Kvam Family Farm
Interview by Christy Pooschke
A bit about our farm
Our 40-acre farm is located in rural West Point, NE. We are about 80 miles from Omaha, which is about an hour to an hour and 45 minutes drive, depending on where you live in the Omaha area. We moved to our farm in January 2002. We started milking for ourselves shortly after that and then began selling milk on a regular basis around 2004.
Our cows are fed dry grass hay from our pastures in the winter months, but the majority of their time is spent on lush pasture. Our pastures are not sprayed with any type of chemicals ever. In the winter months, we give a small amount (less than 8lbs) of organic oats to help with their energy level due to our harsh weather. The amount given is similar to what they would forage for themselves on pasture. During the summer, a lesser amount of oats is offered, but most of the cows aren’t interested in it.
We never give hormones. Antibiotics are not fed to our cows on a regular basis as is often done in the large industry setting. The use of antibiotics is very rare on our farm. Antibiotics for healing might be used in a case where we could lose the cow. When antibiotics are given, the milk from that cow is dumped out, and we wait more than the recommended number of days before we resume selling milk from a treated cow.
Another aspect of our farm is the diversity of the farm and, thus, the sustainability of the land. We don’t just milk cows. We also have chickens on our pastures. The broiler chickens fertilize the fields, creating lush grass for the cows. And our layer hens scatter the cow manure which reduces the smells, fertilizes the field, and keeps bugs at bay.
We encourage people to visit the farm. Usually in the fall we have an Open Farm Tour day. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, we have volunteer work days. This can be a great way to introduce your children to farming or to try your hand at farming before venturing out on your own farm. For those who would like to buy milk but would like to see the farm first, we can set up a private tour. May through September, we are at the Village Pointe and Benson farmers markets on Saturdays, so we try to set up tours on Tuesdays thru Fridays during the summer months. During the off season, Saturday tours are available. On Sundays, we observe the Lord’s Day and don’t schedule any tours.
A bit about our dairy products
We sell raw (i.e., unpasteurized) milk and cream. Our reason for selling raw milk is primarily due to my own experience. Since I’ve not been able to drink milk without feeling ill, I was surprised to hear that many people can drink milk that has not been pasteurized. A doctor friend strongly suggested I try raw milk as it is highly digestible. This prompted us to do a lot of our own reading about pasteurized versus raw milk, and we are sold on the health benefits of raw milk.
Once you own a cow, you quickly find that you have an abundance of milk, and people begin to call asking if you will sell milk to them. From our humble beginnings with just one cow, we have grown to 12 cows plus a few steers.
Our milk is much different than the milk that is available commercially at the grocery store. There are two types of cow’s milk we see sold in the local grocery stores: one is the standard large dairy, pasteurized, and homogenized milk. The other is from somewhat smaller farms that are sometimes organic and may not be homogenized. The blatant difference is that the milk sold on our farm is raw, but there is much more to it than that.
Our milk comes from our small farm. We know each of our customers and care for them. We also know each of our cows and care for them, as well. Our cows all have names, and they know their names. They each have a personality. We milk the cows ourselves, and the cows are not pushed to produce as much milk as possible. On the larger scale dairies the cows are milked for just a couple of years and then are sold to sale barns, if they live that long. By feeding large quantities of grain to cows, as is done in the large dairies and even most of the organic "small" dairies, the cows lead miserable, sickly lives. Cows are not naturally grain eaters. Their stomachs do not digest large quantities of grain well.
Many large dairies don’t even allow their cows outside to find grass. The cows remain tethered to their station in the barn standing on cement floors all day long. Those that do allow the cows outside typically spray their fields with chemicals. What the cow eats is what ends up in the final product—milk.
Besides the general differences on our farm, we have also chosen a herd of Jersey cows. Jersey milk is very rich and tasty. The cream content is excellent. For some folks, the different breed of cow also makes a big difference in how easily digestible the milk is. I’m one of those people who can’t drink milk from certain breeds, even if it is raw.
Our milk is priced higher than most grocery store brands. Our products cost more because we aren’t subsidized by the government in any of our farming endeavors and because we don’t have the volume of sales that larger producers have. We could increase our size, but then we would lose the individual attention to our customers and cows. The primary reason people will pay more for our milk and make the extra effort to get their milk from us is for the health benefit of the milk, but some folks also realize they want/need to support the small farm. Without this support, we will all soon have only one choice when we go to the store. Some people make the extra effort because of the nostalgia of the small farm. And others want raw milk because they don’t want the government telling them what they can or cannot eat or drink.
The greatest misconception about raw milk is that is dangerous to drink. In general terms, there are both good and bad bacteria in raw milk. During the pasteurization process the bacteria are killed off, and we are left with a foul product with virtually no nutritive value since our bodies can’t readily use it anymore. The fat in the milk is either removed or homogenized (forced through a screen to suspend the fat molecules in the milk), turning it into a protein that our body doesn’t recognize and treats as a foreign substance. When all of the bacteria remain living in the milk (as in raw milk), the "good" bacteria will overtake the "bad" bacteria. When certain criteria are met (healthy cows, clean containers, proper handling, etc.), raw milk is a safe, health-giving and life-promoting food.
Where to find our food
Our milk customers come to the farm to pick up their products, as required by Nebraska law. A number of our customers have chosen to form groups to come pick up the milk. Each member of the group takes a turn coming to the farm to pick up milk for the entire group. That way, no one person has to come to the farm every week. We do have others who choose to come every week themselves because they enjoy getting out of the city and seeing where their food comes from. Raw milk cannot be sold in stores in Nebraska, nor can the producer sell it from anywhere but the farm. Our website has information about how to contact us and further information about the milk "co-ops" in the Omaha area.