by Kate Levin and Sarah Cogswell.
WHO: Pine Hill Dairy Farmer: Andrew Ferry
WHAT: Raw cows’ milk sold direct to the consumer
WHERE: 272 Pine Hill Road
Westport, MA 02790
WHEN: Farm store open 6:00am – 8:00pm daily. Call ahead for more than a gallon
HOW: A mixed herd of 45 cows raised on pasture and during off-season, a farm made mix of local corn (silage), grass which is baled and wrapped during harvest and a small amount of minerals. The pasture is treated with manure only; the corn is sprayed once, early in the growing season and the baled hay is harvested from conservation land. The cows are not given hormones and on the very rare occasion that one requires antibiotics it is taken out of milk production.
WHY: “I want to be involved in the community… A lot of the time it seems like farmers get overlooked, but what we do is important… I want to build a place where people feel welcome to come and bring their kids so they can see where milk and meat comes from…I grew up drinking raw milk and now I want to offer families a safe and delicious product they can afford” – Andrew Ferry, Farmer, Pine Hill Dairy, Westport, MA
Pine Hill Dairy, situated on a mostly wooded 70 acre parcel, is Westport’s first licensed raw milk dairy. After purchasing the property from a retired farmer back in the mid 1980’s, the Ferry family leased the property to other dairy farmers. Ultimately the milking parlor, barn and other infrastructure on the property fell into disrepair. Rather than continuing to lease the farm and wrestle with tenant relationships, the senior Mr. Ferry decided to utilize the property for hay production to feed his own herd which he raises a few miles away at Michael P. Ferry and Sons Farm.
Haying the property was the status quo until 2011 when Michael’s son Andrew approached him with a plan: lease the farm to Andrew and allow him to manage his own herd, renovate the barn and milking parlor and sell raw milk directly to the consumer.
The response? “He definitely supported me a hundred percent. I wouldn’t be able to do this without him. I learned so much from him. We grow the feed together and we mix the feed ingredients together; I help him and he helps me. I have watched how hard he has worked all my life, long days, every day, year round and the profits just go down year after year. I want to do it another way,” says Andrew.
No stranger to hard work or long days himself, Andrew starts before sunrise. Cold winter mornings begin around 5am with cleaning. “I feel like I am ALWAYS cleaning!” jokes Andrew, “You can’t imagine how much cleaning I do every day. Morning and night,” he shakes his head and chuckles. Once the barn is cleaned and the parlor is readied, the girls are brought in for their morning milking. His mixed herd of 45 cows includes Holsteins, Swiss, Guernsey, Dutch Belts, Blue Roans and Jersey cows, “Swiss are my favorite. They are so docile and friendly. They can be stubborn though, kind of like a really big dog,” says Andrew.
Of his 45 cows, 11 are “dry” and 34 are currently being milked, a process that takes a couple hours each morning and again every evening. After the morning milking there’s more cleaning, feeding and the never ending list of projects that require attention at both Pine Hill Dairy and Andrew’s father’s farm a few miles away town.
As a fourth generation dairy farmer, Andrew had some farming experience. He recalls, “My first job ever was when I was 12 working for my dad feeding calves… which was…it was work that’s for sure. It’s hard to raise calves; it’s a full time job. After high school I went to college to study diesel mechanics but I don’t know what I was thinking! I hate working on trucks…it’s just a machine. It’s hard to understand but you know, you work on a truck and get frustrated you can just shut off the key, leave it and come back in the morning. Cows aren’t like that. With cows if you get frustrated you can’t just walk away. They’re alive and they depend on you. So when I left college, that’s when I really dug into farming. I worked for my dad full time and really, really got to know the cows. I realized how much I love working with animals.”
Now established with a farm of his own, Andrew is clear about his priorities, “Cow comfort is the #1 thing to me,” says Andrew. “The cows are here everyday, you don’t want it to be like they are trapped in a zoo. I don’t just milk them; I provide care for them so that they can live good lives. You want a good life for your cows, not just to make money.”
Providing a comfortable life for his cows is the first step in delivering a safe and delicious product to his customers. Andrew has his milk tested 3 times more often than is required by the state for a license to sell unpasteurized milk to the public. Andrew’s most recent investment in the farm was to purchase equipment that will allow him to test the milk in house, before every bottling. “Ultimately,” Andrew says, “the only way to produce a clean, consistently good milk is to be here everyday. It’s more then just a job, it’s my life. The goal is to grow the operation to a manageable size so that I will be able to bring someone on to help. If I run a small enough operation it will be possible to find someone that I trust, that I can train to work with me. That would allow me to have some time off eventually.”
Building community is what motivated Andrew to choose a raw milk dairy as his business model and community is what made his plan a reality. Andrew credits a very supportive farming community including the Westport Board of Health and lots of willing helping hands, with making his dream a reality. “This project seemed like it was impossible. Oh my God what a project! The barn was horrible, the milking parlor, everything had to be rebuilt,” Andrew recalls. “At the time I was still working for my father milking cows starting at 3:30 in the morning. Thankfully I had a lot of help from guys that work for my father. I couldn’t have done it without all of the support I got. I took out an FSA loan and received a Farm Viability Grant to get the farm up and running. And of course my dad has helped me every step of the way.”
Pine Hill Dairy is currently producing more than 200 gallons of milk a day. For now, Andrew bottles to order plus a few gallons and half-gallons he keeps on hand at the self-serve farm stand. He sells excess milk to the Dairy Farmers of America co-op to minimize waste and sustain himself while he grows his raw milk market. While there are usually a few gallon and half-gallon jugs in the cooler at the farm store, Andrew recommends calling him directly to arrange for your order, especially if you are looking for larger quantities.