Know Your Milk, Know Your Dairy, Part 2
(This is a response to the ABC Nightline video about inhumane treatment of dairy animals on large-scale farms.)
What is most wonderful about small, local, caring farms is that they will respond to consumers’ questions. Following up on my first post about dairies, I contacted five dairies that sell in the Chicago area. I chose them because, in general, they promote themselves as some combination of the requisite buzzwords: small, family-operated, local, organic, grass-fed, hormone-free, bottled on farm, etc. I also chose them because I felt they’d be the most likely candidates in my friend Laura’s search for a humane dairy.
I received lengthy, thoughtful responses from four out of five dairies (no response from Oberweis). These all strike me as dairies that care about their animals, care about how they treat the land and the environment, and care about the quality of milk they sell us. They care so much they are willing to sit down at a computer and type out answers to all my questions. These are farmers, not communications specialists. I hope you enjoy reading their replies. It is an honor to have them speak.
Joanna Mouming/Kalona Organics (Farmer’s All-Natural Creamery Milk)
Carla Kostka/Castle Rock Organic Farms
Matt Kilgus/Kilgus Farmstead
Craig Sanders/Traders Point Creamery
What is your grazing acreage?
Kalona Organics: There are currently 31 farmers supplying milk to the Creamery. All of these farmers are small Amish or Mennonite dairymen. The typical farm size is 80-160 acres. Most grow their own feed. When there is grass, the cows are out on it in the growing season. Our farmers know that grass is the best for the cows.
Castle Rock: We graze about 150 acres.
Kilgus: We have about 50 acres of pasture for our milking cow herd. It is divided up into seventeen 2.5 acre paddocks. The cows are moved to a fresh paddock every 24 hours. We also have about 30 acres of pasture for our dry cows and heifers.
Traders Point: 200 acres.
How many cows do you have?
Kalona Organics: The smallest herd that we have is 10 cows. The largest herd is 80. Those numbers indicate very small farms. Our typical size is 25 cows.
Castle Rock: We have 125 cows.
Kilgus: We are currently milking 80 cows. We have about 20 dry cows and about 75 young heifers.
Traders Point: 180 cows.
How much time do your cows spend on pasture per day? How does that vary per season?
Kalona Organics: Cows go to pasture in the morning, come in during the heat of the day to some sort of shade, go back out in the late afternoon, then they come in to be milked. It varies per season and weather.
Castle Rock: From May through October the cows spend most of their time on pasture. They can go into a free stall shed to lie down anytime they choose. There is also a feed ration available for them to eat free choice.
Kilgus: From April until November the cows are out on pasture 18-20 hours a day if the weather permits. During the winter season the cows are mostly indoors, but will occasionally be let out to pasture on a sunny warm day. In the winter the cows can be outside on a cement lot, but it’s usually too muddy for them to be on dirt or grass.
Traders Point: Our herd grazes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
What do you feed your cows when fresh grass is not available?
Kalona Organics: Varies: hay silage, baleage, ground corn, maybe some soybeans, oats, alfalfa.
Castle Rock: In the cold months the cows are fed a ration of baleage (long-stemmed, semi-dry hay) along with some corn and oats put through a TMR (a mixer) for better digestibility. We do not feed our cows any soybeans. This is the same feed ration that is free choice during the grazing months.
Kilgus: When the cows aren’t grazing we do store up grasses and hay throughout the summer to feed in the winter time. The cows also get corn silage along with a vitamin and protein mix. We try to keep the cows main diet some type of forage.
Traders Point: When fresh grass is not available, we feed our cows organic hay harvested throughout the summer.
What breed of cows do you milk? Why have you chosen those?
Kalona Organics: Predominately Holstein or Jersey. Some Normande, Guernsey, Brown Swiss.
Castle Rock: We have Holstein/Jersey cross cows in our herd with more Holstein genetics. We have added the jersey breed for higher components in the milk.
