One Young Couple Starts Raw Milk Dairy Production in Connecticut
By John Hibma
A young couple with a strong work ethic, a dream, a sensible business plan and a desire to get back to their agricultural roots recently produced a new dairy farm licensed to begin raw milk dairy production, and sell raw milk in New England. Even with an often-saturated milk market, Mavis and Chris Newton have discovered a value-added niche market amongst the townships of eastern Connecticut, near Canterbury.
The Newtons moved to Rhode Island in 2003 when Chris took a job at the Veterans Hospital in Providence. The couple soon realized city living wasn’t for them and went looking for some country property where they might keep a cow and a few chickens, as well as grow a garden. In November of 2004, they found 75 bucolic acres nestled in the quiet woods near Canterbury, Connecticut. The picture-book farm had just what they were looking for: a beautiful home, a barn, large pastures and even a stream with a covered bridge over it.
One cow soon became two. Chris bought her from a nearby bed and breakfast, where the owners kept the cow for a pet. However, the owners found her to be too much to care for. It didn’t take long before a third cow was purchased, and Chris was milking all three by hand, twice a day.
At the same time, word was spreading that there was a new farm in town, and people began expressing an interest in purchasing raw milk from the Newtons.
Chris admits to a lifelong interest in knowing where his food comes from, staying fit and eating healthy. And since both he and Mavis grew up drinking raw milk, he’s quick to tout the pristine fluid’s benefits.
After moving to New England, he realized just how concerned people were about where their food was coming from and how and where it was being produced. The locals recognized how important small farms were to the local economy and that large-scale farming was difficult to make work in New England. People here wanted to see the land used for agriculture and were willing to support it by purchasing locally produced products.
With the Newtons realizing that there was a niche market literally knocking on their door, they set to work figuring out what they needed to do to expand the dairy beyond their three cows.
“As I became aware of (peoples’ interest), I started talking to other raw milk dairies in the state,” Chris says.
At first, the Newtons thought they might get by with building a small milk house in the old barn, with a concrete floor and a drain where they could filter and refrigerate the milk.
“Before we even did any building,” Mavis says, “we contacted the (state) Department of Agriculture and had them come out and talk to us about what needed to be done.”
They learned that in order to meet Grade A standards, they would have to build an enclosed parlor, and that would require a more substantial investment.
“We had to decide whether we were going to make the investment or not,” Chris says.
So, with a loan from a generous friend, the Newtons plunged ahead to begin building their raw milk dairy farm. The parlor is a flat, walk-in/walk-out style, built at ground level with several head catches. The Newtons opted to milk the cows on vacuum buckets rather than installing a pipeline milking setup in the new parlor. Keeping a milk pipeline clean and sanitized would require additional costs in soaps and acids every day, not to mention all the extra water that would have to be disposed of.
By the end of 2008, they had also completed building a spacious, south-facing, loafing shed and hayloft adjacent to the milking parlor. Chris and Mavis are proud to say that all the current improvements in equipment and buildings have been “paid for by the cows.” They haven’t had to borrow a single dollar beyond the original start-up loan. Things have gone so well that by the end of 2008, they were able to hire part-time help to do the evening milking Monday through Friday and all day on Saturdays.
With both of them working full time off the farm – Mavis is a high-school teacher – bottling, sales and deliveries all have to be carefully scheduled.
“We have to keep everybody on a set schedule,” Mavis says. “We know when they’re coming, or they’re required to call a couple of days in advance.”
“People have their set pickup day so we know how much milk we have to have bottled for them,” said Chris. “We don’t have to bottle milk and hope that, for instance, on Monday it will all get sold. All that milk is already spoken for.”
For most of the year, the herd of 12 Jerseys produces around 30 gallons of milk per day. During the course of a week, the Newtons sell about half of the milk produced at the farm to retail outlets, and the rest is sold at the farm.
The Newtons are also now licensed to sell raw milk to two artisan cheese makers, who then pasteurize the milk before making their products. The Newtons also report that the demand for raw milk continues to grow.
Along with the milk production, they now have about 130 hens producing more than 100 eggs a day, and they also sell locally produced honey and maple syrup. During the summer, they sell fresh vegetables out of their large garden.
Because of the potential risks involved with raw milk, the Newtons are sticklers for details affecting quality and cleanliness.
“Our milk gets tested every month, and I monitor that very closely,” Chris says. “Our (somatic) cell counts average around 45,000 to 50,000 with our coliform count less than one.”
The milk cows are cared for meticulously. Their daily diet is one of pasture grasses and a supplemental commercially prepared feed that balances protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. During the summer, the cows graze on mixed grass and legume pastures. High-quality hay is fed during the winter months when pastures are not productive.
Prior to being milked, the cow’s udders are washed with a pre-wash in hot water and then pre-dipped with a sanitizer. After milking, they are post-dipped with another sanitizer.
In just a few short years the Newtons’ Baldwin Brook Dairy has grown to about 100 on-the-farm customers and seven local retail accounts. Entrepreneurs like the Newtons, who desire a rural New England lifestyle, have established a business that benefits the local economy while providing a product that many find invaluable.
Raw Milk Benefits
Though considered controversial by some, there’s a growing body of research supporting the health benefits of raw milk over pasteurized milk. The research shows that certain enzymes are destroyed during the pasteurization of milk that help us to better digest and metabolize it. The calcium in milk is also better utilized in milk as opposed to other calcium sources. Certain bioactive fats in milk are known to be anti-carcinogenic. As long as bacteria levels are kept to the bare minimums – and that’s been the challenge for the dairy industry ever since Louis Pasteur proved that bacteria-laden milk was harmful – the health benefits of raw milk appear to be substantial.
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