Family finds new life on dairy farm
Conflicts over the sale of raw milk have spurred a big debate.
By CLAY COPPEDGE,Country World Staff Writer
Article from Country World News
Oct. 30, 2008 - First came the desire to raise their four daughters in the country. Next came some chickens and a cow. Before either of them quite realized what was happening, Ben and Alysha Godfrey were farmers.
Ben grew up in the suburbs, and Alysha grew up in College Station. Ben proposed the idea of moving to the country to Alysha, who wasn't sure about the idea at first.
"It took a little salesmanship and a little bribery but she fell in love with the country lifestyle," Ben said at their Sand Creek Farm and Dairy in Milam County. "We got some chickens and a milk cow. Each thing was new for her. It kind of evolved over time."
The Godfreys started out five years ago on a piece of land outside of College Station. They milked that first cow and drew the interest of a neighbor who wanted to buy the family's excess milk. They found out they could not sell raw milk without a license and so they let the idea slide. After they added a few more cows, all good milk producers, they got a license to sell the extra milk.
Demand for their raw milk grew to the point that they outgrew the original piece of land. They moved to their present location in Milam County and added pigs and cattle, taking extra care with the way they raised the animals.
"Alysha studied nutrition at Texas A&M, so we have tried to have the best-fed, best-raised products that we can," Ben said.
The operation has expanded to include beef, pork, eggs, milk, yogurt, butter, cream, ice cream and cheese. Raw milk is still the farm's number one product, with beef second. They raise vegetables, but don't sell a lot of them.
"We eat what we can and sell the rest, as the saying goes," he said.
In two years at the Milam County location, Sand Creek has grown to the point where it produces 34 gallons of raw milk every day, seven days a week, and sells to about 180 families, including 150 or so regular customers from the Houston, College Station, Austin and Dallas areas. They have 31 milk cows, mostly Jersey and Jersey crosses, and 35 or so beef cows. All of their cattle are grass-fed, as are the hogs.
"We've had a big growth surge in the last two years," Alysha said. "We went from feeding about 20 families to between 150 and 200 families."
Ben added that having the regular customers allows him and Alysha to judge how many milk cows and beef cows they need to maintain.
The couple gets the word out about their operation through monthly Farm Days, where the public is invited to visit the farm and take a wagon ride, feed the chickens and get a taste of what the farm is all about. The next Farm Day at Sand Creek is scheduled for Nov. 29.
"It's a good time for them," Ben said. "We're worn out by the end of the day, but we enjoy sharing what we do with other people. The most people we've ever had out here at one time is 180. We usually average about 20 to 30 people."
During the farm days, Ben usually hitches up a few of his horses and gives the visitors a glimpse of how farmers used to work the land. He tries to plow with horses whenever he can, but time restraints force him to use machinery most of the time.
"I'm very interested in how people farmed prior to mechanics and chemicals, how much they produced versus the inputs," he said. "I know they improved the fertility of the land by the way they worked it, and we've tried to incorporate a lot of that into how we do things here."
That includes rotational grazing of all their cows and pastures, heavy on rye grass, oats and legumes like peas and clover. The legumes are noted for their ability to fix nitrogen, and he lets the animals themselves supply most of the fertilizer.
"I've tried putting nitrogen on my pastures when I first started out, but it killed the biology in the soil," he said. "I decided to go with the rotational grazing, and to get the nitrogen naturally, especially with the price of nitrogen fertilizers."
Ben said he is seeking out old farmers who remember how farming was done before the advent of chemicals and machinery.
"I want to talk to people who can remember how it was done back then," he said. "If we don't gather that information now, there will come a time, before long, when there won't be anybody to share that information with us."
Anyone with information about how it was done in the old days, or anyone wanting more information on Sand Creek Farm and Dairy, can e-mail Ben at [email protected]. The farm's website is www.sandcreekfarm.net .