoff from the barnyards and confinement facilities. The survey sought to see who might be interested in cost-sharing to help cover taking some land out of crop production and putting it into pasture, and to assess perceptions about grazing heifers.

“In September we had a field day and pasture walk on a farm with a custom heifer grower. He has been custom-raising heifers on grass for many years,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for people to see how it works, and for other farmers to hear why the owner decided to do this.”

He addressed issues they were concerned about.

“Some thought the heifers would be more skittish and harder to handle when they come into the milk parlor for the first time,” she said.

The heifers were actually much calmer and friendlier. They also had much better muscle tone and calved easier, for their first calf, than heifers raised in confinement, she said.

“They had more exercise, were healthier and outperformed confinement heifers,” Blazek said.

The heifers were on pasture in the morning and afternoon, and at mid-day were brought into a shed and fed a little grain to encourage them to come in for breeding and health checks.

“They were handled a lot and were not wild. When we did the pasture walk they all came over to check us out,” she said.

One of the farmers who decided to try pasturing heifers has a 250-cow dairy and is interested in heifer health.

“We want to follow up on these projects to find out how long these heifers last in the herd compared with their confinement-raised counterparts,” Blazek said.

Many dairymen are hesitant to try it, thinking they don’t have enough land and don’t want to take any crop land out of production.

“They don’t realize there is equal feed value in pasture, and less labor. Heifers feed themselves; you only have to move the temporary fence,” she said.

“I recently gave a presentation with Adam Able, an NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) conservationist,” she said. “He had statistics showing it is 50 cents cheaper per head per day to raise heifers on grass than in confinement.”

Abel also cited a University of Minnesota study that showed pastured heifers have 50 percent fewer displaced abomasums, 60 percent less calving difficulty and 33 percent fewer cases of milk fever. Also, there were no skeletal injuries compared with 10 percent of confined heifers that suffered injuries.

Pastured heifers also are more fertile and have fewer respiratory problems.

“These things affect profit and also sets the tone for the rest of their lactation and their productive life,” Blazek said.

She wants to get data from several counties and extend the research that has already been done.

“Studies from Minnesota and from our research stations on heifer health are from 2007 and outdated. We need something more recent and timely,” she said. “We need some good demonstration farms to show that it works. Then the neighbors pay more attention.”

If custom heifer raisers make a case for it because it’s cheaper, and if owners get over their fear of what they’ll get back, it will catch on, she said.

“Owners are the challenge; most custom heifer raisers already want to do it,” she said. “There is plenty of experience and knowledge out there about how to do it, but the heifer owners have to take that step.”

With improved pasture and good management, you can get just as much yield as from an alfalfa field, with less investment.

“The heifers harvest and fertilize it,” she said. “Instead of storing manure in the dairy facility, the heifers are spreading it out on the field.”

Azores transplants take root in California Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:37:37 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER The path Marlene Silveira and her family took to fulfill their dream of owning a dairy in California was a long one.

“I was born into the dairy business,” she said. “My family still has dairies in the Azores Islands (off the coast of Portugal), where I was born. As far back as I can go, my family has always milked cows.”

In 1999, she married Victor, whose parents also came from the Azores and had started a California dairy in 1987.

At first, Marlene and Victor leased a dairy farm. Then in 2001, another dream came true — the couple bought a dairy between Sacramento and Redding, Calif.

“In 2006 we reached a new chapter for Silveira Farms and became an organic dairy,” she said. “We wanted to get the cows on pasture and off of concrete. We went back to the way our family dairies in the Azores.”

The dairy milks around 600 cows. Most are Holsteins but there are a few Jerseys and cross-breeds.

A couple of years ago they also decided to plant trees and now have almond and walnut orchards.

The Silveiras sell their milk to Organic West, a milk broker that sells it to processors.

“I always say that you are born into the dairy business or you marry into it,” she said. “It is truly a 7/24-hour job and most people do not want this lifestyle. But most dairymen will tell you that this is the most rewarding job and we would not trade it for the world. I personally cannot imagine not milking cows.”

Although it is an ideal life for her family, she acknowledges there are bumps in the road.

“There are many challenges for a dairy farmer in California,” she said. “The milk price the California dairy farmer receives is about 10 percent lower than the rest of the nation. The reason is that California is not in the federal order.”

She hopes that will change next year, when farmers will vote on a federal order.

“The operating costs — land, labor, electricity, feed costs and fuel in California are also high,” she said. “These are some of the reasons many dairies are going out of business or moving out of state.”

She also thought about moving.

