"Buy Local." "Buy direct from the farmer." "Whatever you do, don't buy from Walmart."
This is what we've been hearing on the street, social media, and more as Walmart's vertical integration of milk has made ripples & waves among dairy farmers and consumers.
That means we get the question - "Where can I buy your milk?" But the real question that's being asked is "How can I support farmers, especially family farms?"
For the few farms that both milk the cows & bottle the milk right there on their farm, you can buy milk at their farm stand and sometimes in the local grocery story. And if that works for you, it's great for you & for that local farmer.
But honestly that might not be the way a lot of us shop. I understand, I'm a busy mom and can't stop at every little farm stand. I've got a schedule and it's full - I just need to pick up all of our food for the week during my once a week grocery shopping trip.
So where then can you buy the milk that our cows make so you can support our family's farm?
Well, since we don't bottle our own milk or have the expertise to turn it into cheese or ice cream or cream cheese, we've joined with other family farmers and together have hired folks who are experts in those areas to take the milk from our cows and get it to your local grocery store shelf (or restaurant or school as lots of food ends up there too!).
We're part of Prairie Farms as members owners. After #DairymanDan feeds & cares for our cows & Rita the robot milks them, Luke, our milk truck driver comes & picks up the milk and usually brings it (along with milk from other neighboring farms) to a cheese plant in Luana to be made into Swiss Cheese & Cream Cheese.
But I'm grabbing a gallon of milk, not Swiss cheese...
Yes, that's right but if you're picking up a gallon of Prairie Farms milk it means it's made from milk that comes from our friend Jason's cows, for example. He lives nearer the plant that bottles Prairie Farms milk in Dubuque so his milk truck driver usually takes his milk to that plant. Since we work together you're helping us both (along with all the other family farms that are part of Prairie Farms). It doesn't matter if you buy a gallon of Prairie Farms milk (or their many other products) or a block of Swiss Valley Cheese (which isn't Prairie Farms branded but is made by Prairie Farms).
Throughout the United States there are many dairy farmer owned cooperatives that sell products in your local grocery store, sometimes branded the same as their cooperative name sometimes branded differently. Do you know other dairy cooperatives in other areas of the country? What brand should you look for in the store near you to help those dairy farmers?
Some other brands, like A&E or Blue Bunny (and even Great Value Walmart milk) here in Iowa, are milk processors that buy milk from individual dairy farmers and although they have contracts, unfortunately if A&E or Blue Bunny decides they don't need the milk that a farmer produces they can not renew the contract & stop buying that farmers' milk. When dairy farmers own the cooperative, that can't happen because the dairy farmers & the board they elect are in control.
Is there anything else I can do?
The most important thing is to eat dairy foods! In reality 97% of dairy farms are family owned & ultimately even that Great Value Walmart milk likely comes from a family dairy farm. To support our family specifically, buy Prairie Farms products whenever you can!
If you just want to make sure that you're buying local milk and milk products you can check the number on the package and if it starts with a "19" it means it was packaged & made into cheese or butter or some other dairy product at a plant in Iowa! At "Where is my milk from?" you can even enter that plant number & find out specifically where it was packaged!
One more way to help is to donate to the Great American Milk Drive who donates milk to your local food pantry. If you shop at Hy-Vee in the Midwest just tell the cashier to add an extra gallon to your bill when you check out!
Thanks for caring about family farms & making choices with your wallet. It's easy to pick up the loss leader $1.48 gallon of milk (I know because I'm so tempted too!) & if buying that means your family can enjoy more dairy products than go ahead & grab it. But we, as Prairie Farms farmers owners, would love for you to enjoy Prairie Farms products & support us in the process! Thank you!
P.S. If you want to know more about how we're part of a dairy cooperative check out this post!
If you live pretty much anywhere in the US, I'm sure you're aware that it's cold. Not just cold, it's REALLY cold! Like -17 degrees cold overnight here in Iowa!
My mom called the other night and you know who she was concerned about? Our baby calves. I think she knew we were probably fine & keeping warm but didn't know how we were keeping the calves warm. And you might be wondering the same thing - how do we keep our calves warm in this weather?