Kilgus: We milk Jersey cows at our farm. We have chosen the Jersey cow because of the increased nutritional value of their milk. A Jersey cow has a higher protein and calcium level in their milk than other breeds of cattle. We had a lab come in and test our milk on the shelf compared to other brands of milk and it showed about a 13% increase in both protein and calcium compared to the other tested brands. We are one of fewer than 5 herds in the US that bottle only Jersey milk in an on-farm processing plant.
Traders Point: Our herd consists of Brown Swiss cows, along with some Brown Swiss cross breeds – we prefer them because of their high quality milk, high butterfat content, and overall kind demeanor.
Do you bottle in plastic or glass? Why? If glass, with deposit or without?
Kalona Organics: We bottle in PET plastic because glass is prone to sanitary issues. It is a recyclable plastic. Our PET plastic does not leach into the milk. It also has a UV blocker to protect the milk from light (in dairy cases and sunlight). Light oxidizes milk, causing off flavors. We do not use carton packaging both because it leaches and it is not recyclable due to the coating on the carton.
Castle Rock: We bottle our milk in glass bottles (one half gallon and quarts and soon pints) All have a $2.00 deposit.
Kilgus: We have chosen to bottle milk in plastic. We did a lot of research on this and it seemed that bottling on-farm it was a better fit for us to use plastic as the headaches of glass in such a small plant would have been overwhelming for us. We did poll some consumers and retail outlets that preferred us to use the plastic as they didn’t want to mess with returning glass.
Traders Point: We package our milk and yogurt into quart glass bottles. We use glass because of the ability to recycle it, but additionally to avoid any of the leaching chemicals that plastic or cardboard packaging can introduce into our products.
Is your milk homogenized?
Kalona Organics: No, we sell only non-homogenized milk.
Castle Rock: We do not homogenize our milk.
Kilgus: No. This has been interesting for us because if a person isn’t educated they may think there is something wrong with the milk when they open it. We try to educate our consumers to shake the jug very well before they open it.
Traders Point: Our milk is NOT homogenized. We produce “creamline” milk – the cream rises to the top, and can be scraped off for morning coffee, or removed to make your milk lower in fat content. We only produce “whole” milk on our farm.
Do you make cheese or butter?
Kalona Organics: We currently make butter, and are starting to set up to make cheese.
Castle Rock: We make cheddar, Colby, blue cheese and cream cheese.
Kilgus: Not at this time. We have thought about butter, but at this point we haven’t purchased any equipment to do it yet. We do encourage people to buy the cream and make their own butter with it.
Traders Point: In our production facility on our farm we produce whole milk, chocolate milk, a variety of yogurts, cottage cheese, fromage blanc and our hard cheese – “fleur de la terre.” We also make ice cream and mozzarella which can usually only be bought on site.
What does a gallon of your whole milk cost?
Kalona Organics: We see our gallons sell in a range between $5.99-$6.99.
Castle Rock: The largest container we sell is one half gallon. The price varies from $3.39 to $4.19 at the retail level. (ed: $6.78-8.38/gallon)
Kilgus: Approximately $5.00 per gallon.
Traders Point: Our milk is about $4.00/quart on store shelves in Chicago. (ed: $16/gallon)
When comparing small, local dairy offerings, there seems to be a broad spectrum of pricing. Can you give your thoughts as to why this is?
Kalona Organics: I can offer some ideas: whether it is organic or not; distribution costs may vary based on distance and volumes. Private label organic or rBST-free milks in stores are causing stores to raise the price of milks that compete with their private label. Packaging can hike prices based on materials or sales volumes.
Castle Rock: To make the quality food product that we do, smaller batches are better thus labor and production costs are much higher.
Kilgus: A lot of this can depend on the brand you have built up. There are certain names that sell product no matter what the quality is. It also takes a lot of investment to start into this type of venture, and it may just depend on how much each individual producer has invested in their operation.
Traders Point: To address your question about various prices – in the realm of milk pricing we realize we are near the top. That simply comes from the methods that farms use to produce their milk. Feeding only organic grass/hay costs considerably more money. Feeding ONLY grass only multiplies that cost. It does not come down to gouging the customer because of brand name or “organic” certification – milk price (for us, at least) is just a representation of the real cost that it takes to produce our exceptional milk. In the dairy business, you really do get what you pay for.
