Yesterday was the day I had been looking forward to for weeks - it was our day to tour of the Straus Family Farm in West Marin. The farm is home to Albert Straus, son of original owners Bill and Ellen Straus, his family, as well as 300 gorgeous, healthy, happy cows.
Beautifully situated on rolling hills that kiss down on Tomales Bay, you'd never know you were passing this beloved family farm as there are absolutely no markings to indicate such, only a simple number on a sign.
Straus cows are happy cows. Nobody needed to tell us that, it was just clear as day, right there in front of us. They graze in the pasture all day long, eating grass and socializing.
They do get some supplemental feed, which they love, but not enough to cause health issues that you hear of with factory farms. These cows never receive antibiotics, pesticides in their feed or growth hormones. The grain was stored undercover in a sort of open-air barn (I'm sure it has a name), divided into three different areas. We were told it took a long while for them to source 100% organic, non-GMO feed for their girls, but they are very proud of the fact that they did and that their heifers receive the best money can buy.
Some really interesting, dust covered cobwebs on wood posts dividing the feed storage areas.
Harley, the farm manager, jumped in and out of our tour, sharing his incredible knowledge of all things dairy farm. These are his boots:
Everyone's favorite part of the tour - baby heifers. Man were these little girls sweet! Immediately, their unique personalities were revealed to us. Some ran, hopped and kicked around the pen, some rested peacefully in the hay, while others came straight up to us at the fence trading licks for pats. About six months ago, Harley started naming all the newborns with the intention of every Straus cow having a name someday. I just love that!
This is Monique:
This little girls just tore at my heartstrings when she approached my open hand and started sucking on my index finger.
The only disappointing part of the tour was learning that all calves are separated from their moms at birth. (Industry standard, sniffle, sniffle) Everything else about these cows lives is amazing - truly it is. But in order to run a dairy, cows can only be used for one thing and that's milk production. So the baby boys are sold and the baby girls are raised on the farm, in a barnyard setting. There is a machine (The Urban U40!) that provides them milk on demand and we got to see it up close and personal. When a calf enters one of it's two stalls, it scans her tag and provides her access to her daily quotient of cows milk, on demand. Here are some images of it:
Towards the end of the two-hour tour, it was time for the ladies second milking. They were all sauntering down the hill towards the milk parlor. I just love this picture; can you see what's going on here?
All these ladies, with their utters down to THE GROUND were just standing next to this truck, watching the mechanic work.
When I looked at this lady and jokingly remarked, "Ouch - I remember those days!", the farm manager asked, "Oh, you worked on a dairy farm?!" Er, uh - sorta...I've had three kids - does that count?!? ;)
They have a lot of advanced technology on the farm (remember the Urban U40?) but some things are still old school.
The Milk Parlor. All the ladies line-up and take turns, fourteen at a time.
What would a tour of the Straus Family Farm be without some organic ice cream? Cheers!
To learn more about Straus Creamery or to take a tour of their farm, visit their FAQ page.