“There was a time we also considered moving out of California for these reasons, but we love California,” he said. “This is where family lives and where we want to raise our two kids.”

Silveira is a member of the California Milk Advisory Board.

Third generation takes over family dairy Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:23:15 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Nathan Gilbert’s grandparents moved near Othello, Wash., in the early 1960s from Roosevelt, Utah, when the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project began.

“Our dairy and milk plant is at Warden and the main farm — where we live — is near Othello, about 20 minutes down the road from the dairy,” he said.

“My grandfather and his brother raised potatoes, beans and corn. My uncle came back into the family business in the early 1970s and my father in the late 1970s. They decided to expand and in 1981 a small dairy came up for sale nearby,” he said.

Those 300 cows were the start.

“About 6 months after we purchased the dairy there was an opportunity to lease a milk-processing plant just around the corner, so we began bottling milk as well,” Gilbert said.

“At that time we were selling milk to Darigold. As we grew, we leased several other dairy facilities, and in 1995 purchased the dairy we’re operating today.”

Then in 2002 their milk processing plant burned.

“We shipped milk to Montana, to Meadow Gold, while we started construction on the plant we’re in today in Warden. In 2004 we started processing again,” Gilbert said. “We are still adding animals, and by this time next year we hope to be milking about 2,500.”

The cows are all Holsteins, and the Gilberts raise their own heifers in a heifer-developing facility at the dairy.

“It’s a self-contained unit, and a closed herd. We normally produce more heifers than we need, and sell about 20 percent, along with all the bull calves,” he said.

“We breed them, calve them out, sell them as fresh cows and keep the heifer calves. Currently, we are not selling any, because we are growing the herd,” he said.

Once they reach the 2,500 mark they will probably sell about 50 fresh cows per month.

They raise about 80 percent of their forage — hay, corn silage and earlage.

“We farm about 2,000 acres. When feed prices are high, this makes our feed cheaper. When prices are low we could probably purchase feed cheaper than we can raise it, but it’s nice to not have to haul it in.”

The herd has an 85-pound daily average milk production per cow.

“Milk from our plant goes to grocery stores and to customers who manufacture milk products, including a cheese plant. We haul milk locally and to Seattle and Portland,” he said.

Nathan and his brother, Kevin, came back to the dairy after wearing different hats.

“Keven came back in the fall of 2013 and I came back in the spring of 2014. Our other brother, Jason, is planning to come back in 2017. We are the third generation in the dairy. The fourth generation is still very young; my oldest son is 7.”

Nathan and his brothers left the farm for college.

“We all went to college, got our degrees and went into the work force. Kevin was a CPA and did accounting. I was a banker for Northwest Farm Credit in Twin Falls, Idaho, for five years,” Nathan said. “Jason is an astrophysicist and does research for the University of Michigan. We started talking and thinking about the family business and decided it would be fun to come back and grow it.”

But he said family is also a big part of the picture.

“It’s nice to get the family back together so the cousins can be together,” he said. “A farm is a great place for kids to grow up.”

There are now 13 cousins living on the farm, he said.

“We went out into the world, learned something different and hopefully bring back new knowledge and skills,” he said.

Dairy family adds cheesemaking to its menu Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:21:38 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Ansally Stuyt, co-owner of Stuyt Dairy, really knows the business. It is part of her family history.

“My husband, Rick, and I both grew up on a dairy,” she said. “Our great-grandfathers had a dairy and then our grandfathers, then down to our parents.”

Her family has farmed at the current location in Escalon, Calif., for more than 50 years.

She grew up involved in 4-H and FFA, and he grew up in the Netherlands and came to California for an internship. Rick had become interested in making cheese and in California he started by making it for friends and family.

“After we were married 31 years ago, we both worked for my parents,” she said. “Growing up, our three children helped with the chores on the dairy, feeding calves, milking, driving tractors and more. They were also in 4-H and FFA and the two girls — Anastasia and Michelle — were District 5 dairy princesses.”

They bought out her parents’ ownership of the farm in 2005, and today the business is family-operated. The herd consists of 500 Holsteins. The dairy is Stuyt Dairy and the cheese plant, adjacent to the farm, goes by Stuyt Dairy Farmstead Cheese Co. LLC.

The dairy crafts farmstead cheese in small batches. Anastasia works full-time in the cheese plant as a cheesemaker. Her father, Rick taught her the cheesemaking process from start to finish.

Michelle is working at California State University-Monterey Bay and will come home the end of the year in a marketing, technical and distribution role.

Son Nicholas is an assistant agriculture instructor at Modesto Junior College and helps out on the farm.

