Farm Tour: Westview Dairy

My quest to learn more about where food comes from continued recently with a tour of Westview dairy.

I’d already looked into where much of my meat and eggs come from, thanks to a tours of Marin Sun Farms and Soul Food Farm. But there were two crucial parts of my diet that wanted to learn more about: dairy and pork.

California isn’t a large pork producing state, so pig farm tours are a little harder to come by, but California has many dairies.

I usually buy milk and butter from Straus, a local, organic creamery in West Marin, so when I saw that MALT, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, had a tour of one of the three dairies that supplies Straus, I jumped at the chance to see where my milk and butter comes from (and so did many families with small children. Unlike other farm tours I’ve been on, this tour was primarily families).

Westview raises about 100 Jersey cows right off Bodega Highway, on a beautiful pastoral stretch between Sebastopol and Bodega Bay. Jersey cows are known for producing milk that is high in butterfat, and this high-fat milk goes into Straus butter and ice cream.

Westview’s Richard Hughes prefers Jerseys to Holsteins, the black and white cows you often see in California. He likes that Jerseys are smaller than Holsteins, and says that the cows are friendly, curious animals, though he avoids Jersey bulls.

Waiting to be milked.

As you might expect on a dairy tour, we got to see the milking process, and everyone on the tour got to giving milking a try (it took more force than I’d expected).

What I didn’t expect was the chance to pet and feed two-day-old calves. They looked like little deer, with soft brown fur, gigantic brown eyes and ears. They nibbled on my knees. (I tried unsuccessfully to get a picture of them but they move so quickly that all my shots were blurry.) The slightly older calves — a few weeks old — had their own rooms: little plastic sheds full of hay to keep them warm and cozy.

I go on farm tours primarily to see for myself that the animals are healthy, that they live in clean spaces, and have plenty of room to roam (baby animal interactions are an obvious bonus), but I’ve found that the best part of a tour is often meeting the people who care for the animals, and Westview was no exception.

Getting milked.

Richard and his wife, Marilyn, have owned Westview dairy since 1976 and it’s clear they love what they do. They only recently transitioned to organic, but Richard says he’d never go back. “Even if I wasn’t selling to Straus, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. He’d considered retiring, but going organic renewed his interest in the dairy business.

This surprised me because it seems common to hear about farmers who resist going organic – because they fear they won’t produce as much, or they believe animals need antibiotics to stay healthy, or that it’s just too time-consuming — but Richard is a complete convert. He said he had far more problems and illness when he was running a conventional dairy. He mentioned how the cows frequently had the stomach problems from corn-based feed (cows are ruminants and corn is not a natural part of their diet).

Now, his cows graze on 180 acres, and he says they’re healthier and he deals with far fewer problems. “All dairies should operate this way,” he said.

From what I saw, I’m inclined to agree. As well as providing ample pasture to the cows and going organic, they’re able to use all the manure the cows generate on their land  (this is not common in large operations). Richard also made sure to mention his two full time employees who’ve worked with him for 10 and 25 years, respectively. “They’re family to us,” he said. “We celebrate Christmas together, birthdays and other holidays.

Not every Straus dairy may be up to Westview’s standards, however. There are some recent questions about Straus, mostly about their larger dairies (Westview only provides about 10%). But I was very comfortable with what I saw at Westview. One might argue that a farmer who expects visitors has time to clean up the farm, that maybe a tour doesn’t show you the daily reality of a farm, but Richard encouraged us to come back any time, and to stop by if we were in the area.


2 Responses to “Farm Tour: Westview Dairy”

  1. Debbie Says:

    Great article, Phae. So glad to know the cows are happy and that the milk I buy (and I will be buying Straus) comes from happy, well-treated cows. Your pics are very very VERY very good! I like them muchly. What’s not to love about a beautiful cow, for heaven’s sake?

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