Sarah loves the cows, and I enjoy taking a supportive role. We hear the term “farmer’s wife”, so I guess I might be best described as a “farmer’s husband”.
Written by Ryan McCarthey
Much like her first generation dairyman father, my wife Sarah grew up with a love of dairy farming. After college, she returned to her family’s farm with a degree in Animal Science ready to secure her place in the dairy business. In a community that once had hundreds of dairies, only a handful of farms remained. Slim margins and increasing land values had her facing a fear that the industry she wanted to join may not have a place for her.
Together with the support of her parents, they had to look for ways to make the family farm financially sustainable. They did extensive market research, sent out hundreds of questionnaires, and talked with hundreds of people to ensure there was a demand for local raw jersey milk. Finally, one spring day in 2006, the Dungeness Valley Creamery vision became a reality as they began bottling their own products on the farm.
Meanwhile, I was serving in the Army for almost 9 years as a member of the 448th Civil Affairs Battalion based out of Fort Lewis, WA. We deployed to Iraq in 2008-2009 where I had an opportunity to conduct agricultural assessments throughout Multi National Division North. I eventually found myself serving on LG Robert Caslin’s staff as the G9 NCOIC to support the 25th Infantry Divisions efforts throughout the region.
Sarah and I got married in 2008. I was in the army reserves at the time and about 12 days after our wedding I was deployed to Iraq for the first year of our marriage. After I returned home Sarah’s parents were looking forward to retirement and Sarah and I began talking with them about taking over the farm. I used my GI bill to finish a business management degree in 2011. Finally in 2012, I joined Sarah in living out her lifelong dream of taking over her family’s dairy farm, the Dungeness Valley Creamery.
We produce and sell about 350 gallons of raw milk each day through our farm store as well as to retail stores and direct to consumers throughout Western Washington.
Sarah loves the cows, and I enjoy taking a supportive role. We hear the term “farmer’s wife”, so I guess I might be best described as a “farmer’s husband”. I didn’t grow up on a farm and don’t have an agriculture background, but between us it can at times be a strength. I’m not afraid to ask questions and sometimes it gives us a different perspective, especially when making design changes to existing infrastructure.
Our rapid growth since taking over the farm has allowed us to rebuild the infrastructure of our farm with an eye toward animal care and with a focus on becoming more economically viable as well as socially and environmentally responsible. We employ a team of 11 people who aid us in running the farm, which includes milk production, bottling, and daily distribution of the 300+ gallons of milk.
We look to examples of biomimicry- emulating sustainable systems in the natural environment to improve our processes. Whenever possible, the outputs of one process become inputs for another; just like sustainable systems in nature. Examples include our fully automated manure flush system which uses reclaimed wash water from our production and processing operations to flush our barn every hour. The system then separates dairy manure fibers which are sold to local garden enthusiasts, and the remaining liquid becomes fertilizer for our pasture. Surplus liquid manure is sent to a neighboring farm to aid in soil fertility and leftover milk from our bottling plant is sent to a neighboring pig farm. Nothing goes to waste.
In 2015 we installed a 72 panel solar array that offsets the energy requirements of our production process. We reclaim heat from milk cooling to pre-heat our water before going into the water heaters, and have converted our lighting to LED and put all our motors on variable speed drives to reduce energy consumption.
FELLOWSHIP FUND GRANT
Our fellowship fund grant from FVC covered an electric fence tumbling system for modular rotational grazing as well as a micro irrigation reel for irrigating small pastures. It fit into a larger project where we did a land swap shifting the footprint of our farm. This allowed us to rethink our rotational grazing system and pasture management to get more grass growth as well as save on labor.
At first it was an adjustment because it was a change from what we were used to. The farm was divided into 6 large fields and cows were rotated through those fields every few days. The new system allows narrow pastures to be set up where cows can be moved every 12 hours, or we can move the fence lines to create wider pastures that can last a few days. We’re in our 2nd season since the changes and we’re really happy with the results; we’re getting more out of our pasture and it’s really nice to be able to change the configuration seasonally.
A couple months ago we transitioned to a 100% A2 product line, which is a higher value beta casein protein than its A1 counterpart. We just started leasing 40 additional acres, doubling our farm size with the hope to purchase this property in the near future. This will allow us the opportunity to grow more of our own feed and possibly start raising some beef cattle.
Together Sarah and I enjoy the challenge of reducing our farms environmental impact while strengthening the perception of the dairy industry within our community. We host farm tour events, provide free field trips for schools as well as universities, and engage consumers over social media with photos and videos so they can connect with our farm. We’re open to the public and welcome questions about the farm and our practices. Through these activities we strive to be positive representatives of not only our farm but our industry.
While it may not be on the label, love remains the first ingredient that goes into every bottle. Love of the cows, love of the land, and a love our mission: stewarding the pasture and farm-to-table movement, responsibly producing milk while working continuously to develop a more sustainable food system for future generations. With two young boys of our own growing up with a playful curiosity for farm life activities, who knows, you just might see our farm and products around for generations to come.