“We made our first batch of cheese in September 2015 and sold it in late December of that year,” Ansally said.

The cheese is a raw milk farmstead Gouda sold with several different flavors: smoked, cumin, garlic herb, onion parsley, crushed red pepper, jalapeno and chipotle.

“We age it over 60 days and up to 18 months,” she said.

The cheese is sold through local stores in the area, where it retails for $11 to $12 a pound.

The company is expanding, but Ansally acknowledges the California dairy industry faces major challenges.

“The two main factors are low milk prices and the pricing system,” she said. “Also, California is no longer an ag-friendly state with all the rules and regulations: water and air board fees along with all the paperwork.”

She also said that the state has “other small, hidden fees, that you could call taxes, because they will never go away. These factors, plus the fact that the state has lost many dairies, make it a challenge to dairy in California.”

Farmer finds niche with organic milk at his robotic dairy Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:20:23 -0400 Dianna Troyer Cows were not alone in their need of training at southeastern Idaho’s first robotic dairy.

“It takes about three days to train 90 percent of your cows to get milked automatically, about three weeks for the reluctant cows to learn to come in to be milked, and about three months for the farmer to realize he can sleep in,” says Heber Loughmiller, who opened Hillside Dairy near Connor Creek in June 2015.

The dairy’s automated milking system allows his 100 cows with Holstein, Jersey and Swedish Red bloodlines to voluntarily walk into a parlor to be milked. When done, they meander back to their grassy pasture to graze.

“Production won’t be as high as at a traditional dairy, about five gallons per cow a day, but that’s OK,” Loughmiller says. “The cows are content, we’re providing a quality product, and the land isn’t overgrazed and has healthy organic content.”

He sells the organic milk to Sorrento Lactalis Inc. in Nampa, where it is made into string cheese.

As a cow comes into a stanchion, an overhead computer scanner reads its tag. An individualized amount of alfalfa pellets is dispensed, based on the cow’s condition and milk production.

While the cow is eating, a mechanical arm with water and rotating brushes gently washes the teats. Once the teats are clean, the brushes retract and a milking machine extends to the udder.

“It locates the teats with an optical laser,” Loughmiller says. “Each cow takes about 5 to 7 minutes to milk.”

In his office, Loughmiller logs onto his computer to read vital information about the day’s milking. The software tracks nearly a dozen factors, including average milking times and fat content.

Loughmiller became interested in running an organic dairy after buying a ranch at Connor Creek eight years ago.

“We ran beef cattle but were looking for a different grazing program that would best suit the land, which is hilly and a little rocky. We have about 200 acres that can be grazed.”

After doing research, he decided to start an organic dairy with cows grazing on grass pastures instead of being confined to a lot.

“Years ago, dairy cows grazed on pastures, so this really is nothing new,” Loughmiller says.

His parents, Bill and Colleen Loughmiller, invested in the dairy.

“My dad has always been an entrepreneur, so when I told him about this idea, he said it sounded crazy enough to work and told me to go for it.”

Running a robotic dairy allows Loughmiller the flexibility to still sell crop insurance for Sloan-Leavitt Insurance Agency, a job he has had for several years.

“I have some great customers and want to continue serving them, which I’ll be able to do with this type of dairy. It’s been exciting so far. We hope one day to pass along the business to one of our kids.”

Small niche dairy has steady demand for products Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:19:01 -0400 Dianna Troyer Despite rejections from lenders, Phil and Stephanie Christensen never gave up hope of running a small niche dairy in southeastern Idaho.

“Lenders told us our business model wasn’t a proven market, and it was too risky for them financially,” says Phil, while milking Dinner Belle and 10 other cows at the dairy where his wife, Stephanie, grew up near Almo, Idaho.

“We had to come up with the initial investment ourselves,” says Phil, “so we farmed a year with Stephanie’s dad when hay prices were strong and put some of that profit into the dairy.”

They invested about $50,000 to expand the farm’s original milk parlor. They also bought cows with Jersey and Holstein bloodlines, a new stainless steel storage vat, returnable half-gallon glass bottles and other equipment.

Since opening the Old Almo Creamery in August 2012 they have cultivated loyal customers. With a yield of 400 gallons of milk per week, the Christensens make and sell cheeses, ice cream, pasteurized milk and raw milk at farmers’ markets, restaurants, grocery stores and health food stores.

“We’ve proven the bankers wrong because there’s a steady demand for our products,” Phil says. “We won’t get rich doing this, but it’s gratifying to provide quality food and to be able to raise our family here.”

