Nestled in California’s Central Valley is Fresno County, one of the state’s top 10 counties for milk production. Here, dairy is a big business. The average number of cows per dairy in Fresno County is 1,565. The number of cows at Adamscows Dairy, a Land O’Lakes, Inc. member farm? Just 65.
For some farmers, being surrounded by some of the country’s largest dairies would push them to grow as big as they can. Not so for Adamscows Dairy. If anything, they take pride in staying small. That’s the just way they do business.
“We do everything ourselves,” says Rick Adams, who operates the dairy with his wife Michelle and four children Brianna (24), Lantz (17), Kolbi (15) and Rikki (12). “We grow and harvest our own feed, we milk and feed our cows ourselves—everything.”
Dairy farming is in Rick’s blood. His family has been doing it since the 1930s. When Rick’s father sold out and left the dairy business in 2009, it looked like the Adams dairy lineage was history. That proved to be too heartbreaking for Rick and his family, so they decided to keep the tradition going.
They started over with a mere 12 cows. A droplet in the pail of milk that is California’s Central Valley.
When naming their operations, many farmers incorporate the family name. Rick and Michelle did the same but a bit differently, of course. Staying true to the unique way they do business, the name Adamscows Dairy reflects the relationship between the Adams family and their cows.
“We, the Adams family, and the cows are both part of the partnership,” says Rick. “There’s an understanding that we’re going to treat them right—and we do.”
Treating their 65 cows right, like any dairy big or small, takes a lot of work. It also helps that Rick is a bit of a perfectionist with fanatical attention to detail. For instance, in order to detect mastitis early, Rick will perform the California Mastitis Test (CMT) on a cow he thinks might be infected. If a cow is positive, Rick removes that cow from the milking string.
“We’ll milk an infected cow by hand until it’s clear,” he says. “Since we test our cows frequently, we go through a lot of CMT solution.”
Rick is also a stickler for sanitization. A bucket of chlorinated water is always within reach so when the milking machine comes off one cow, it’s immediately cleaned for the next cow.
“We regularly test the solution with chlorine strips to make sure it’s still effective,” he says.
Rigorous testing, keeping labor in the family (plus one employee) and milking sick cows by hand—these aren’t the typical activities of a large dairy. However, Rick is always quick to defend the practices of other farmers.
“This,” he says of his small dairy, “works for us. What we do isn’t what they do and vice versa. And that’s okay.”
A farmer’s life is rooted in unpredictability—a universal truth no matter the size of the farm or what it produces. There are, however, some things that can be controlled. That’s where Rick puts his energy.
“There are a million things in my industry that I can’t control. I can’t control milk prices,” he says. “But I can control my milk quality.”
What Rick and his family are doing is working. They were the West region winners of the first-ever Land O’Lakes Top Milk Quality Award in 2016. An average somatic cell count (SCC) of 49,000 for 2015 is what made Adamscows Dairy a winner. For Rick, a low SCC is worth more than an award.
“High quality premiums are a nice bonus, but that’s not my goal,” he says. “My goal is having healthy cows.”