How much space do your cows have in the barn?
Kalona Organics: When the cows are in the barn, they have enough room to lie down or stand up. Cows in the barn are there to be milked, then turned out.
Castle Rock: The free stall shed is 100′ by 200′.
Kilgus: One group of our cows has a bedding pack to lie on that offers them about 100 square feet per cow. The other group of cows has more of a choice of individual stalls that they can choose to lie in. These stalls are bedded with sawdust and cleaned out twice a day. We really only use the barn from December until March.
Traders Point: We actually don’t really have a barn on our farm. We have shelters that are built to bring our herd in when it is very cold, or during heavy rain, to help preserve our fields. But as I stated above, our herd is otherwise on pasture 24/7/365. Our calves are kept in shelter for about 8 months due to parasite concerns.
What do you do with cows once they no longer milk?
Kalona Organics: Typically they go to the local meat locker and the meat is used by the family or local community.
Castle Rock: Once cows no longer produce they are shipped to market for slaughter. In an organic herd many cows produce for 10 or more lactations.
Kilgus: Most cows will be bought for their meat once they are no longer in milk production.
Traders Point: We have cows around the farm that are ancient by dairy farm standards. As with any farm, there is turnover within our herd – we sell some of our cows to local farmers, and some are sent to the butcher. It should be noted that this is not taken lightly around the farm, but it really is a part of being an operating farm.
How do you deal with illness?
Kalona Organics: Organic standards are very strict on this. There are varied ways to deal with illness. The best way is prevention.
Castle Rock: Being fed organically our animals have a good immune system. Should they need pharmaceutical treatment (not allowed in organic production) we will treat them to save their life and then that animal is culled from the herd. The percentage of this is very low.
Kilgus: If we do have a cow that is ill, we will treat them with an antibiotic and keep them out of the milk chain for several days until the antibiotics and illness are clear from her system. Our theory is that we would rather provide milk from healthy cows than have a sick animal we aren’t allowed to treat.
Traders Point: Because we are certified organic, we cannot treat illnesses with antibiotics or steroids like other farms can. We treat all sick cows with homeopathic and herbal remedies in consultation with a veterinarian. Mastitis is tested for daily and treated using organically approved methods.
The Nightline segment shows tail docking. Is this a practice that occurs on your farm? Why or why not?
Kalona Organics: No, our farms do not.
Castle Rock: We do not do tail docking – our cows spend a lot of time outside and need their tail to shoo flies.
Kilgus: None or our cows on our farm have their tails docked. We feel the tail is a natural way for the animal to keep insects off of her body, and a cow with a tail has a lot nicer appearance.
Traders Point: By no means do we participate in tail docking. I personally viewed the Nightline video and was shocked to see how some of the procedures were done. This is not something that would even be brought up as a possible option on our farm.
Nightline also shows “de-horning”. Is this a practice that occurs on your farm? Why or why not?
Kalona Organics: Most of our farms do de-horn. This is done for the safety and health of the cows and farms. It is common for cows to spar/play and with horns they can injure each other in play. Injuries can lead to infection. As mentioned, preventative care is the focus for our farms. Farmers can also become injured by horns at times.
Castle Rock: Most dairy animals are dehorned – to keep the stress to a minimum for the animals it is best to do it at a young age.
Kilgus: We do dehorn our cattle but at a much younger age. We apply a small amount of heat to the tip of the horn when the animal is a few weeks old. This heat stunts the growth of the horn and doesn’t allow it to get any bigger as the animal grows. This method puts little to no stress on the animal as you’re just applying heat and not actually removing the horn. We do stunt the horn growth for the animals’ safety — if they were to get into a fight with each other they could seriously hurt each other with their horns.
Traders Point: We also do not de-horn on our farm. All of our cows have their natural horns. We actually get many questions as to why our milking herd has horns, but we feel that leaving the cows as natural as possible helps them fight off sickness and infection – not to mention avoiding the obvious pain that the de-horned cows were put through.