Justin Kay, manager at Papa Kelsey’s in Burley, buys the dairy’s mozzarella, cheddar, provolone blend and pepper jack cheeses.

“Phil’s cheeses have a dense texture and rich taste that gives our sandwiches and pizza a distinctive flavor,” Kay says. “We like to support local farmers who give us great fresh products.”

The Christensens also sell raw milk to health food stores NourishMe in Ketchum and Nature’s Pantry in Salmon.

“To me, the raw milk tastes richer and more robust than what’s sold in a grocery store,” says Amber Pace, an employee at Nature’s Pantry. “Customers say they like the nutritive value and cream layer because it’s not homogenized.”

Besides selling their dairy products, the Christensens give tours of their business for field trips, family reunions and Boy Scout troops.

“People tell us they want their kids to know where their food comes from and want them to see the food production process from the cow to the final product,” Phil says.

As they talk about their dairy, milk streams steadily into glass containers that were once used by Stephanie’s father, Kent Durfee.

“They’re original containers and so are the stainless steel pipes, although we put in new hoses when we opened,” Stephanie says.

For 30 years, Durfee ran a small dairy with about 60 cows until 2005 when he found it no longer profitable to compete with larger dairies.

“It was sad when my dad sold the cows,” Stephanie says. “They were always a part of our lives.”

Besides running their dairy, the Christensens help Durfee run the 200-acre family farm.

“We wanted to raise our family here,” Stephanie says. “Our kids are the fifth generation to live in the valley. You always dream about coming back but wonder how it can be financially possible. The dairy has helped us to make that dream come true.” 

Farm makes a move to where the feed is produced Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:17:54 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Tom DeVries grew up on his father’s dairy near the little town of Orting, Wash., and he continues that legacy today.

“Dad started that farm in 1960, then helped me start my own dairy near Olympia. I dairied in Olympia from 1984 until 2001,” DeVries said.

By the late 1990s his farm and his father’s farm were both getting a lot of environmental pressure.

“We set up a partnership and moved both herds here to Moxee (5 miles from Yakima),” DeVries said.

“We started building this facility in 2000 and moved our dairy here in 2001. A few years ago I bought out my dad when he retired. We farm about 1,500 acres (1,100 leased) and grow most of our own feed — triticale, corn, wheat and hay,” he said.

They also raise their own heifers.

“They stay here until they are 3 months old, then we send them to a custom feedlot to develop them. When they are about 21 months old and confirmed pregnant, they come back and we calve them out,” DeVries said.

“We have mostly Holsteins but about 20 percent of our cows are Jerseys and crosses. We bought a lot of cows to get to this size herd and ended up with some Jerseys and kept breeding them,” he said. “We usually use sexed semen on those, to produce only heifers, because Jersey bull calves are not worth much.”

The Jersey-Holstein cross cows have done well. They are smaller than Holsteins and eat less feed while still producing a lot of milk. Overall, they are more efficient, he said.

Hybrid vigor is helpful, and possibly adds longevity to the cows.

“We used some Swedish Reds some years back, for that reason, to gain more longevity,” DeVries said.

His wife, Heather, is office manager.

“Her son Reid started helping us six months ago,” he said. “We also have a manager who has been with me for 13 years. He takes care of all employee issues, oversees everything, and takes care of the breeding. We have seven managers below him who manage different functions of the operation — calf feeding, manure management, feeding cows and farming,” DeVries said. “We have a good team with great employees. It takes a good team to run a dairy.”

The milk goes to Darigold, which is based in Seattle and owned by about 500 dairy farmers who are members of the Northwest Dairy Association.

“They’ve had a plant here in Sunnyside for about 20 years and just opened a new facility. They also have plants at Issaquah, Seattle, Chehalis and other locations. We are located on a highway and most of our milk goes to the west side of the state because they can’t process all of it in the local plant,” he said.

The area around Yakima is ideal for dairying, with good climate and a lot of feed grown in the region.

“This is another reason I moved from the west side of the state; there wasn’t as much feed available over there. When I was at Olympia I had to buy feed here and haul it over there,” he said.

“About 50 to 70 percent of our income goes for feed, so if you can reduce that cost you can be more profitable. You are better off to be where the feed is, and haul your milk to the people, than to haul the feed,” he explained.

There is a lot of pressure on dairies to move away from population centers.

“People don’t want to live near a dairy. Dairies are moving farther and farther out from the cities,” DeVries said.

