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A tiny girl in a summer dress bounces on her toes outside the calf barn and pinches her nose as she squints up at Jana McClelland and exclaims, “It smells!” McClelland laughs and says, “No, it smells like a farm!” She hands the child a large bottle of milk. The girl clumsily thrusts it at the muzzle of a hungry Jersey calf and squeals with delight as the calf pulls hard at the nipple, nearly wrenching the bottle from her grasp. “He likes it!” she declares.
The girl is learning for the first time where her food comes from. She is one of thousands who tours McClelland’s Dairy in Petaluma, California, each year. McClelland is up to the task of educator. Farm tours, a website, social media – these are all tools she uses to get the word out about the farm’s organic dairy products.
She saw the local food movement coming years ago. “People were calling us and asking questions about where their food was coming from, wanting to see a cow up close,” says McClelland. “It’s so exciting. For years, nobody really cared all that much, but now they want to see our operation.”
The farm is near the Bay Area, so it is an easy day trip for most visitors. “We want to share our story and meet the customers,” says McClelland. “There are so many city people who have never had the farm experience.”
This farm was started in the 1940s by McClelland’s grandparents, Bob and Lil McClelland, who milked eight Brown Swiss cows by hand and ran a glass bottle route, delivering milk to front porches. Their bottles carried the McClelland’s Dairy label with the Irish saying, “From She to Thee.” That label stands today.
Generations later, the farm has grown in size and scope to include 950 cows on 337 acres. Everything is organic. The dairy is still family operated in partnership with McClelland’s parents, George and Dora. The family credits their success to a strong work ethic and the hard work of the team of people on the farm today.
When the farm started producing European-style organic artisan butter, it highlighted cow families on the website, so people knew which cows their butter products came from. The website not only shows photos of the cows, but also teaches about the breeding lines, sires, dams, and offspring of each of the cows.
“People can take a tour, meet the animals, and see that our animals are well cared for. It’s not on a 10-cow scale; it’s on a bigger scale. For organic, we’re a large farm,” McClelland says.
People can sign up for tours individually, as family, and as groups. Most tours have 25 to 30 people. Tour fees depend on the options, but the traditional tour is $15 per adult and $7 per child. Visitors learn about the buildings, pastures, grass silage, and more. They even get to pet the chickens and calves.
“People are always amazed at how the calves like to suck on their fingers!” says McClelland.
The tour takes visitors through the barns and shows them cow beds or pasture mats (or mattresses, as McClelland calls them). They’re made of a spongy rubber, and they keep the cows comfortable and happy. She asks her younger visitors, “Do you sleep on a mattress? Our cows sleep on mattresses, too. Every cow has its own bed here!”
The cows stay outside eating fresh grass as much as possible, but they come in the barn in hot weather or when it’s raining hard. “Cows don’t like it over 68°F. So even though the gates are open, the cows will stay inside of their own free will,” says McClelland.
Visitors learn how the farm protects the environment through recycling, water conservation, and organic practices. They see cows in the field and often spot newborn calves. They can milk a cow by hand and tour the modern milking parlor, where up to 95 cows are milked in an hour.
If visitors stop at the original milking parlor (now the farm store), they can taste and buy European-style butter with the McClelland’s Dairy label.
There is a more comprehensive tour that involves a wagon ride through the center of the barn where visitors see cows eating and sleeping, the maternity space, and the commodity area with silage, feed, and even the compost pile.
Another tour gives people a chance to be a farmer for a day and do chores. Visitors learn about supplemental feed and can see the difference in milk cow breeds, learning how Holsteins, Jerseys, and Brown Swiss compare in sizes.
Show cows are a favorite highlight. These gals have been to county and state fairs, are well traveled, and are people-smart. They latch on to visitors and follow them around, which can be pretty amusing. “People really like them,” McClelland says.
What’s next? She wants to plan tours where people can see the dairy products at different steps – from milk to cream to butter – in the entire butter-making process.
At McClelland’s Dairy, the education continues.
Make sure to check out the dairy: mcclellandsdairy.com