Cherry Hill Dairy
Bill & Dirk Van Slageren--Cherry Hill Dairy
Cherry Hill Dairy is located in Granger, WA in the Yakima Valley. Brothers Bill and Dirk Van Slageren did not grow up on a dairy farm, but rather came to be dairymen from a different path.
"Our father was a commerical fisherman in Alaska," says Bill. "It wasn't for me. You would be on the boat which would lower into the trough of a wave, and you'd be looking way up at the crest!" says Bill, explaining the excitement of life on a fishing boat. It was through some family connections that the brothers found their way to the Yakima Valley in 1986, where they had a sister and brother-in-law in the dairy business.
The Van Slagaren's cows live on a dry lot, basically a barnyard with open air sun shades for shelter; one positive of the dry lot approach is that the cows are not on hard concrete. The dry climate and low humidity are other factors that add to the cows' comfort, which makes them more content and productive. The Van Slageren's farm is averaged sized for an FCC farm--approximately 600 cows. The trend in the Yakima Valley is to move towards larger farms, but the brothers have been content to grow at a steady and consistent pace.
Dirk and Bill are very involved in the care of their cows, and employ a nutritionist to plan their cows' diet. Along with providing access to pasture, the Van Slagerens grow alfalfa, corn and triticale on their land for their cows. Feeds such as canola, soy and corn are purchased by the rail car for efficiency and stored in separate stalls in a feed barn. The feeds are added to a large mixer that measures everything, combining them into a Total Mixed Ration (TMR). This way, each bite includes all the nutrients the cows need for a healthy diet. Also at the feed barn, a local produce grower dropped a mound of carrots not sent to market as a yummy treat for the cows.
The Van Slagerens are active in the dairy farmer community and sit on the board of FCC. They've traveled around the country to visit other farms and learn more about approaches to the industry. Dairy farming is a commitment that takes most of their time, although on many days, after the morning chores are done and there's some down time, you can find the brothers playing computer solitaire in their home office. Though not as adventurous as life on the high seas, the brothers enjoy the challenges of life on the farm just fine.
A conversation with Bill & Dirk Van Slageren:
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being a dairy farmer?
A: We like working with cows, monitoring production and being out in the fresh air.
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being a dairy farmer?
A: It is difficult for us when dairy farming practices are misinterpreted. The fact is that dairies are the most environmentally regulated business of the ag sector. Dairies are clean and safe stewards of the land.
Q: What do you remember about your decision to go rBST-free?
A: We've always been an rBST-free dairy. When rBST-was first introduced on the market, we attended seminars on the product and found the cost-benefit ratio wasn't strong enough for our business and for our cows' general good health. Cherry Hill Dairy doesn't push cows for production.
Q: Our customers would like to know they are supporting businesses that are aware of their impact on the environment and are trying to lessen that impact. They are also concerned about humane animal treatment and fair labor practices. Please tell us about practices on your farm that you have implemented to become a more sustainable business.
A: Our cows are in open lots, they can roam and lay wherever they like. Some dairies milk three or four times a day; Cherry Hill Dairy doesn't believe in stressing out cows so we only milk twice a day. To minimize the use of commercial fertilizers, local ag farmers use our cows' natural waste compost on their fields.
Q: What would you like the people who are drinking your milk to know about your farm?
A: Our cows produce a healthy, nutritious product that our own families drink everyday. This same quality is sold to the consumer.