Willy Street Co-op receives 60 or more requests for new products every month, and over the past several months we’ve received multiple requests for Sassy Cow Creamery milk products. We are now pleased to feature this local, single-sourced, family-farmed and owned line of dairy products.

Organic and conventional

Producing both organic and traditionally farmed dairy products from their two distinctly different farms, Sassy Cow Creamery is equally owned by four partners and sits on land purchased by their grandfather. Aided by the addition of a newly constructed 7,200 square foot Grade-A Creamery in Columbus, Wisconsin, the certified organic (MOSA) dairy farm with 150 cows is managed by James and Jenny Baerwolf and their three children. Visible on the horizon from the Creamery and only a five-minute drive down the road, the conventional dairy farm with 400 cows is managed by Robert and Jenny Baerwolf and their three children. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, the two brothers returned to farming to carry on the family’s admiration and tradition of dairy farming.

Progress

James was on hand recently and offered a thorough tour of the Creamery and farms while sharing more information about their family business that employs a total of 10 people. In just over a year they’ve made great progress and are now bottling three days a week. The other two weekdays are spent making or developing new products or tending to other parts of the operation.

Cow care and comfort

Among the many topics James touched on was their commitment to running both farms with equal emphasis on the care and comfort of the cows, whether they are being raised organically or not. For each cow to produce between 50 and 70 pounds of milk each day, James and Robert have a careful approach to feed and feeding as well as the environment for the animals. All of the hay and other forage crops are grown on the farm, but they do purchase additional grains to blend into a carefully balanced diet for the cows. This is done to ensure that the milk will taste great and stay consistent throughout the year whether the organic cows are spending their time on pasture or during the winter when all of their cows are eating a mixture of baled forage and grains.

Adjusting the feed for organic dairy cows during grazing season is necessary, said James: “People sometimes get the idea [that] corn in the diet is a bad thing, but starch is energy,” he said, “A cow will be in a negative energy balance and won’t get enough calories in just consuming forages. We need protein and we need energy and calories, so we balance the protein with all the forages. Forages have energy, but it’s not as readily available like the grains.” Asked about the ratio of forage to grain James adds, “As long as we keep it on the forage side of the spectrum and not the grain side, it’s better for the cows from a health perspective.”

And this is true also for their conventional farm where the herd is served a consistent blend of forage and grains. Unlike the organic operation, these cows are raised with a more typical approach, using open-sided barns that James compares to park shelters for cows. Large fans positioned throughout the barns work during the summer months to keep the cows cool and relatively free of flies. Between milkings, the cows lounge in open stalls on sand beds, which provide a soft surface to preserve their joints and keep them clean and cool. Free to move from the sand beds to the feed trough, every lactating cow on the Sassy Cow’s farms makes her way to the milking parlor two times a day.

With an artificial insemination technician working on the farms daily, each cow on both farms is carefully tracked and on a regular schedule of insemination. Specifically for the conventional operation, cows are put on pasture (except in extreme weather) for approximately 60 days to rest their udders before giving birth. Closer to the end of her nine-month gestational period, she’s moved to a front section of the barn where an overhead video camera delivers a live feed to Robert’s house so he can keep an eye out and respond if there’s a problem during a birth. James explained that the 100-pound calves spend about a day with their mothers before being moved—mostly to protect them from being crushed—to the barn where Jenny bottle-feeds them until they’re weaned.

Though the use of antibiotics is prohibited at the organic farm, a limited amount of antibiotics is used only to save a cow from a life-threatening infection on the conventional farm, but her milk is always dumped while the antibiotics are in her system.

What you see is what you get

Refreshingly, the owners of this company are committed to transparency in their operation and to not using growth hormones. James adds that regularly scheduled public tours of both farms are conducted during the year and a calendar of events can be found on their website (sassycowcreamery.com).

The milk

Once milk is collected, it is immediately cooled and held in the milk house before being picked up and delivered to the Creamery. Two enormous holding tanks at the Creamery are designated one for organic milk and the other for conventional milk. Like most facilities that process organic and conventional foods, the organic production is always done first in the day’s schedule, to avoid co-mingling with any of the conventional milk.

Bottling

When it’s time to begin bottling, a flick of a switch starts the milk pumping through hundreds of feet of stainless steel pipes that are divided into two sealed chambers by a very thin sheet of stainless steel. As the raw, cold milk is being pumped along one side of the pipe, it is being warmed by milk that’s already been heated (pasteurized) as it passes along the other side of the pipe. High Temperature Short Time (HTST) pasteurization has been in use since the 1930s and provides a very fast, clean and effective way to pasteurize milk. Sassy Cow milk passes through the HTST system, heating it to 170 degrees then cools it down to 34 degrees, all in a matter of 20 seconds. Another benefit in using this system is that it also keeps energy use and cost down, to which James adds, “The energy you’re putting into it is only the difference in what the exchange isn’t providing.”

Every part of the production is mechanized to avoid contamination as the milk is pumped to its next destination. After being homogenized, the milk travels to the bottling room where jugs are automatically filled on a small assembly. Once the jugs are capped, they’re hand-packed in crates, carted to a cooler and ready to be delivered. Willy Street Co-op now carries both organic and conventional milks in whole, 2%, 1% and skim as well as heavy cream.

Already available in the Co-op’s freezer section is Sassy Cow Creamery ice cream. Made in small batches, this is yet another welcome addition to our long and growing list of locally grown and prepared foods.

Mainly in response to Owner requests, Sassy Cow Creamery replaced the Golden Guernsey line of milks as of September 2009. In keeping with our Product Policy to feature local products over national brands whenever possible, Sassy Cow Creamery will provide a local, single-source, direct and family farmed option at a comparable price.

Dean Kallas, Purchasing Manager for the Co-op, offers the following information about the change: “Sassy Cow has been on my radar for a while now—many customers have requested that we carry their line in the past year. They are a local company with great products. Once I heard that Dean Foods bought Golden Guernsey, it just seemed like the right time to make the switch.

“I plan on setting up some very competitive pricing for both their conventional and organic dairy. Sassy Cow does not make butter, sour cream or cottage cheese yet. It will be hard to find replacements for some of these Golden Guernsey products, but hopefully we will find some good alternatives soon.”

Let us know how you feel about this change by filling out a Customer Comment form in the Owner resources area or online at www.willystreet.coop.