Tim and Becky Lavy have found a way to make a living from 40 dairy cows near Silex, Mo.
|How would you make a living from 40 dairy cows? Find out here.|
|"Gouda" cheese in a 10-lb. round. Find out how it's made.|
|Lavys find a silver lining in downsizing.|
Dairy milk is a very versatile product, and farmer Tim Lavy is making the best of it. Facing high grain prices and low milk market prices, Tim and his wife, Becky, have found a way to make a living from 40 dairy cows near Silex, Mo.
Three generations continue to help on the farm: Their three young children Max, Hunter and Claire, as well as their parents, Hubert and Sharon. Off-farm income still comes from Becky’s work as a counselor at a Montgomery County middle school.
Tim and Becky have developed a solid customer base for raw milk sales and are expanding into quality artesian raw milk cheeses. They are doing so with some rather unconventional dairy practices. The cows are fed only forage and hay, no grain. Instead of weaning calves from cows, they continue to nurse off of their mother cows for up to five months as Tim continues to milk them twice daily. And, there is no milking in the milk parlor before sunrise. Tim likes to milk after he sends the children to school, and again before sunset.
His grandfather had a traditional dairy in the 40s and 50s. His father focused on construction jobs, helping part-time in the farm through the 70s and 80s when they raised dairy heifers for sale to other dairies. Now retired, Hubert still helps on the farm, but Tim is the boss. After junior college, Tim set his sights set on farming and raised hogs for a while before starting a traditional dairy with 40 cows in 1993. By 2006, he was milking 180 cows.
Problem was, Tim wasn’t making any money.
“In 2009, we became certified organic and sold that until the market dried up. We were making no money, and it was a struggle to stay afloat,” he says. When an opportunity came to sell 160 cows, Tim took it and downsized. They had to find another way to dairy with less.
“I had a lot of interest in raw milk and sold it directly to customers who said once I started making raw milk cheese, they would buy it. We built a raw milk market quickly and that transformed into raw milk cheese. I now sell directly to consumers instead of being a middle man.”
Although their herd was cut by three-fourths, Tim and Becky are making a profit. “We went from selling bulk milk to the co-op at $21.50 per hundredweight to selling close to $50 per hundredweight with raw milk or raw milk cheese,” Tim says. A hundredweight equals 12 gallons of raw milk.
Tim no longer feeds grain and relies on a system of pasture paddocks to graze the cattle on rye, barley and other small grain grasses. Unsold raw milk no longer goes down the drain and is turned into artisan cheese. Making cheese is relatively new to the Lavys, but the biggest challenge is marketing their product. That is why they hired a consultant to come up with a marketing plan and packaging concepts for their Golden L Creamery brand. Only this year have they started selling their cheeses in local stores.
Tim’s eyes light up when he explains how cheese is made. The taste in the cheese changes with the type of pasture grass the cows feed on, as well as the season. That is only the beginning. “The greener the grass, the more golden in color the cheese,” he says. “Milk from the summer months will produce a whiter cheese. The gold color from spring and fall is my favorite,” he says.
The Lavys are now dabbling in flavored cheeses, adding jalapeno peppers, peppercorn, herbs and spices for unique flavors. “You can take the same product — milk — and turn it into thousands of variations of cheese. A gouda, a cheddar, a Limburger that stinks to high heaven, or a Brie that is soft in the middle. You can band cheese with cloth or air dry it to get a different taste. It is amazing what you can do with it,” Tim says.
As the Lavys improve their cheese-making abilities, they plan to branch out into other varieties. For now, they make mostly Gouda cheeses. But unlike the raw milk that can only be sold directly to customers, their cheeses can be sold in stores.
The cheese is formed into 10-pound cheese rounds and aged in a 35 degree cooler for 60 days. The curing time serves as a natural pasteurization process and federal regulations require the curing of raw milk cheese before it can be sold in stores.
This summer, Tim and Becky will hit farmers’ markets to sell their cheese and plan to work with a number of CSA (community supported agriculture) market groups that sell and deliver vegetables directly to consumers. Their most ambitious marketing venture is to develop a new website to sell their Golden L Creamery brand cheese online.