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Boring dairy farmer wins national award

Melissa Collman says going organic saved the farm


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MELISSA COLLMAN - Melissa and Andy Collman, holding son William, and with daughters, from left, Elizabeth, Autumn and Hailey, at Cloud-Cap, their organic dairy farm near Boring.by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MELISSA COLLMAN - Melissa Collman as a toddler with her brother Nick with their parents Gary and Connie Moore, left, and grandparents Arnold Jr. and Jean Moore.by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MELISSA COLLMAN - Melissa and Andy Collman in front of the sign for their award-winning farm with children William, in his dads arms, and from left, daughters Elizabeth, Autumn and Hailey.Melissa and Andy Collman are raising more than dairy cows on their Cloud-Cap Farm near Boring. They also are raising four children, and hope that at least one of them grows up to carry on the family tradition and take over the farm that Melissa's great-grandfather started 90 years ago.

Collman is the fourth generation to live on her family's dairy farm and is one of only three farmers in the country to receive a recent Generation Organic award sponsored by Organic Valley cooperative.

According to a press release, the Gen-O award “recognizes young Organic Valley and Organic Prairie farmers (ages 16 to 35) who have demonstrated their commitment to organic farming and preserving family farming culture and rural communities through leadership, stewardship and innovation.”

Going organic in 2004 was the right move, Collman said, and saved the farm that her great-grandfather, Arnold Moore Sr., started in 1924. In 1900, at age 15, he had crossed the Atlantic from Switzerland by himself and found work in Wisconsin.

“He started milking in Wisconsin when he was 15 and milked his way west until he made it to Oregon,” she said.

Arnold Sr. and his wife, Birtha Marie, raised mostly Jersey and Guernsey cows, Collman said, but now Cloud-Cap is home to mostly Holstein and a few Brown Swiss.

“We milk about 200 and have about 150 young stock,” she said.

Arnold Sr. and Birtha had several children, but Arnold Jr. was the only one to stay on the farm and with his wife, Jean, raised the next generation. That included Collman's father, Gary, who now works the farm with his wife, Connie, along with Melissa, 31, and Andy, 35.

Melissa and Andy's four children — Elizabeth, 9, Autumn, 6, Hailey, 4, and William, 2 — are the fifth generation on the farm. Melissa said she hopes at least one of them carries on the family tradition.

“I hope out of the four I get at least one who wants to keep the farm and keep it going,” she said. “Our goal is to keep it going for the next generation. They love being there, and they love the animals.”

The family tradition may continue, but the farm took a drastic turn when it went all organic, Collman said.

“Grandpa (Arnold Jr.) was against the idea of switching (to organic),” she said. “It was a huge change, and he was very concerned the cows wouldn't survive and wouldn't produce milk.”

The family waited, out of respect, but decided to make the change to organic a few months after his death because, Collman said, otherwise the farm was going under.

“There was no way we would have survived if we stayed conventional,” she said. “Beyond that, there was a huge increase in the cows' health, and they're living longer.”

The cows also have an easier time giving birth because under conventional dairy methods, they are fed as much as they can eat so they would produce more milk. Before going organic, Collman said 95 percent of calves born had to be “pulled,” literally, to be born, but now 95 percent of the cows give birth with little or no help from humans.

“Now we let them produce what they would normally produce, and they don't produce those huge monster babies,” she said. “We also used to have a lot of 'twisted stomach' disease, but now it's only a couple of times a year versus one or two a month.”

Small dairies are disappearing because they can't compete with big commercial operations that may have up to 25,000 cows, Collman said, such as those operating in Eastern Oregon, where land is less expensive, less rainfall means less mud, hay is closer and cheaper, and there are fewer neighbors to complain about smells.

“The small family farms can't compete” in a conventional market, she said. “But now we get paid being organic what it costs to produce milk rather than up and down with the market. We know what we're going to get, and now we have some stability.”

As a member of the Organic Valley cooperative, Collman said cows are allowed more pasture time grazing mostly on grass, but also eating organic feed, which is three times the cost of conventional feed. That made the first year of going organic difficult, she said.

“It takes one full year to certify the cows, and during that time you have to buy organic feed and follow all the organic rules,” she said. “But during that first year it (the milk) can't be sold as organic, and we had to sell it at conventional prices. It was really rough.”

But now the farm is sustainable, Collman said, and she can see it going on for generations to come.

“Now we have some stability and are actually part of Organic Valley's co-op,” she said. “They're farmer owned and farmer run.”

The Collmans share their knowledge of organic farming with visiting tour groups, and when Melissa speaks to children at their schools. They also “lease” some of their animals to 4-H students to show at the county fair.

Collman said when she talks at schools, she tells students about the basics of dairy farming, how much cows eat, how they eat and how they are raised.

“I also talk about how health starts from the ground up,” she said. “Whatever goes into the cow, we eat, and it's how we keep our soil. I'm really a soil farmer, and dairy is a by-product to the soil.”

As with any farming operation, Cloud-Cap still has challenges, Collman said, especially with droughts in California and parts of Oregon.

“It affects hay prices and hay's availability, because if all the hay is going to California, we have less hay up here,” she said. “But we are still doing better than we did when we were conventional. We have our ups and downs like any industry, but we are happy and proud to be in the industry we are.”



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