Why is Sand Creek Farm Milk more expensive than other Raw Milk Farms?
That is a good question and the answer can also be applied to “How do I test to ensure I am getting a good home milk cow?” because we walk through those steps first at the time of purchase for a cow. Then combine that information about what we do daily, weekly and annually to continue to ensure a clean cow.
1st - The buyer has to locate a cow and explain to the seller the testing required and convince them to put the cow in isolation during the testing period.
2nd - Determine if the cow’s bag is clean. The buyer needs to purchase a CMT (California Mastitis Test), drive to the cow and pull a milk sample from each quarter of each cow. Mix with the reagent right there on site - it is simple - if the cow shows any reaction, you get in your vehicle and drive away. Instant results. The cost of this test kit is about $17, I have a link to a test kit on the first page of our website. This will last you most of the life of your home milk cow, very inexpensive.
3rd - Determine if the cow is A2/A2. In our experience,1 in 3 cows pass this test, if testing Jersey or Guernsey. If step one is clean, then the potential buyer pulls out tail hair samples, puts them in a sealed envelope and sends them to UC Davis Genetic Lab, 7-14 days for results. Testing is $25 per cow with an online account at UC Davis. ~ $75 to find an A2/A2 cow.
NOTE: After this step the buyer needs to source a local vet that is NOT the seller’s vet.
4th - Determine if the cow is free of Bovine Viral Leukemia. In our experience,1 in 3 cows pass this test no matter the breed. This test routinely cost $35/cow, you ask for a 1 Day PCR by blood. ~$105 for this test by the time you test 3 cows. Only 20% of the dairy cows are said to be free of leukemia in the USA, 40-50% of beef cows.
Now you being the rest of the standard dairy cow protocol…
5th - You have the vet perform a skin prick for TB. The vet inserts this serum under the skin at the tail head, then makes a 2nd trip to the farm to read the test 72 hours later. ~$15 each in our experience.
6th - You ask the vet to run a PCR for BVD from via skin tissue (NOT blood). Usually they make an ear notch. $15-$35 in our experience.
7th - You ask the vet to run a brucellosis test. This will be a blood test. $1-$15 in our experience.
8th - You ask the vet to run a 1 Day PCR fecal for Johnes. ~$35/test in our experience.
Some of these samples can be gathered at the same time, if you only want to pay for 2 vet trips, normally about $65-100 per farm call trip depending on your location in the USA. We have seen a vet charge for straight time and cost of tests only, when we started with a herd of 83 animals - this approach saved quite a bit of money. We started with 83 animals in the group, 53 passed the first CMT test - then the vet came in from that point. Only 13 in this grouping passed all test and were purchased and came to the farm - a large percentage died in the first 8 months due to not having the gut bacteria to survive on grass and the lack of immune system to live in pasture due to being raised in a confinement facility on a pre-prepared grain/hay ration. It was a VERY expensive experiment!
So, now we have covered testing to get a cow to the farm, let’s move on to daily, weekly and annual protocol on our farm that raises the price of the milk.
1st - we daily feed milk to the hogs/chickens/dogs/cats via bypassing the milking system that has ANY CMT reaction. We test weekly which gives us a 7-9 day head start on elevated white blood cell counts. The State says we can put milk in the tank up to the most violent reaction; our protocol says ANY reaction and the milk is to be animal feed - not for humans.
2nd - annually we test for TB, Brucellosis, and Leukemia. Leukemia is viral and can be passed by all bodily fluids. What does that mean? That means, sharing water troughs, breeding, in utero, milk, meat, and biting insects. This required staying on top of this potential threat as biting insects can fly a long way, and previously heavy grain feeders purchased from another owner can have a more acidic blood chemistry, which is a perfect host for this bovine viral leukemia. If a cow is positive - we now kill them as that is the only way to eradicate the disease. Even though we have sold them in the past as 80% of the dairy cows are infected anyway, and there is no regulation at any level to protect the consumer, we now feel this is a personal moral issue and just because others do it - we don’t want to put these infected cows back into the public domain, per se.
But, you say, “that milk is pasteurized so it should be ok” - well, now it is known that 75% of the milk pasteurization trials did NOT kill bovine leukemia. The CDC reports that it is transferring species and that this bovine leukemia has been found alive in human breast cancer patients. One research article sited that 75% of the random human blood samples showed antibodies to this virus. We feel a moral obligation to do everything we can to protect those that trust us - so we kill the infected cows. Now to help you feel more easy about this, we have only ever seen this in purchased cows, not cows we have raised, and we have had a closed herd since 2013. Which brings us to the 3rd reason our milk is more expensive.
