Before the Stonyfield Blogger Barnstorming Tour, I didn’t think twice about cows. To be honest, I thought they were dirty, smelly animals. But, after “getting to know” a bunch of them, I think cows are adorable, sweet, and sort of “magical!”
Our first cow encounter of the trip took place at Howmars Farm in Franklin, Vermont. Howmars Farm is a certified organic dairy that supplies some of the milk that goes into making Stonyfield’s yogurts and smoothies. For more than 13 years, Howmars Farm has produced organic milk.
When we arrived, Jonathan Gates gave us a tour of his farm and answered a ton of our questions. He lives on the farm with his wife and three sons and manages the farm operations.
Jonathan has “closed herd” of 50 milking cows, which we met face-to-face during our visit. (A “closed herd” means that the animals within a herd are all bred from within the herd. Animals are not purchased and incorporated into the herd.)
Jonathan’s cows were so friendly! As soon as they saw us, they came right over. Each of the cows has a name, so it was fun meeting them!
A mob of cows, of course, encouraged us bloggers to snap a bunch of photos. It’s not like we get to hang out with cows everyday!
I received a few questions about what happens to old (organic) cows once they are no longer able to produce milk. We asked Jonathan this question and he replied by saying that they’re typically slaughtered (on the farm or at a local facility) and turned into beef. In fact, 48% of hamburger meat in the US is from dairy cows.
So, Jonathan’s response wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but it’s part of the business and livelihood of farmers and their families. Jonathan would go bankrupt if he kept all of the non-milking cows on his farm, so he ends up selling 10-12 cows each year.
There is one old cow, however, that still lives on Howmars Farm. Deana is 15-years-old and no longer produces milk. Even still, Jonathan “can’t put her on a truck.” He definitely has a special place in his heart for her.
A number of times while chatting with us, Jonathan pet his cows on the head like he would his family dog. You could tell that he really cared about each of them.
Ahhh, a kiss from Deana!
This farmer lets his cow kiss him– how can you not buy organic!?
In addition to learning all about cows, Jonathan taught us about “rotational grazing,” which is a common practice used by organic dairy farmers. In fact, all of the farmers that we met used this technique. Rotational grazing is periodically moving the cow herd to different fields to allow them to graze on fresh pasture and let the previous pasture re-grow.
In the video below, Jonathan moves the fence to allow the cows into the new pasture. They all seem to know what’s about to happen and follow him. In the second video, they run into the new field and start chewing away.
Mmm… grass! Nom, nom, nom!
Grazing benefits cows because they absorb all of the vitamins and minerals from the pasture, which is then converted into more nutritious milk for us. (More about this later!)
After spending a good hour out in the cow pasture, we headed inside to see Jonathan’s milking house and try some of his cows’ milk. We were happy to see that his wife baked us a little surprise to go along with the fresh milk!
She made us blueberry muffins from The Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Cookbook!
Jonathan’s wife had a first edition of the cookbook! Cool!
If you’re curious, the milk that we drank was raw. (Yes, we’re daredevils! ) It all comes back to knowing your farmer and where your food comes from. It tasted delicious– cool and creamy!
It was really neat meeting a farmer in person and seeing how my food is produced. I swear, the milk tasted a million times better than the store-bought stuff because I met the cows who made it. Sometimes I feel like I am so disconnected when it comes to where my food comes from, but experiencing it firsthand on the farm made me feel even better about choosing organic.
P.S. There’s at least 4 more posts to come so stay tuned!