“Family Farms” or “Farm Families” is a term that is commonly used in the agriculture industry today, but what does it actually mean? The USDA defines a “family farm” as “any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator, including through blood, marriage, or adoption.” This means that a farm with tens of thousands of milking cows could easily claim to be a “family farm”.
But, in our eyes, family farms should mean so much more, that’s why our farmers go above on beyond the definition provided by the USDA. We want to share with you what life is like on the family farms we partner with:
1. Our farms are exclusively owned by a family.
2. The majority of the chores on our farms are performed by the owner of the farm or individuals related to the owner, ensuring proper care of the animals and the land.
3. The owner(s) of our farms reside on or near the farmland all year round.
In our eyes, it’s important that the owner(s) of the farm be responsible for daily operations, like tending to the animals and the land. The strong connection our farm families feel to their home inspires them to take better care of their animals and the land because for family farmers, their farm provides a livelihood and a home for many generations.
Where are the farms located?
You can find the family farms we partner with all across the United States from California to New York, with the majority of the farms located in the Midwest. By having farmers in different regions, we are able to keep more milk local and help companies to make products that have a better environmental footprint.
How big are the farms?
In our minds, it’s all about humane treatment of the cows and care of the land, and to do those things, we believe farms should be small to medium in size. The majority of the farms we partner with have a small herd size ranging from 30 – 300 cows, and we also have a few medium sized farms with herd sizes around 1,000 cows. To put this into perspective, some investor-owned farms some have 10,000 cows and more.
How do we determine what family farmers to partner with?
We find importance in the values of our farmers, and our partnerships are only with family farmers that are producing milk in a responsible manner, from proper care of the land to humane treatment of animals. If you ask us, we think we've found some real good farmers for the job. We have partnerships with family farms that go back generations, some even as far back as 1960. We believe it's because of our shared values and the close and trusting relationships we've been so fortunate to develop.
How do we stay connected with the farmers and ensure quality milk is being produced in a responsible manner?
In addition to federal and state inspections, we have multiple certified field specialists in every state that we have farmers. Each farmer is visited by a field specialist at minimum twice per year to ensure the farmer is meeting our standards from quality of milk to treatment of animals.
We have zero-tolerance for inhumane treatment of animals, and to ensure this, our farmers have many standards they must meet.
In 2010, a National Dairy FARM Program was launched. The Farmers Assuring Responsible Management Program was designed to assist farmers in ensuring they are caring for their animals in the best way possible. All of our farmers are happy to meet the requirements of the FARM because their cows are like family.
To show you, let us share a little bit about how the cows on our family farms are cared for. During all seasons, cows are provided with shelter to accommodate the full herd size with room for all cows to lie down simultaneously in bedded space. This also allows for the cows to eat, drink and move freely 24/7. Weather permitting, most of our farmers believe that cows should have access to the outdoors and green grass for grazing, as much as possible. The cows receive good medical care and are provided with healthy living conditions. In the case that a cow becomes ill, it is treated appropriately in an attempt to bring the cow back to good health.
As possible, crop rotation methods are incorporated into farming practices to reduce soil erosion and increase soil health. This means that the farmer plants a variety of crops, and rotates the fields that the crops are planted in. Healthy, nutrient-rich soil produces more food and more nutritious food for both cows and people. But, the importance of crop rotation is deeper than that. Soil that is healthy is also better for the planet because it helps to remove carbon from the atmosphere.