On one of my very first days here at WMTA, Shannon and Judy were chatting about the most amazing time they had at this place called Country Dairy. I was brand new and I was still trying to piece together who was who and what was what, but this city girl’s interest was piqued by their sheer enthusiasm about a dairy farm. They went on and on about the ice cream, cheese and milk. I was especially surprised when they told me the cows were, and I quote, “the happiest cows they had ever seen”. This baffled me; I didn’t know what a “happy” cow looked like or really where they came up with something so silly. As time went on, Country Dairy kept coming up in conversations, so I decided I had to go check it out for myself!
As Shannon and I started our journey up north a few weeks ago, Country Dairy was our first stop. Right when I walked in I knew it was going to be great. We started in the restaurant and shop where a wall of Ice Cream , cheese, milk and other wonderful goodies greeted us; I was especially impressed with the “bottomless cup of milk” machine – I love milk. It was only 9am but I was instantly hungry after checking out the pizza shop and meat market located in the same building.
Our wonderful tour guide, Jeff, greeted us and whisked us away to “Moo School. Before we could go see where all the wonderful lactose filled products were made, we had to learn about the history of the farm, the cows, the products, and the processes behind all of them. Moo School is great for school field trips and educational outings. We learned that Andrew Van Gunst started Country Dairy in the 1880s and it was taken over by his son Henry in 1956. In 1964 the current owner, Wendell, took over the farm. In his first few years he expanded the farm from 30 cattle to 100. In 1983, Wendell took a significant step in expanding the business to include a dairy processing plant in which the milk from his herd was processed, bottled, and distributed to stores in west Michigan. The farm now houses 1,400 cattle. That’s a lot of milk!
Once we were wholly informed about everything Country Dairy had to offer, we left Moo school and took a tour of the milking and processing facilities. We put on our hairnets and were off to see where the milk was processed, bottled and turned into delicious foods, like ice cream and cheese.
Fun fact break! Did you know that Country Dairy serves half pints of milk in the Grand Rapids and Montague/Whitehall public schools? They process 70,000 gallons of milk per week just for the schools!
Next we saw the ice cream being processed and poured into its respective containers. I believe we watched this process for a good five minutes; we were completely a-moo-sed (sorry, I had to). We were lucky enough to get a sample right out of the machine! I am not lying when I say it was the best strawberry ice cream I have ever had!
Once out of the processing facility it was time to see the stars of the show. The cows!! I know it seems strange, but this is the part Shannon and I were looking forward to most. I was worried they were not going to be nearly as excited to see me, but I was wrong. Shannon and Judy were correct; these were the happiest cows ever! They instantly greeted us with full mouths and runny noses. They had to be the most personable cows ever. Allen, the calf, and I became close real fast. He started sucking on my hand instantly; it was love at first sight.
Once I pulled my hand out from Allen’s mouth we were escorted into the barn where the “best” cows are housed. Now, you may be wondering how these cows became “the best?” I wondered the same thing, I thought maybe they were the cows that smiled the prettiest, or cleaned up after themselves- heck, I didn’t know! Turns out, there are some very specific traits cows are graded on when taken to shows. The way their udders hang, the width of their back and their weight all play roles into becoming “the best.” The cows that have the best traits are housed in a separate barn and are used for breeding. We were lucky enough to be able to watch the miraculous act of conception when we were there. Having no prior warning to what we were about to see I think we handled ourselves pretty well. Let me tell you, seeing a cow being artificially inseminated after eating strawberry ice cream kind of made my stomach churn (get it?); but nonetheless it was very interesting to watch (I’ll spare you the pictures). I like to think we helped play a role in creating the next award-winning cow!
Shannon and Judy were right on to rave about Country Dairy. I had a wonderful time, ate some great ice cream, met the friendliest cows, and witnessed the gift of life! If you have ever wanted to visit a dairy farm, Country Dairy should be at the top of your list. Just a warning, you will smell like dairy-air when you leave (haha!).
Oh! I almost forgot about the giveaway!
This week we will be giving away a Cheesebox from Country Dairy which includes one pound blocks of Cheddar and Monterey Jack AND eight ounce blocks of Garlic-Dill-Onion Jack and Sharp Cheddar. Yum! Just tell us what your favorite flavor of ice cream is and you will be entered to win! Winner will be drawn on Friday.