CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — If you were a cow, you would want to live here. The weather is mild year-round and the grass grows thick on bottomland soil within earshot of the ocean.
And apparently, if you’re the fourth, fifth or sixth generation of the Alexandre family, you also enjoy life here.
This year, the human component of the 3,500-head dairy farms with four locations in Northern California welcomed the latest addition to their fertile pastures. Canaan, son of Christian and Callie Alexandre, is the first member of the family’s sixth generation of dairy farmers.
Canaan’s father is one of five siblings who, with their parents, spouses and employees, own and manage Alexandre Family Farm in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
Proud Aunt Vanessa Alexandre, “the Ambassador of Cows,” said the family’s multi-generational commitment to dairying has produced over time a herd and a pasture management plan that suits this particular place.
Over the generations, the family has been breeding cows that were made for Northern California pastures, with their short legs and wide bodies that give them a goat-like tread that is easy on the land.
The cows were also bred for their milk: All have A2/A2 b-casein protein genetics, touted for producing milk that may be more easily digested by humans than most milks, according to Vanessa. Alexandre whole milk is 6% butterfat compared to the 3.25% federal requirement.
When the third generation was born at the Ferndale farm, Vanessa said the dairy was still small. Her father, Blake, and mother, Stephanie, expanded their own operation to Crescent City and to pastures a few miles north, near the mouth of the Smith River.
Blake and Stephanie also expanded their personal “herd.” All of their children, now grown, have graduated from or are attending Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Blake and Stephanie’s alma mater.
These educated dairy and business siblings came back to the farm with fresh ideas for dairy and other farm products, best practices and management.
As a result, visitors to the dairy will find a variety of projects on the land assisted by the fifth generation, ranging from pastured chickens, pork and beef to wildlife sanctuaries for geese, eagles and elk. The family also grows its own hay, in Modoc County, to control feed content for wintertime, when cows are not pastured.
Once a week, nine family and management team members gather from the scattered locations for a business meeting.
“My dad runs the meeting,” Vanessa said. He keeps order with a simple rule: Stay in your lane. “We share opinions and we help each other, but I don’t go into Christian’s shop and give his guys instructions.”
The team includes many long-time farm and field managers who have been with the family for years. “They have their heart in the business. We learn a lot from their experience and wisdom,” Vanessa said.
The long-term commitment to dairying has also strengthened community and business relationships. Alexandre Dairy sells some of its milk to local creameries, including Rumiano Cheese, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary in Crescent City, and Humboldt Creamery, owned by Foster Farms.
The farm also has its own creamery, where it produces whole milk, yogurts and flavored milks under the Alexandre Family Farm label. The family creamery touts a low-heat slow pasteurization process that keeps intact the extra nutrition gained from pasture-based cows.
Vanessa said her siblings’ return to help on the expanding dairy is a result of her parents’ passion.
“My parents loved it. It’s part of what draws us kids to it. We felt their passion for dairying and they taught us to love the lifestyle.”
What’s in store for the sixth generation? The family continues to take on market and environmental challenges endemic to the business, creating niche products that are not only organic, but also regeneratively organic, a new certification designation that measures and promotes a dairy’s sustainability, by putting the carbon back into the soil through grazing and other carbon sequestration practices.
“We’re learning. A lot of this is not the norm in the dairying world. But to me, it’s quite intriguing. We are trying to do what we can to be unique in the marketplace, in hopes to do more than just survive on the farm,” said Vanessa.