3rd - a baby cow needs to nurse 5-10 months as their rumen does not open until they are between 5-6 months old, 8-10 months in nature, and they like to drink 2-7 gallons per day. If their Momma does not have 2-7 gallons per day, they will nurse any other Momma that will let them. In our herd, our cows keep their babies unless we sell them, which sometimes we do b/c we have more than we need for herd replacement every 2 years. We milk our cows only one time per day to allow them to make milk for their babies and we humans - sometimes it is still to hard on them when there is not enough lush green grass, about 6 months out of the year. During that time we buy in outside feed to supplement them - grass hay, alfalfa hay, and 5-10 lbs of a soy free, gmo free dairy ration that we have custom made (this can really raise the average cost per gallon of milk). The loss of milk to each heifer or bull calf also increase the cost per gallon of milk that makes it to the container. You can do the math, 2-7 gallons at $20/gal x # of days in (7 month average) - don’t fall out of your chair when you finish with this calculation, then you can add the number back into the cost of the gallons that we do get. I forgot that, our cows bring in 3/4-1.25 gal/day on a 270 day average.
4th - since we strive to be a grass only dairy operation that means lots and lots and lots of pasture maintenance….rotational grazing means putting up and taking down hot wire fencing (LABOR - every paid for an employee, matched their taxes and paid Texas Unemployment - it is very expensive - add Worker’s Compensation for the sue happy world in which we reside - and you are talking yourself right out of an employee). Then you have either owning and maintaining a tractor, tilling, planting and hay equipment or hiring it in - either way is expensive. No till is an option but we get lower production for the same expense with that method.
5th - Raw milk insurance. Many small farmers that are milking cows for raw milk have yet to realize that Raw milk insurance is a requirement to have farm insurance now, if you are milking for raw milk. The minimum policy is $8,200/year. Do your math above on how much we produce and then divide this number by those gallons and you will know how much of each gallon goes to towards insurance. But, this is not the farm insurance, this is just the raw milk insurance. All insurance combined is about $12,000 per year - farm vehicles, raw milk insurance, liability on the other foods and insurance to allow non-owners to come onto the farm.
So, in a nutshell, Sand Creek Farm’s Milk is More Expensive because we have adhered to the request and wishes of our customers for health giving milk by implementing rigorous herd management practices and white blood cell count evaluation protocol that give the best health to the cow, their offspring and our customer’s families:
- Extensive testing pre-purchase
- Weekly testing and daily dumping of any milk with any elevation in the white blood cell count
- Following the rules for the raw milk insurance
- Allowing calves to nurse most of the cow’s lactation
- Extensive management of the pastures for planting and rotational grazing
- Sometimes buying in of extra feed stuffs
- Milking 270 days a year instead of the standard 300 days
- Once a day milking to allow calves milk to raise our own replacement stock from within
- Carrying nursing calves, weaned calves, bred heifers, the milking herd itself and 1-2 bulls at all times
- 3/4 - 1 1/4 gal/day production due to the practices above
- One part time employee to milk and care for the herd
As of today, our 3 year average production cost has been $20/gal. This includes all standard business expenses for the dairy (web page, telephone, etc, as well as direct expenses for equipment repair, hay, and on the list goes). This amount includes NO salary for the farm owners (Ben and I) In the 11 years we have been farming for customers through Sand Creek Farm, we have NEVER drawn a salary from the farm. In fact, the Farm has yet to pay us back the initial investment of setting it into place. The Farm does not pay us rent (I know some of you are wondering).
“Then way in the world do you farm?” This is a fair question. To one which I say “Everyone should own a farm!”. Now you are thinking “Is she crazy!?!”. No, but you need to put on your accounting hat and pull out your budget software too. The farm raises food right? A farmer can eat all of their own food they want, right? So how much would it cost to grocery shop for the top quality food in the USA to feed a family of 7 that eats like hungry boys (farm girls eat a lot of food!). How much does the gym cost? Do we need a gym when we are shucking manure, milking cows, working in the garden, riding horse bareback to round up cow? Heck no! Want to talk about a weight management program - go build some fence for the day - you will be sore in every muscle of your body. And how about spending time with your kids? Ever think “I wish I had more time to just teach my kids the things I have learned and need to pass down?”. Many of us do have this though, even Ben and I. The farm offers opportunity every single day to work with our children. Their tutor comes to the farm 4 hours a day for conventional schooling, the rest of the day they are ours. Our girls pull orders for customers, care for plants with us in aquaponics, harvest both in aquaponics and the field, they participate in all the vet work on cattle, horses, dogs, cats, ducks, geese and chickens - and yes, they occasionally bring in a bunny or a bird. They work on the computer systems for order management, they make and package yogurt and cheese. They help with scrap metal cleanup, making videos with editing and music for livestock for sale and so much more that I can’t name it all. Oh yes, Farmer’s Market, what better public speaking course could their be … they have to know their product, make eye contact, exchange money, set up break down … what is the saying “early to bed, early to ride, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” - well the wealthy part by todays standards of “cash in hand” and Farmer don’t go together but wealthy in the sense of family, communication, character, diligence, tenacity, leaning to lean on God for daily direction - all of that an more.
There is not much that beats living on a farm. If you have never tried it, ask the Lord to reveal to you through His Holy Spirit if farming might be for you. We never thought it would be our calling but this is where He called us and this is where He provides for our family. If He calls you … hold on to your hat … you are in for a new world of learning, character growth opportunities on your way to being empowered to provide for your family and to feed others in need!
The Farmer’s Wife