Era had a baby calf late last Saturday night and we aptly named her Extreme because of the extreme cold! Since our cows calve in the maternity area in the barn year around (warmer in winter & cooler in summer!) she was born into temps in the mid-30's which cows don't mind at all. Era licked her off as soon as she was born & then #DairymanDan made sure to dry her off even more with a towel.
Extreme then got to stay in the barn for a bit more than 24 hours to ensure she was completely dry before heading out to the cold. When #DairymanDan brought her out he made sure she was nestled down & cozy in her cornstalk bales.
I wanted a cute picture of a calf snuggled down in her stalks here but #DairymanDan said they also keep warm by moving & every time he'd try to sneak up & take a picture they'd jump up. Oh, well - you'll just have to imagine it!
It turns out calves are born with something called "brown fat" which helps keep calves warm too. We strategically place our huts facing south so that calves are protected from the north wind. Although Pam always keeps a close eye on each of our calves, in cold weather she pays even closer attention, as a skipped meal or any sign of illness can quickly become fatal. Obviously the calves' water freezes each day so we also make sure that they get a bucket of warm water in the middle of the day.
You might wonder why we don't bring them all inside, which I know I wondered at first. Bringing them inside, especially if it's not VERY well ventilated, can cause higher incidences of pneumonia & other sicknesses because they're sharing stale air with each other. Over the years Dan & his parents have learned that even in extreme cold we can take better care of our calves by caring well for them outside, even if it means we have to work out in the bitter cold!
We're doing our best to keep our calves warm but we are looking forward to this cold snap breaking as it does take more work to get machinery running, care for our animals, & stay warm ourselves!
How are you staying warm?
This is the first post from a series of posts in November 2017.
Grati-mooooo-d, because being thankful definitely improves your mooooood!
Old towels & corn stalk bedding that help keep newborn calves dry & warm!
Raising kids on the farm... Working, learning, & playing together!
Big concrete alleys for the kids to ride bikes in... especially since I grew up on a gravel road & always wanted some pavement!
Fall = Pumpkin
Cows = Milk = Cream Cheese
Yummy Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Muffins
This recipe is a keeper!
Opportunities to learn about life, which includes new calves being born (& in this case experiencing it with cousins).
The generations that have come before us & how they've shaped us!
I hope we have this much fun at our 60th anniversary!
#DairymanDan's ability to fix things - especially Rita the robot when she breaks down (rare but it does happen!)
How Dave & Pam have not only adapted but embraced the technology we now use daily, including all the data on our smartphones.
Pam's hard work & careful care of our calves as well as helping in so many other ways from cow care to watching grandkids to her famous track bars & cakes!
This awesome 5 month baby who has made the transition to a family of 5 so easy (so far!).
Today we say thank you to those who have served & are serving in our armed forces. Thank you for your selfless commitment & sacrifice!
P.S. We loved learned more about the military when Becoming Bailey & her army recruiter husband came to visit for the Be A Dairy Farmer Challenge!
I love sharing & learning with others about our lives, especially when they affect me like the military that protects me or me sharing about how the food you eat is made.
We all have important & interconnected roles and understanding them helps us all live more fulfilling & less judgemental lives!
Great tech support from AMS Galaxy USA Robotic Milking when something goes wrong with Rita the robot!
Just last night Dave & Pam had to call while Dan was away & they were able to help them get Rita back to milking cows!
Here is Dan in spring 2015 graduating from tech school in Pennsylvania at training school located on a working farm!
Neighbors who we can trade with - stalk bedding bales for manure!
Our calves get try bedding throughout the winter & our neighbor's field gets nutrient rich fertilizer.... a win-win!
Our veterinarians! We have one of the best teams anyone could ask for!
They're on call 24/7 & have not only helped us with sick & hurt cows but also give us great advice about general health & care for our girls!
In this photo from early last year the vet is giving a check up to a cow. I don't have lots of up close pictures of vet work for the same reason I probably don't want to see pictures from your last doctor visit!
An opportunity to share our cows, barn, & Rita the robot with Bill Northey, our Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.
You may or may not know that there are variety of dairy cow breeds. We milk Holsteins, most of them black & white colored with a few that have reddish brown hair. #DairymanDan enjoys learning about & utilizing the genetic information each of our cows have so he can breed the best cows for our herd. For us that also means being members of the Iowa Holstein Association.