What is your stance on rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone)?
Kalona Organics: Don’t believe in it. Organic standards don’t allow for it.
Castle Rock: RBGH is not allowed in organic production – I would not use it because of possible health issues to consumers.
Kilgus: We don’t use any rBGH on our farm. We feel there are more disadvantages than advantages to it and feel our cows our better off without it.
Traders Point: We do not use rBGH and would never consider it. Obviously being organic would prohibit it, anyway.
Are you certified organic? Why or why not?
Kalona Organics: Yes. We believe in organic as the way forward.
Castle Rock: Yes, we are certified organic because we believe that the standards required are important to the consumer. We are very disappointed in the unequal enforcement of these rules – it seems the big corporations have their way of tweaking the rules to fit their needs and getting away with it. That is why today you, the consumer, need to know your food source and know the farmer.
Kilgus: No, although we don’t use any BST, we still use an antibiotic on a cow that is sick. We still feel we want healthy cows to produce milk and feel if we were organic we wouldn’t be able to treat a cow that may need an antibiotic. We do have very few problems with sickness since we graze our cattle outdoors, but there is still your occasional sickness that needs attention.
Traders Point: We are certified organic. We feel that it gives the consumer more confidence that the product they are buying is as wholesome as possible. With companies like Horizon and Aurora (store brand) on the market the elevated perception of organics has been diminished, but we feel that consumers can educate themselves on which companies strive to go beyond the organic labeling standards, and which companies do just enough to get their certification to sell more milk.
Is your milk blended with milk from other dairies? Where are these dairies and what are their practices?
Kalona Organics: No, the milk we bottle is our milk only. (editor’s note: As stated above, Kalona Organics is a cooperative of 31 small Amish and Mennonite farms.)
Castle Rock: We are a single farm (non-pooled) operation. We only use the milk from our cows which gives total control of our finished products.
Kilgus: No, we are the only single source milk in Illinois. It is only the milk from our cows in our jugs. This helps set us apart from the other brands of milk you will find organic, and regular.
Traders Point: We do purchase milk from other dairy farms. We have two small dairies in Indiana, and two others in Ohio. We are very particular about who we buy our milk from, and demand only the highest standards of practice from them. They are all 100% grassfed, organic, and treat their animals as humanely as we do.
Where can consumers find your products in the Chicagoland area?
Kalona Organics: Whole Foods (13), Caputos, Fox & Obel, Goddess & Grocer, Jewel, Lincoln Park Market, Peapod, Potash Bros., Stanley’s and many more. Full list here.
Castle Rock: Dill Pickle Food Co-op and Green Grocer.
Kilgus: Green City Market, Gene’s Sausage Shop, A & L Grocery, The Downtown Farmstand, Z & H Market Cafe, Olivia’s Market, Whole Foods: South Loop and River Forest, Marion Street Cheese Market.
Traders Point: Our products can be found in all 16 Chicagoland Whole Foods stores, Fresh Market, Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, Provenance Food & Wine, Green Grocer, Hyde Park Produce, Dill Pickle Co-Op, Gene’s Sausage Shop, Fox and Obel, Open Produce, Fruitful Yield, Z & H Market Cafe, and The Downtown Farmstand.
Sorry for the long post, but I felt it was valuable. I would love to hear reader responses to this. Is this helpful? What did you learn about small dairy farms? Do you have follow-up questions? Ask me, but I would also encourage you to ask the dairies themselves. Let them know you care about what they produce. In the end, your role in the food system is that of “co-producer”, to quote Carlo Petrini. Dairies produce with your needs and wants in mind; at least, small, responsive dairies do, and that is the beauty of this new local food system. Play your part!
Kalona Organics (Farmer’s All-Natural Creamery Milk)
www.farmerscreamery.com (*254 miles)
Castle Rock Organic Farms
www.castlerockfarms.net (*304 miles)
firstname.lastname@example.org (*92 miles)
Traders Point Creamery
www.traderspointcreamery.com (*173 miles)
(* Distances from 1 N. State, Chicago)