A Dairy with All the (Cow)bells and Whistles

You take care of the girls and they’ll take care of you.

Jeremy Visser’s grandfather always told him (referring to their dairy cows), “You take care of the girls and they’ll take care of you.” At a recent tour of the Natural Milk dairy in the Stillaguamish River valley, Snohomish Conservation District staff got to see how much thought Visser not only puts into the health and well-being of his cows but also the health of his land and the environment around him. 

Recycling is a prominent theme at the Natural Milk Dairy. Visser raises crops to feed his cows and they, in turn, provide nutrient-rich manure that is collected and applied back onto the land to feed his crops. No need for synthetic fertilizers here! The fiber in the manure is separated from the liquids, and then dried and mixed with wood shavings to provide comfortable bedding for his cows. (Interestingly, Visser was surprised to find that this bedding was better for his cows than straight wood shavings.) Even water used to cool the milk is reused to water his animals. 

In addition to managing soil health for his crops and animal health for good quality milk, Visser works closely with the WA Department of Agriculture and Snohomish County to monitor water quality around his farm. He is careful to apply the valuable manure to his fields only when the crops will quickly take up the nutrients, when the rain won’t wash it away, and where it won’t foul streams and ditches. He embraces new technologies that improve his sustainability as a business that depends upon the health of his animals, and the land and waters around him. 

One striking new technology that improves his dairy’s sustainability is the rotary milking parlor. Cows eagerly line up to be milked in this fascinating, advanced version of a milking parlor. Queued up cows enter the stalls on their own, are relaxed as they ride the slowly rotating machine, and leave on their own at the end of the rotation. Combined with the rotary milking parlor are sensors that separate out any cows that shouldn’t be milked and a robotic arm that disinfects the cows’ teats prior to milking. Workers aid and supervise the process, ensuring that all goes smoothly and calmly for the cows. 

Visser’s Natural Milk Dairy is just one of the excellent dairies in Snohomish County that Snohomish Conservation District serves. It is a privilege to work with conscientious producers like Jeremy Visser, and we thank him for sharing his farm and passion with us.

By: Kathryn Wells, Community Outreach Specialist

From Spring 2017 Nexus (full edition available here)