Stephen Weststeyn says his dairy farm’s tag line is simple: “Making milk, feeding people.”
“While our primary goal is taking care of the cows and making sure they’re happy and healthy, the part that really inspires us is that we’re helping produce a really nutritious food,” Weststeyn says.
The third generation Californian grew up on the farm near Linden working with the cows and learned the ins and outs of how to best care for the cows from his father. Weststeyn’s father learned from his father in the Netherlands.
“Dairy has always been a strong passion for me,” he said. “I studied dairy processing at Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, with the dream of making dairy products someday from our milk on our farm.”
The farm is very much a family operation: Weststeyn enjoys herdsman work with his seven brothers and sisters, who contribute to the farm in other ways. His brothers work with the farming and the sisters enjoy caring for the calves.
“We have been farming in Willows in the Northern Sacramento Valley since the early 2000s but only recently started milking cows here in late 2017,” he said. “Before that, my dad and uncle milked cows together in Linden since the 1970s, when they took it over from my grandfather.”
Willows offers more open ground for growing crops.
“Cows require a lot of feed and Willows allowed us the opportunity to farm all the forages and grasses our cows need in the local area,” he said.
“We milk mostly Holsteins but have some Jerseys and a few Ayrshire cows that I am helping to preserve, as there aren’t many left in California,” he said.
The dairy is not organic but it grows non-genetically modified field crops.
“We ship our raw milk to Petaluma Creamery, where our milk is made into cheese,” Weststeyn said. “The cheese — Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Pepper Jack — goes to retailers and food service including the restaurant chain Chipotle.”
Petaluma Creamery leaves more of the butterfat in the cheese, which gives the cheese a richer, creamier flavor, he said.
He is also active on social media sites.
His popular “Moosletter” posts interesting facts such as “How much do cows weigh?” “Why do cows moo?” and “Do cows like to be milked?”
Milk prices and regulatory pressures are just a sampling of everyday challenges that face Weststeyn and the California dairy industry, he said.
“The biggest challenge is how to do more with less resources,” he said. “The milk price has recently been at an all-time low and we are facing increased regulatory pressures and higher costs. How can we give the cows the best care possible without dramatically increasing our costs?”
Other challenges include difficulties finding people to help work on the farm, changes in the minimum wage law and the higher cost of surface water to irrigate crops, he said.