By Melissa Hildebrand Reed, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer
Melissa is one of seven family members working on the family dairy farm near Junction City. Hildebrand Farms Dairy raises 150 cows and supplies milk to more than 120 stores across Kansas. Melissa and her husband, Brett, have two sons.
On a typical farm, producers harvest their commodity and sell it to a company or cooperative, which turns it into something you might see a grocery store. That’s the way our farm operated from about 1930 until 2007 when our family decided to build a processing plant.
Now, we are in the unique position of selling directly to the public. Having our own dairy processing facility allows us to own the milk from the cow all the way to the grocery store. We even sell bottles directly at our farm store. We also have the opportunity to get to know you, our customer, better.
There are a few questions that stand out during the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with customers. Maybe they’re even questions you’ve been wondering about.
Can I see a dairy cow up close?
Yes! We give tours of our farm. We’re close to Fort Riley and Manhattan, Kansas, both of which bring people from all over the world to Kansas. Many people have never had an encounter with any sort of agriculture before. If this sounds like you, we’d love to show you around.
We’re immensely proud of our cows and our farm. There is no question to big or too small to ask. Our cows graze beautiful pasture in the Flint Hills and receive clean sand bedding in our free-stall barn. In fact, we’ve found the best milk comes from cows that receive the best care.
Is your milk GMO-free?
Our milk is not genetically modified and neither are any ingredients we use — like pure cane sugar in a flavored milk, for example. However, we don’t seek a “GMO-free” label for a few reasons. First, our cows would not be able to eat feed containing GMO ingredients. Based on our research, it would be an unnecessary cost that doesn’t positively contribute to the safety or quality of our products.
We grow most of the food our girls are fed. For us, GMOs help us reduce the use of herbicides while increasing yields of our crops — meaning we can feed more cows with the same amount of land.
Is your milk organic?
Our first priority is treating our cows with care. Using antibiotics are critical to good animal care at our dairy. If one of my girls is sick, we’re going to help get her healthy again. The idea of not treating a sick cow to retain an “organic” label on our milk wouldn’t be true to our farm’s values.
We use antibiotics carefully and sparingly. Antibiotics don’t stay in an animal’s system forever. The cow rejoins the milking herd after it is eliminated from her body. We vigilantly track each dose and animal that requires a treatment, which is prescribed by our veterinarian. Milk from cows being treated with antibiotics doesn’t even enter our processing facility. That’s true of our farm, but it’s also true of any other dairy in the United States.
Our family believes our milk stands out in the grocery store for its quality. To show you we care, the best label we can put on our product is our family name.