“I wanted to be in the dairy business since I was a kid. It was more fun 20 years ago than it is today, however, with all the environmental rules and paperwork. The regulations and employee records make it to where I never have much chance to leave the office,” he said. “A person has to be really dedicated to continue doing this, or so deep in debt that you can’t get out!”

Dairying is a challenge, every day, he said, but he still enjoys the cows.

North Coast dairyman adds social media to mix Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:16:40 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Fifth-generation California dairyman Cody Darst says his family has a joke that explains why they raise Jersey cattle.

“The joke is we raise Jerseys because when they step on your foot they are small enough that you can quickly shove them off,” he said. “Jersey cattle are the preference of the family as well as tradition, knowledge of mating selection and familiarity.”

The farm, on California’s northern “Lost Coast” near Ferndale, was started 91 years ago at the current 120-acre location by Darst’s great-great-grandfather. Through those years the family has continuously maintained a purebred Jersey herd even as it adapted to the changing markets and industry.

Nine years ago the family made the transition to certified organic, allowing them to capture a higher price point and providing financial sustainability for the family’s legacy.

Many of the farm’s practices continue the traditions of the region, making for a particularly easy transition to organic agriculture. In addition to the organic certification the farm maintains several other certifications, including Verified Non-GMO and Certified Humane.

“I grew up on the family dairy just as my father and grandfather did before me and worked alongside them each day in the barns,” he said.

Today, the farm and herd are owned in a partnership between Darst and his parents.

The “Foggy Bottoms” herd usually consists of 120 head milking with additional young stock and dry cows. Currently they milk 105 head, due to the drought in California. Faced with escalating feed costs they made the decision to downsize the herd, culling the lowest-producing cows and freeing up pasture land for hay.

Darst also removed 10 acres from pasture rotation and planted alfalfa. With the exception of the grain ration they were able to carry the herd through the past two winters without purchasing feed.

“The Jersey herd earns it name from the valley we live in,” Darst said. “Nestled in the Eel River Valley along the coastal range, the area is colloquially known as the Foggy Bottoms” because of the fog banks that roll in off the Pacific Ocean.

He also decided to keep the name for their Facebook fan page name — “Foggy Bottoms Boys.”

The dairy sells its milk to Rumiano Cheese Co. in Crescent City, Calif., where it is processed into organic cheese, butter, whey protein and dried edible lactose.

Rumiano Family products can be found in all 50 states and 10 countries.

Although he would recommend dairy farming to others, he admits there are some souring challenges.

“Certainly the growing and often suffocating regulatory burden faced by dairy farmers in California is a monumental challenge,” he said. “We have come to depend heavily upon our trade associations such as Western United Dairymen to help us navigate these waters and remain within compliance.”

However, he said that is only part of a much larger issue.

“The consumer has become far removed from the food supply and with the accessibility of information (both good and bad) they have become largely misinformed,” he said. “Coupling this with the fact that as an industry we have until recently been largely reactionary, we now face a public with an often poor perception of us. This seems to translate to increased regulation as people attempt to defend against what they perceive as a threat to their health and environment.”

Realizing this, Darst has attempted to open up to the public through social media.

“Utilizing Instagram and Facebook, we chronicle the daily life on our dairy combining a bit of humor and fun with the realities of dairy life,” he said.

Milk culture: Children tour Rickreall Dairy Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:15:37 -0400 Gail Oberst It would be hard to decide which was cuter: the calves or the children.

Luckily, there was no need to choose sides during a recent school tour of Rickreall Dairy, the first of the year for tour leader Stacy Foster. Cuteness reigned among the young of both species.

Rickreall Dairy — with nearly 3,500 head one of the largest farms in Oregon — conducts tours for school children each May and fall. An increase in funding for the tours has expanded the tours to September through October.

The two dozen children who toured the plant this day ranged in age from toddlers to teens, all from Salem-area home schools. With them were a dozen adults.

“I grew up doing what you are about to do,” Foster told the group. The oldest of four Kazemier siblings, Foster and her parents moved 25 years ago to Rickreall, Ore., with her grandfather’s herd from Chino, Calif.

When she was old enough, Foster worked in the dairy office, but quit the full-time gig when her three children were born. For the past seven years, she’s been the spring dairy tour leader, thanks to support from the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, formerly known as the Oregon Dairy Products Commission, which pays for her time. The commission this year expanded support to allow her to host nearly double the visitors in the spring and in the fall. Last spring, the dairy hosted about 1,500 guests.

