Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Old dairies embrace new ideas

Karla Salp

Dairy cows eating hay in barn

Dungeness Valley Creamery is a family farm that started with 20 cows in 1971. In 1989, it moved to its current location and operated as a traditional dairy. In 2006, the dairy transitioned to producing raw milk*. That, however, was far from the last innovation on the farm. 

Saving energy

Driving by the farm today, a passerby might notice the solar panels on the south-facing side of the barn roof installed to reduce the amount of energy they demand from the grid. While they were at it, they installed an electric car charging station for customer use. In 2017, the farm did an energy audit through USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service that identified additional opportunities to reduce energy consumption. That led to converting all-electric motors to variable frequency drives, relocating some walk-in cooler condensers for better efficiency, and the installation of the GEA XeTherm heat recovery system. The XeTherm takes the heat generated from the refrigeration process and passes it through a plate cooler to pre-heat warm water before it goes into the water heater. Combined, these changes are saving over 36,000 kWh each year.

Comfy and clean

Calf napping

The cows on the dairy spend seven months of the year on rotational pasture – eating grass and lounging in fields as long as the weather allows. Once the weather turns, the cows head to the barn for the winter where - when they are not eating, being milked, or getting a scratch from the rotary brush – the cows can rest on “pasture mats.” The mats have a combination of recycled rubber padding and foam and are designed to replicate the comfort of pasture. 

The barn also has a system that flushes the barn to clean it and separate manure liquids from solids. The system cleans each alley in the barn six times per day. They are, of course, cows and relieve themselves whether their alley was just cleaned or not. But the system allows for frequent cleaning – much more often than could be accomplished manually. 

Cleaning doesn’t stop with the barn floor. The farm also has an automatic milk tank and pipeline cleaning system. Sanitation cycles improve consistency and cleanliness and increase employee safety by making sanitation hands-off. They also added a new system that injects a sanitizing solution into the water so to reduce bacteria loads on floors and surfaces in the bottling plant. While sanitation is a priority for any dairy, it is especially so on a raw milk dairy that sells unpasteurized dairy products.

Solar panels on roof of barn
Environmental stewardship

Another change the dairy made was a big investment in installing an above-ground dairy nutrient storage tank. The tank holds nearly 600,000 gallons of liquid manure – going vertical substantially reducing the footprint of the previous in-ground lagoon while also further reducing the risk of contaminating groundwater.

Not alone

Dungeness Valley Creamery is not alone in taking steps to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious. Royal Dairy, for example, is making national news with its innovative management of the manure produced at its dairy near Royal City. This farm, which owner Austin Allred purchased from another dairy farmer, has 6,000 cows. That many cows produce not only a lot of milk but also a lot of something else – manure.

In 2018, Royal Dairy won the U.S. Dairy Sustainability award for what it was doing to manage all of that manure. To the rescue came another animal: worms. The liquid manure from the dairy goes through a screening process to remove the solids. Those solids are composted and used on farms and gardens. The remaining water is spread over pits comprised of a gravel bottom and several feet of wood chips in which countless worms live. Together, the wood chips and worms mimic nature’s natural process of breaking down nutrients and filtering water. The end result? Clean water that is recycled back to the dairy or used for irrigation on the farm.

Raising a glass to sustainability

Washington’s innovative dairies are not limited to remote areas like Sequim and Royal City. Krainick Dairy, for example, is a third-generation dairy that has made sustainability key to its farm and is located right in King County. True to a farmer’s nature, their form of sustainability matches and incorporates their unique situation of being in close proximity to urban areas – namely, the breweries in those urban areas.

Since 2007, the dairy has partnered with local breweries to use spent grain from the brewing process. The grain – which would otherwise end up in a landfill – is hauled to the farm and used as part of the cows’ diet. But the cycle doesn’t end there. The cow manure (are you picking up a theme that this is a big issue for all dairies to manage?) is composted by a state-of-the-art composting machine called the “Bedding Master.” The end product is used for bedding in stalls and the remainder is sold as certified organic compost for gardens.

The Krainicks have also embraced their local community. A favorite is growing and providing a giant pumpkin, which is used at a local festival. The pumpkin is filled with beer and then tapped for all to enjoy. Once again – nothing goes to waste. After the beer is gone and the party is over, the pumpkin returns to the farm for the cows to have the last bite.

These are just three examples of the creative, sustainable efforts for which Washington dairies are known. Learn more about Washington dairies from the Dairy Farmers of Washington


* Raw milk has not been pasteurized to kill potentially deadly bacteria that may be present. It poses a greater health risk to consumers for this reason. Raw milk sales are only legal in Washington from licensed dairies that are regularly inspected and tested for the presence of harmful bacteria in the milk. Learn more about raw milk and the risks associated with its consumption from the Washington State Department of Health.