Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Cows Make Good Milk


Happy Cow Creamery, in Pelzer, SC, also known as Twelve Aprils Dairy, was an ordinary dairy until the April morning more than twenty years ago when the cows broke down a gate to pursue the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  Farmer Tom Trantham was initially so angry at his cows that he left them alone in the pasture and went inside to watch TV, something a farmer never has time to do in the middle of the day.
A "happy cow" chewing her cud.
 
His farm was nearly bankrupt because of declining milk prices and rising feed prices.  He operated a conventional dairy where the cows ate silage and grain and remained inside on a concrete floor.  He was nearly ready to give the bank the farm and look for other ways to earn a living that day the cows escaped, although he desperately wanted to farm.

That evening, the cows came to the barn for their milking, and they gave an extra 200 pounds of milk.  All the fresh air, green grass, and sunshine allowed their bodies to do what nature intended:  produce milk.  Excited by the increased amount of milk, Farmer Trantham researched rotational grazing, where cows graze fresh paddocks of grass every day so they get the most nutrients from each plant.  He learned which grasses grow best during which times of the year, and how long to let the cows graze the grass before moving them on.  The name Twelve Aprils Dairy came from his observation that, with careful pasture management and judicious use of his own hay and silage, he could produce the bounty of milk he got on April pasture twelve months out of the year.
 
He allows the cows to eat the grass they were designed to eat, and lets the sunshine, fresh air, and opportunity for exercise help his cows remain healthy and happy.  Twice a day, the cows line up by the barn, each carrying an udder full of about 60 pounds of milk.  They jostle each other and compete for the first place in line, although they usually get in line at about the same place every day.  They knock at the door with their noses while they wait, saying “Hey, don’t forget me!”  After the cows are milked, which takes about three hours twice a day, the cows go back into a pasture where they can graze the grass.
"Let me in!" she says as she knocks on the door .

I visited the farm with my girls to see where their milk comes from.  The farm offers tours and has a retail shop where they sell milk and other dairy, meat, and vegetable products.  They sell whole, pasteurized, non-homogenized milk, which means that potentially harmful bacteria are killed by pasteurization but the cream still rises to the top of the milk.

Farmer Trantham has turned a farm on the brink of bankruptcy into a thriving business by using fewer purchased, off-farm inputs and by selling his milk directly to the public.  Most dairies sell their milk to a company, which mingles it with the milk of other dairies, bottles it, and sells it to grocery stores.  Farmer Trantham sells his milk off the farm and to small stores, like Rosewood Market and 14 Carrots in the Columbia, South Carolina, area. Wil-Moore Farms , in the Lugoff area, at 803-438-3097, also carries the milk.

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