The tours begin with a warning for city kids: “Every building will have a different smell. You’ll get used to it,” Foster said. Further orientation included production notes: Each of the 1,700 milking cows average about 10 gallons of milk per day. Most of Rickreall Dairy’s milk goes into Fred Meyer’s gallon jugs via the Farmers Cooperative Creamery.

The tour begins in the calf barn — calves weigh just 85 pounds at birth. As adults, they weigh around 1,300 pounds, eating nearly 150 pounds of feed per day, Foster explains. The tags in their ears have computer chips that allow staff to track everything from health to production. The children reach into the pens quietly, and giggle as the calves attempt to suck their fingers.

In the milking parlor, children gathered at the far end of a double row of Holsteins backed up to machinery that will automatically milk them and measure their production. A milker gives a low whistle and the cows move out, making room for the next group. Milking continues all day long, during which each cow is milked three times.

The tour is not all serious. Nate Kazemier, Foster’s 21-year-old brother, grabs a swollen cow teet and sprays his sister with milk. On the way to the maternity barns, Audri Evans, 5, of Salem, shyly says she has a joke:

“Where do cows go for vacation? Moo York!” she says.

In the maternity barn, Nate delights the children by jumping the fence and cuddling with one of the cows lying in the straw.

“He thinks he’s a cow,” his sister notes.

Teachers and administrators who want to take a classroom tour can email Foster at

Dairy branches out with on-farm bottling Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:14:23 -0400 Cecilia Parsons Top O’ The Morn Farms Inc. is closing in on a goal set in 2012 when Tulare, Calif., area dairy producers Ron and Evie Locke expanded into retail sales and started one of the few farmstead milk glass bottling operations in the state.

The Lockes, owners of Top O’ The Morn Farms, started in 2012 to send about 1 percent of their daily milk production to their on-site processing and bottling facility.

Two years later, the plant was processing 2 percent.

This year, Ron Locke said the business continues to move toward using 7 percent of the farm’s daily milk volume.

“Cow numbers have remained the same for the past four years, but going into retail — it’s been a tremendous amount of work,” said Locke.

Top O’ The Morn Farms is a member of Dairy Farmers of America, which processes the majority of the dairy’s milk from 2,000 Holsteins. Milk that is piped to the processing plant on the dairy is used for a variety of products, including sweet cream butter — the farm’s newest addition.

Milk from Top O’ The Morn Farms is bottled in half-gallon, quart and “mini” 16.9-ounce glass bottles.

Their white milk comes in 2 percent, skim and whole. Their flavored milks — which are popular items — come in chocolate, strawberry, root beer, coffee and peanut butter and chocolate.

The dairy business also bottles half-and-half, heavy cream and seasonal eggnog. Buyers in grocery stores pay a deposit on the returnable bottle.

Top O’ The Morn Farms has also carved out a niche in home delivery of not only milk but locally sourced food items including butter, cheese, eggs and coffee.

All of these products can be delivered to customers who are on routes from the Fresno-Clovis area to Tulare and Visalia.

The products are delivered between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. to an owner’s ice-filled cooler. Top O’ The Morn also operates a popular drive-thru dairy store in Tulare.

The bulk of their retail sales is trucked to grocery stores in the Central Valley and the Central Coast. Top O’ The Morn milk products can be found from the Fresno-Clovis area to Exeter and on the Central Coast from Paso Robles to Carpenteria in independent grocery stores and at Albertsons stores.

The on-site processing niche does set the dairy apart from its neighbors in dairy-rich Tulare County, but Locke notes that the workload requires much more than dairy management. Besides growing feed for the cows, overseeing nutrition, cow comfort and milking, Locke has to keep hundreds of customers and retailers happy with his product.

Evidence of his success at that comes in the form of recent awards received by Top O’ The Morn. In 2015 their Sweet Cream Salted Butter was named the New Product Buyers Choice at the Fresno Food Expo. Top O’ The Morn Farms was also honored at the Los Angeles County Fair’s International Dairy Products Competition.

Fifth-generation Tillamook farmer carries on tradition Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:12:50 -0400 Margarett Waterbury For John Seymour, raising calves and making silage beats working in an office any day.

“I’ve worked 9-to-5 type jobs — banking, offices — but I really enjoy my life now. I don’t have days off, but I don’t really have bad days, either,” he said. “I work every day, but there’s no defined boundary between my work and my life, and I like that.”

John, 27, is a fifth-generation dairy farmer and the dairy manager at Seymour Dairy. His family arrived in southern Tillamook County in 1876, just 17 years after Oregon became a state. Today, their original parcel is still part of the 200-acre farm.

