Keeping cows – and customers – happy
Happy Cow Creamery sees rapid growth;
looks to expand
By Leigh Savage – Community Editor – The Greenville Journal
There is a place on Greenville County’s south side where the fields are green and lush, the milk is fresh, and the cows are always happy.
The place is Happy Cow Creamery, which sells fresh milk, cheese and other products from a little shop set up on Tom Trantham’s100-acre farm just below Ware Place.
Folks from all over the Upstate – and far beyond – travel down U.S. 25 S. to chat with Trantham and his staff, learn about his unique farming style, and taste his pure, chemical-free products. He says word-of-mouth has led to a solid year of growth.
“You can’t even get into the store on Saturday,” he says. “You have to wait on people to come out.”
From October 2002 to October 2003, sales at the creamery increased 307 percent, Trantham says. To answer the growing demand of customers, Trantham and his son, have placed their products in “Garner’s Natural Market” and “Cafe and Earth Fare” both in Greenville.
While the shop has only been around for a year, Trantham has been a farmer for much longer – since 1968.
He started out as a grocer, and found success in that field, but says he “dreaded for the clock to go off in the morning.”
He then found his niche in farming, buying his first farm in North Carolina in 1968 and purchasing the Greenville County farm in 1978. But the cows weren’t as happy back then.
“That was traditional farming,” he says. “I was one of the top users of chemicals. I thought that’s what farming was, using chemicals.”
He would spray to kill weeds, plant his crops and use fertilizers to help them grow. Then he would mow them down, put the grain in the silo, and allow the cows to feed. The cows were confined on cement, and weren’t allowed to graze.
But then one fateful day in April, the cows decided to take matters into their own hands. It just so happened that Trantham was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the bank was about to foreclose on his farm, when the cows decided to jump the fence that enclosed them.
Trantham had been waiting on a loan to purchase chemicals for the field adjacent to the cow pen, but he hadn’t gotten the money yet, so the weeds grew unabated. To the the cows, it wasn’t useless weeds – it was the perfect meal.
“When my cows broke out and went over into that field, I was disgusted,” Trantham says. “I could have killed them, because I was about to be foreclosed on.”
But after getting them back in their designated area and milking them, he realized that their milk production had risen sharply. By the third milking, production was up two pounds per day per cow.
“I was already the top producer in the state, so I thought, where are these two pounds coming from?”
He let the cows out again to watch them graze, and saw that they followed a pattern that he didn’t expect.
“Here’s this big 1,400-pound cow, and she’s standing there in the lush April growth, and she just takes the top half of the plants, and then moves on,” he says. “I said, ‘Whoa, cow!”
Farmers typically mow grain close to the ground and use all of the plant for the animals’ feed. But when his cows ate just the top half of plants such as alfalfa, oats and rye, milk production continued to go up, soon rising by five pounds per cow per day. After testing the plants for nutritional value, he found that the vast majority of nutrients for the cows were in the top half.
“No one had ever discovered it,” he says.
That was in 1987. He now has 29 individual paddocks of about 2.5 to 3.5 acres, and each feeds his approximately 82 cows for a day. The cows are free to graze just the top, nutritious half of the plants in the paddock, and then they move on to the next paddock the following day. By the time they complete the 29-day cycle, the first paddock has regrown.
He also stopped using any chemicals or fertilizers in 1988, using only organic matter to add nutrients to the soil.
The grazing program, called Twelve Aprils, has earned international acclaim, and Trantham has taught his method to farmers from Australia, Ireland, England and Canada, among others. The U.S. Department of Agriculture did a video on the system and is sending it to universities around the country as an alternative method for dairy farming.
Trantham was also the first recipient of USDA’s Madden Award, a national honor that recognizes those who practice environmentally sound farming.
He ended up being able to pay off his debts, turn a profit, and then last year invest in the creamery, which he and his son built with the assistance of one contractor.
Business has been booming at the store thanks to the taste and the health benefits of his milk, Trantham says. People travel from Greer, Gaffney, Hendersonville, Georgia, and North Carolina to buy it, he says.
People who haven’t been able to drink milk for decades are able to drink his, he says, because of a low temperature vat pasteurization technique that doesn’t disturb the milk’s natural enzymes. He doesn’t homogenize the milk or add artificial vitamins or additives like some producers do.
Another point of pride is that his milk travels only 48 feet – and only makes one trip – during the processing from pump to bottle. “No one else can say that,” he says, adding that many larger milk companies pump the product through miles of pipes up to 20 times.
“That breaks down the molecules,” he says. “That’s what I call bruised milk”
Despite the modern attitude that fat is the ultimate enemy, Trantham says it is the full-fat cream in milk that contains most of the nutrients the body needs.
“It has the vitamins, and the beta carotene, everything,” he says.
In addition to his milk and chocolate milk, the store stocks food from other area farms and businesses that meet his standards. Popular items include bread made by a Gaffney woman, chicken from Darlington, hormone free ground beef from Pelzer, ice cream made in Gaston, and plenty of naturally grown fruits and vegetables grown in Trantham’s own gardens.
Trantham says he is pleased with the success of his farm and his growing business, and he is also pleased that his son came to work with him after stints in management with Applebee’s and Gateway.
“Our whole dream was the family farm, to pass on from generation to generation,” he says.
But most of all, he is happy that he is able to keep his cows happy and, as a result, keep his customers happy.
“That’s what we feel so good about,” he says. “People smile and are happy, and say, ‘You just don’t know how much we appreciate what you are doing.’ ”
Printed with permission from the Greenville Journal