DELAVAN, Ill. — The Hoerbert family experienced the ups and downs of the commercial dairy business for over a dozen years and decided to make a change.
That change culminated in the sale of their first carton of milk stamped with their own label on May 31.
Little Brown Cow Dairy’s pasteurized non-homogenized Jersey cow milk is now available at grocery stores and is also sold at the farm and at farmers markets. Raw milk is available at the farm, as well.
Representatives from Green Top Grocery, a cooperatively owned grocery store in Bloomington that sells locally grown food, toured the farm on June 1. The store will carry the milk.
Bob Hoerbert said the family has been in the dairy business for about 15 years and currently milk 20 cows, producing about 84 gallons of milk per day. They’ve had as many as 60 head at one time. The family had an agreement with a commercial dairy company for the milk.
The Hoerberts were looking for a change.
“Dairy prices have been so low for so long, it was just getting really tough. A couple of years ago we actually thought about quitting completely,” Bob Hoerbert said.
“Then our daughter, Kortney, talked to someone at a market up north who was interested in our milk and we also had had interest in our raw milk from a few people. That got us thinking more and more about bottling our own milk.”
With the local and regional interest in the milk, the Hoerberts started the process of producing, processing and bottling their own product on-farm. Their last shipment for the commercial dairy was last September and Bob soon started construction of the processing building.
“Once that move was made we immediately started looking for the size of equipment that we wanted and getting all the questions that we had answered,” said Bob’s wife, Terry.
“All of the equipment is from MicroDairy Designs. We just needed to find somebody who would give us a smaller quantity processing system in a good price range. So, we opted for a 45-gallon vat pasteurizer instead of the fast high-temperature short-time.
“The milk is heated to 146 or 147 degrees for about 30 to 32 minutes and then start cooling it down. We then bottle it in our half-gallon and gallon containers.”
A chart recorder and chiller are interconnected with the system.
The MicroDairy Design chiller provides a reservoir of ice water to rapidly cool milk in the vat after processing or after milking. The ice water is pumped out of the chiller and circulated through the water jacket of the pasteurizer and then returned to the chiller. The whole process takes about three hours from start to finish.
“We’re pasteurized, not homogenized so you will still have to shake it to mix the cream into it. Homogenized means that the fat globules are mixed in and don’t separate,” Terry said.
On the marketing end, they are selling whole milk at area farmers markets and expanding into grocery stores.
“We can’t sell raw milk off the farm. We can only take our pasteurized to the farmers markets. So, if they’re interested in the raw, they have to come to the farm to get that,” Terry said.
“We have some families that co-op. They’ll come and get seven or eight gallons and those families will take their turn coming to get it. We’re blessed with that.”
The family focuses on producing quality milk in an environmentally friendly way.
The Jersey cows are given a daily non-GMO ration of feed. They also have 24/7 access to pasture during the grazing season and all of their forage feeds are raised on the 100 acre farm.
The Hoerberts hope that their locally-produced milk is a good selling point.
“It is in our hands, you know where it’s coming from. Everything here is transparent and you can come and see where the cows are. Hopefully within our conversation you know that we care about our cows and that they are top priority,” Terry said.
“We believe in this product, therefore we want it in every household just because milk is good for everybody.”