Currently milking about 300 cows, Seymour Dairy sells exclusively to the Tillamook County Creamery Association, where John’s mother, Amy Seymour, is on the board of directors.

John runs all of the day-to-day operations: making decisions about where cows will go, scheduling employees, managing herd health and nutrition, treating sick cows, measuring pasture and mending fences.

“That’s what you get when you’re the manager, and also the bosses’ son,” he said with a smile.

Seymour Dairy takes advantage of the Oregon Coast’s relatively mild climate by keeping cows in the pasture as long as possible, typically from the beginning of March all the way through mid- November.

“As long as there’s grass outside for them to eat, they’re outside,” he said.

John’s maternal grandfather introduced the rotational grazing system they still use today. He established 22 separate pastures, a carefully chosen number that ensures cows can be moved to fresh pasture each day. Rye grass, Seymour Dairy’s primary fodder crop, has three leaves.

It takes seven days for the plant to grow each leaf, which means it takes 21 days for a pasture to fully regrow after grazing.

That seasonal approach also extends to calving and breeding.

“We’re a little different because we calve seasonally,” he said. “We get a huge flush of calves right at the beginning of March, and then it trails off towards the end of April.”

In addition to his responsibilities as the dairy manager, John is also a participant in the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association Young Dairy Leaders program. Alongside three other young dairy farmers, John has traveled to Salem and Washington, D.C., to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the dairy industry.

“We’ve been able to build connections with members of the Oregon delegation,” John said, “and I think that’s important. There’s a big disconnect now where people don’t really know where their food comes from, or even a lot about farms. It’s hard for dairy farmers to find the time to talk to people about what they do, but it’s good to get out there and share our stories, to let people know we’re here for the right reasons.

“Getting to turn grass into milk and cheese is pretty rewarding, and it’s not something very many people get to do anymore. It’s really hard to get into the industry for a person my age who doesn’t have a family farm or financial backing. I’m really lucky I have a farm I can come back to and keep those traditions going.”

Farmers get a hand from robotic parlor Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:08:42 -0400 Margarett Waterbury Vale is about as far from the misty pastures of the Oregon Coast as a town can get. Just 12 miles from the Idaho border, Vale, Ore., is in the midst of the high desert: big blue skies, an open landscape and a dry climate.

Yet here Dairylain Farms milks a herd of about 450 registered Jerseys, all born and raised on the farm, with an additional 500 head of young stock waiting in the wings.

This family-owned farm was founded in 1971 by Warren and Lori Chamberlain. Today, Warren and Lori still play a major role in the dairy operation, but they’re joined by their son Jason Chamberlain and his wife, Mary Chamberlain.

Well-known for their docile, sociable, curious nature and tolerance of hot weather, Jerseys are a natural fit for a family farm in one of the hottest parts of the state.

“They’re so curious,” Jason said. “They don’t run away from you; they run toward you.”

“Kids love them,” his wife, Mary, adds. “I have a three-year-old who showed one at the fair, and it just followed them around.”

Jerseys are generally smaller than Holsteins, and though they produce more milk per pound of body weight than Holsteins, their overall production tends to be a bit lower.

Jersey milk is high in butterfat, however, leading the Chamberlains to target the cheese rather than fluid market for their output. All of their milk is sold to the Sorrento Lactalis mozzarella plant in Nampa, Idaho, which is run by a French company that produces cheese for the U.S. and European markets.

In addition to pasture, the Chamberlains farm 500 acres for fodder. There, they raise about 80 percent of their feed to hedge against fluctuations in commodity prices and give them better control over their herd nutrition.

This year, Dairylain Farms is transitioning from its 1960s double six herringbone parlor to a fully robotic milking system. The Chamberlains had struggled to find qualified personnel in their sparsely populated area, and concerns about climbing minimum wage rates and new employee benefit programs led them to look into automation.

“Last summer we went to Iowa and took a tour to watch some robots. We decided not to at first, but after hearing what the legislators were talking about with minimum wage, 401ks and sick leave, we went back and started looking at what it would cost us to have employees,” Warren said. “So then we looked at robots again, and that’s where we went. We’ll be able to milk more cows and have fewer employees than we have now.”

Installation of the new robotic parlor took about a year, and the Chamberlains hope to be using the new system in June.

“I think mechanization and robotics are going to continue to increase,” Mary said, “And Oregon has been really supportive of that move. It combines the industrial and agricultural sides of Oregon, and it’s a good alternative for family farms who don’t want to sell out.”

“I think the future looks pretty good for dairies, really,” Warren said. “You can’t beat ag for raising kids and families. It teaches them a lot.”

