Our spring break was so exciting! In between family visits, sister weekends and driving all over the state, we got to go visit Organic Pastures raw milk dairy in Fresno, CA. Since we already buy milk from them, I thought it would be the perfect supplement to the kids’ education to see where our milk comes from, literally. I made an appointment the week before our trip to get a tour and when we arrived, another family tour was just finishing up.
Kaleigh, Marc McAfee’s daughter, was our tour guide. (Of course the pix I took of her are nowhere to be found!!!) She was bubbly and sweet and very informative. She is basically in charge of marketing for the company and you can completely tell that her heart is all the way in it! It will be cool to watch what happens as she becomes more and more involved.
All of the following is info we got from her. (Any error in information is my mistaken memory!)
When Marc and his family first moved out to their farm he wanted to have goats. His wife didn’t like goat’s milk, cheese or meat so she wanted cows. Obviously, happiness of the wife is happiness in the home so cows it was! They had never been farmers so they kind of let the cows do their thing, their way. Pretty soon, folks were coming with buckets, asking for raw milk. Initially, they just gave it away for free! Then the demand became great and they realized that to meet the demand they would have to actually venture into some bottling processes. So they started with a couple trailers, thinking it would be a temporary fix and ended up using more to make their current creamery.
Amazingly, everything that can be done by hand is done by hand! We can see now why the milk has to cost what it does! (I wish I had been able to get the picture of the guy with the mountain of butter and the scooper. He was scooping butter into the containers, one at a time!!!)
They are hoping that when they get the new creamery built (within a couple years!) they can actually streamline things, meet a little more of the outstanding demand, and perhaps even get the prices down quite a bit!
Next we got to see the cows!
Our first stop was the mama pasture, full of pregnant cows ready to give birth.
Cows are pregnant for about 9ish months, close to the same as humans. They get to be in this pasture away from milking and daily cow busy-ness for about the last month. Sounds like a dream! There were holsteins and jerseys and some mixes, mamas who were on their first baby and some who were old hats at this. At Organic Pastures they let the cows go through the labor and delivery process as naturally as possible without any human intervention unless there is some problem or the labor takes more than an hour.
(An hour!!!! Can you imagine if we lived organically in a natural environment and with little medical intervention? Would our babies come out as quickly and with such ease? I think so!!!)
Typically, the delivering cow will take herself about 200 yards or so out away from the herd and lumber around, swaying and loosening up. The calf will then come out, plop down on the ground, followed by all the afterbirth. She will eat up all the yucky stuff, clean her baby and he will wobble himself up to his feet.
See how close we were?
Next we walked/ran, (this was lovely for wearing out the 3, 5, 7 and 9 year olds!), to see where they take the babies once they have their legs under them. There are coyotes in the area that will come and take the calves if they are not protected a bit.
There were little pens that they stay in for a couple weeks until they get moved to the big kids playpen
and then on to the big kid area out in the pasture. While they are here, we can pet them and let them “nurse” off of our fingers. (This is a feeling much like a human baby, just with a much deeper mouth.) They were very sweet!
Organic Pastures does not do any branding of their animals, which I love. It does, however, have its drawbacks. Just recently, they had about a hundred calves stolen. Yes, stolen. Can you believe people still do things like that? I’m not sure if they are going to change their practice on that end but I hope not. I love that these cows are so free to be truly natural.
A cow can typically live anywhere from 15- 25 years. At nearby dairies, the cows live an average of 3-4 years. This could be because the farmers give them things like gummy bears and molasses chips to make them produce more milk. (!!!!!!! Did you catch that???????? Talk about natural!!! UGH!) These cows are also kept in small pens and given no opportunities for normal life. From those cows I can understand the pasteurization practice!!!
Lately, with the pasteurized milk industry not doing as well, some of the organic dairies are coming to the McAfee family and asking them to buy their cows. When the non-pastured cows are unloaded from the truck they are a bit skittish about this prickly green substance under their feet. It takes them a couple of nervous hours before the joy takes them over. At that point they begin to literally dance across the pastures, kicking up their heels, bounding through to the boundaries of their newfound freedom. Kaleigh said she wished she had a video so she could put it on YouTube. (Get it, please!!! I want to see!!!)
After the tour, we came back to the offices where the kids ate all of the raw almond samples and had some raw milk and chocolate “colostrum” samples.
I love this dairy. I love how much they care about their products and their animals. I am so happy to be supporting them!