September 24, 2017
On a beautiful fall day in September we were welcomed out to Homemade in Marshall, a micro-dairy and homestead on a beautiful mountainside in Marshall, NC. Kate and Kevin, the owners, are currently milking 5 Jersey cows and are selling it as pet food at two tailgate markets in Asheville. Their goal is to eventually become a Grade B dairy, where they can then legally process their raw milk into aged cheeses for the market.
Kate and Kevin both attended Warren Wilson College, where they both graduated with no interest in farming. But with the opportunity to purchase their dry, hilly, partially wooded WNC property at an affordable price, they started exploring the idea. “We only recently have decided we want to be farmers,” Kevin joked; the farm has been their main source of income for the last 9 years. The wooded edges of the land allow for a cool hideout for the Jerseys in the hot afternoon sun; this is where we found them when we began our tour.
Since 2009 they’ve had 15 milk cows; currently they’ve narrowed it down to 5 lovely ladies and they’re very adamant that they don’t want more. Kate pointed out the attributes that you look for in a grass-fed dairy cow, which are mostly different than the attributes that have been selected for for feedlot cows through the dawn of industrial agriculture. They have selected for milk-ability (large teets, as they spent the first seven years hand milking), smaller, stocky builds (to allow for agility with a low center of gravity), and high ‘pinbones’ (diagramed below).
They artificially inseminate the ladies with genetics from ABS Global every June or July. Similar to humans, cows have a 283-290 day gestation period, and then they wait about 60 days before they breed them again. Calving occurs in March and April; calves are taken off and bottle fed after four days until they are a month old. The cow is then milked through the end of December.
Kate and Kevin prefer Jersey cows because their milk has the highest fat content, floating right around 5% (as opposed to 3.7% from the average Holstein) even without access to grain, which their cows don’t have. This largely has to do with the standards of feed that Kate and Kevin have for the ladies; organic dairy feed is cost-prohibitive and just getting untreated hay has been an expensive endeavor. They also free-feed the cows salt, kelp and other loose minerals. In order to maintain the fat content of the milk on such a low-fat diet, the cows need to be rotated between pastures much more often. Read more about this via Allan Savory’s Holistic Management techniques.
A genetic test, developed by the A2 Milk Company, determines whether a cow produces A2 or A1 type protein in its milk. Homemade in Marshall recently sent samples into get tested, and they are all producing the A2 protein type. A2 milk is much more easily digestible than the common A1 milk available on the market.
Water is an important resource for Kate and Kevin, as each of the cows drinks about 20 gallons of water per day (which makes sense, as they produce 3-4 gallons of milk per day!) Power outages are tough for water access, and they sometimes find themselves lugging five gallon buckets through the snow. The water that’s used in the milking parlour is also intensive; their new bulk tank (purchased using an WNC AgOptions grant last year) requires a lot for cooling the milk to stay at the correct temperature until bottling for market. Along with the tank, they also were able to purchase a milking machine which they use now instead of hand milking.
Thanks so much to Kate and Kevin for hosting all of us CRAFTers! We’re excited to see where your future business endeavors take you.
WNC CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm workers, and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. For more information or to join, click here.
Author: Sera Deva
Sera Deva has a B.S. in Microbiology & Agroecology from The Evergreen State College. She works with OGS as the Director of Programs & Systems Design, is the President of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Board of Directors, and is the Administrative Director for The Firefly Gathering. When she’s not geeking out over genetics, systems theory or soil hydrology, she spends her time growing and eating food in the South Toe Valley in Burnsville, NC.