Farmers looks to organic for higher prices Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:07:14 -0400 Margarett Waterbury During the last 18 months, commodity milk prices have dropped almost 45 percent.

Today, conventional milk prices are nearly on par with prices from the 1990s. That volatility has forced dairy farmers to get creative about managing their cash flow and operations.

Some have brought breeding and feed production totally in-house to exercise better control over input costs.

Others have moved toward automation to reduce their need for labor.

And others, like Meadowood Dairy in Turner, Ore., have begun to transition to organic production in pursuit of higher, more stable prices.

Brian Christiansen is the manager at Meadowood Dairy, and a fourth-generation dairy farmer. His family moved to Turner in 1986, purchasing a former peppermint farm with no buildings, no house, no driveway and no electricity.

Since then, their herd has grown from 115 cows to 270, mostly registered Holsteins as well as a few Brown Swiss.

Until recently, Meadowood Dairy sold primarily to Safeway. But as of July 1 it’ll be selling exclusively to Organic Valley.

“We were tired of the violent swings in the price of conventional milk. The stability and profitability of organic was the only way we could transition the dairy from Mom and Dad’s generation to mine,” Christiansen said.

While many of the requirements for organic certification weren’t a major change for Meadowood Dairy, meeting the organic feed requirements has been a challenge.

“We’ve always pastured the cows,” Christiansen said, “but it takes 365 days of only organic feed to transition, and during that time you’re being paid conventional milk prices.”

The switch to organic has also necessitated some changes in pasture plantings. Previously, Meadowood Dairy had grown field corn for silage, but that crop is difficult to grow organically.

Now, Christiansen is switching from field corn and replacing it with a dwarf variety of Sorghum-Sudangrass, which fares better in organic conditions.

Meadowood Dairy’s pasturing program is less intensive than that of many other farms. Instead of tight rotations where cows fully graze a single pasture before moving onto the next, Meadowood’s cows rotate a little more casually.

“We have nine-acre pastures. One herd of cows goes in for two days, and then they move on to the next. The other herd follows behind through the same fields,” Christiansen said. “Other people probably get more grass off of the ground than we do, but we have as many acres as we do cows, and we’ve always pastured that way. It’s a little unconventional, but that’s how we do it.”

Christiansen is hopeful that Meadowood’s organic transition will lay the groundwork for ongoing, sustainable profitability for his generation and those to come.

“The best thing that’s happened for dairy in the West has been the growth in organics. At 240 cows, we don’t have the economies of scale that larger dairies do,” he said. “The ability of organics to get a good price for farmers has kept quite a few dairies in business that might have otherwise gone out. It’s a huge economic undertaking to get there, but hopefully the reward will be worth it.”

Fun facts and trivia about dairy Thu, 2 Jun 2016 16:00:14 -0400 • The average cow produces enough milk each day to fill six one-gallon jugs, about 55 pounds of milk.

• It takes more than 21 pounds of whole milk to make 1 pound of butter.

• The fastest-growing variety of cheese produced in the U.S. is Hispanic-style soft cheese.

• All 50 states in the United States have dairy farms.

• The natural yellow color of butter comes mainly from the beta-carotene found in the grass cows eat.

• A typical dairy cow weighs 1,400 pounds and consumes about 50 pounds of dry matter each day.

• Cheddar cheese is the most popular natural cheese in the U.S.

• It takes 12 pounds of whole milk to make 1 gallon of ice cream.

• The average cow drinks from 30 to 50 gallons of water each day — about a bathtub full.

• Large ice cream-producing states include California, Indiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Minnesota.

• Super Bowl Sunday rates as the No. 1 day for pizza consumption.

• Cows have an acute sense of smell, and can smell something up to six miles away.

• It takes more cows to produce milk annually for Pizza Hut cheese (about 170,000) than there are people living in Green Bay, Wis.

• The average buyer purchases cheese 15 times at retail each year.

• McDonald’s uses approximately 4 million gallons of low-fat vanilla yogurt each year in its Fruit ’n’ Yogurt Parfait.

• Vanilla is America’s favorite ice cream flavor.

• Tank trucks for transporting fluid milk were first introduced in 1914.

• Each person in America eats an average of 46 slices of pizza a year.

• More ice cream is sold on Sunday than on any other day of the week.

• Plastic milk bottles were first introduced in the United States in 1967.

• More than 1,000 new dairy products are introduced every year.

• A cow has four stomachs and 32 teeth.

• About 300 varieties of cheese are sold in the U.S.

— University of Illinois Extension