Morning Fresh Dairy bottled milk and the Noosa Yoghurt brands have grown along with the Bellvue, Colo. farm that supplies the milk.
With the growth at the processing plant there has been a need for more milk and improved dairy facilities.
A vital asset in building up the business and monitoring the cow side of things has been herdsman Brandon Locke. Fifteen years ago Locke came to the foothills of the Rockies from the Ozarks of Missouri to help the Graves family. He’s excited to see how things will progress.
“Now that I have a place to go with more milk I can bring more cows in,” Locke says of Noosa’s popularity. “It is harder to create demand than it is to create the supply.”
Doubling in size since the start of 2015, the dairy now milks 850 cows and the goal is to be milking 1,400 by the summer. Cows at Morning Fresh Dairy are producing 79 lb. of milk per day.
The old parlor was a double-swing 12 that had outlived its use after being installed in the late 1960s. “It was worn out and it was time to go,” Locke says.
A new 40-stall rotary parlor sits just to the south of where the old parlor once stood.
Originally, the dairy was an open lot operation. In the past year freestall barns have been erected in place of the pens. The last of the barns were finished in the fall.
“All our milk goes into bottled milk or yogurt, so quality was an issue. That’s why we started adding freestalls,” Locke says.
The open lot made it hard to control the environment for the cows. Fifteen years ago Morning Fresh Dairy had somatic cell counts running from 300,000-400,000 cells/mL. With an increased focus on bedding and cleaning Locke was able to drop the count to 250,000 cells/mL in the open lots. In the sand bedded freestalls the cell count seldom reaches 100,000 cells/mL.
Locke says he sleeps better at night knowing the cows are clean and healthy.
The addition of freestalls doesn’t mean cows won’t be prohibited from going outside though. A field adjacent to the dairy that usually grows corn will be converted to irrigated pasture for grazing starting this spring.
Growing up with grass-based dairies in Missouri, Locke is optimistic giving the cattle sometime on pasture during the dry period might help with longevity.
“It is easy to put them in a pen and keep them clean, but in reality you want them to go out and be a cow,” Locke says.
Having the cows out on grass could benefit the direct marketing of Morning Fresh Dairy’s products.
Down the road the dairy may even transition to non-GMO feed. “It is something the customers want,” Locke adds.
Marketing milk and yogurt to stores like Whole Foods and being in a state that has proposed GMO labeling creates the opportunity to get more value out of dairy products.
“We’re working on getting that figured out if we can,” says Rob Graves, owner of Morning Fresh Dairy, of the non-GMO feed. “Right now we’re all-natural, FARM certified. We’re not organic, we’re not totally grass-fed.”
All silage is grown by Morning Fresh Dairy along with the majority of the hay. The only feedstuffs not direct from the farm are concentrates like distillers grains sourced from local breweries.
Moving towards a non-GMO feed means crop production would go back to how it was done in the 1970-80s at Morning Fresh Dairy minus herbicides and pesticides. Rotating crops will be a must as well.
Additional farm acreage near Fort Morgan gives Graves some flexibility in pursuing the non-GMO market, too. Those tillable acres could provide another expansion phase with enough room for a 3,500 cow dairy should the Noosa brand continue to grow as it has.
Even with popular branded dairy products Graves still has his heart in the family farm.
“I never really milked cows to make money. I milk cows because I like to farm and I like cows,” Graves adds. “If we can make a little money I’m not too worried about it.”
To find out more about the bottled milk and yogurt venture read the first part of the story: Bottled Milk and Yogurt Help Grow Colorado Dairy.