This spring as part of the Iowa Holstein Annual Spring Sale the Iowa Holstein Association is selling raffle tickets for either a elite heifer or $2,500. Plus there's 11 more prizes too! You can purchase a raffle ticket for $100 from any board member, which includes us!
If you're not a dairy farmer you can still purchase a raffle ticket because almost every prize has a cash prize associated with it (and we could all use a little cash, right?) If you win a prize with something other than a cash prize we'll purchase the other dairy specific part at 50% of it's worth, giving you even more cash - but only if you buy the ticket from us!
The drawing will be held Saturday, March 17th, 2018 in West Union. If you want to pick a heifer you or a representative need to be there, otherwise you don't need to be present to win! Contact us to let us know you want a chance to win $2,500!
1st Prize ~ Heifer Choice or $2500 Cash
From these farms:
3rd Prize ~ Trans Ova Certificate & $500 Cash
4th Prize ~ $1000 Cash
5th Prize ~ 10 units of Kingboy Semen & $500 Cash
6th Prize ~ $800 Cash
7th Prize ~ 4 Transfers & $250 Cash
8th Prize ~ Zoetis Basket & $200 Cash
9th Prize ~ $500 Certificate from ST Genetics for Semen of Choice
10th Prize ~ $400 Certificate from Envision
11th Prize ~ Zoetis Basket & $100 Cash
12th Prize ~ Steel Cow Portrait & $100 Cash
All the proceeds go to the Iowa Junior Holstein Association & the Iowa Holstein Association.
This is the second post from a series of posts in November 2017
Grati-mooooo-d, because being thankful definitely improves your mooooood!
We're going to hear from the cows the next few days - or at least what we're pretty sure they'll thankful for!
Access to plentiful clean water (& we're thankful that we don't have to carry it or fill it - they automatically fill!)
The daily salad buffet of food with corn silage, haylage, & peas/barlage (all fermented) and some added vitamins & minerals + granola power treats in the robot when milking!
Comfy, clean sand beach beds to lounge around on... or cozy up to a friend and on!
Rita the robot who milks them consistently, the same way every time... no surprises!
Freedom to wander about to eat, drink, & be merry... Well at least to sleep & relax!
A back (or head or butt or tail) rub whenever they want... I wish I had one!
We're hearing from the cows again... although we're pretty thankful for this too!
Automatic manure scrappers... the cows appreciate having a clean place to hang out (they run every few hours) & we appreciate only having to manually scrape the cross-over areas, in between the auto-scrapped alleys.
Day 23: Thanksgiving Day
Those cows are always up to something....
Happy Thanksgiving from Valwood & all her friends!
The cow's nutritionist... that's right!
He stops by every other week to check on the cows, examine their manure (that's what he's doing here - you can learn a lot!), & talk with Dan about how things are going (problems, things going well, new ideas, & more!).
Our dairy coop, Prairie Farms Dairy. As farmer owners we pool our milk with other farmers to make all sorts of yummy dairy products!
Today we're especially grateful for Rita the Robot's CONSISTENCY so that we could have FLEXIBILITY so that when we needed to help with a family medical need during traditional "milking" time we could go knowing the cow's would still be getting milked.
PS... this is a throwback video to the first day Rita was on the job!
Another great part of our team.... The pedicurists, otherwise known as hoof trimmers!
Each cow got her semi-annual hoof care visit during the past two days!
They get to visit the fancy big red "spa" to help them stay in place... Because really, have you ever tried painting a toddler's nails?
The guys that haul our milk from the farm to the plant that turns it into cheese!
They come rain or shine, snow or ice - just like he's pulling up on a sheet of ice last winter.
On our last day we want to say "Thank you!" to you for following along, caring about where your food comes from, & getting to experience a family farm!
If you haven't connected via our newsletter be sure to sign up for a chance to win either yummy Swiss cheese or (NEW!) $15 gift certificate for Prairie Farms products!
We draw a winner every time we send out a newsletter, typically monthly!
Growing up a city-girl, after marrying my dairy farmer husband and spending a few years abroad, we came home to expand the family dairy farm and want to share our journey & farm life with you!