Saturday, April 30, 2011

Happy Cow Creamery


By Lynne Brandon

Pelzer, S.C. - Happy cows produce more milk. It’s a fact validated by the Nobel Prize awarded to scientists at Newcastle University. It boils down to bovine psychology and that these hoofed creatures, in order to be productive and enjoy longevity, need care and attention much like humans. Tom Trantham, a denizen of Pelzer, a small community in Anderson County, near the border of South Carolina and Georgia, didn’t need a scientific study to know what motivated his cows at Happy Cow Creamery. Being with them, actually “listening” to his cows led to his success as one of the top producing dairies in the Palmetto State.

At one time, the now successful farmer wasn’t doing so well and business looked bleak. His Holsteins were plodding along, making milk, but day-to-day operations were suffering and Trantham was in danger of losing his business. Suddenly, one of the cows revolted.

“Tarzan the cow opened my gate and called a cow meeting,” said Trantham, who is still boyishly enthusiastic about his black and white cows. “Tarzan told ‘Noisy’ the cow that something had to be done to save Farmer Tom.” “Bang crash boom” was the way Trantham described the mutiny when to the farmer’s dismay all 86 cows crashed into the gated pasture. At the end of the day, the cow’s smelled better and miraculously started producing more milk. Soon there was an increase of 200 pounds and then 500 more pounds of milk than in previous production cycles.

Something was up with Trantham’s cows.

The farmer entrepreneur observed that the cows were eating only the tops of weeds when traditionally farmers had kept weeds mowed down. Trantham thought there was a method to the madness and as the cows continued to graze on the alfalfa, oats and other plants, milk production continued to rise. Trantham stopped using chemicals and went organic using only cow manure or organic matter for fertilizer to add nutrients to the soil.

By 1994, he was planting the pastures all year long for the cows and referred to his method as “12 Aprils.” Cows have a field in which to graze the top part of plants, and when they are through, the cows move on to the next field, thus having a field to graze year around with the quality found in spring pastures, particularly the month of April. To make sure the weeds don’t grow too tall (per government regulation), Trantham keeps two goats - appropriately named “Bush” and “Hog.”- grazing full time.

The “Twelve Aprils” grazing program has garnered praise among his peers and industry experts. A nearby university is considering teaching his “12 Aprils” production cycle. That makes the easy going farmer happy but his greatest pleasure comes from supporting his community and satisfying his customers with a safe and healthy product. “We have people who drive from miles around and across state lines to buy Happy Cow Creamery milk and dairy products,” said Trantham. “The people asked for good, inexpensive food and we are giving it to them.”

Forward thinking is not limited to his unorthodox feeding system but also in the use of a silo turned into a creamery and “green” methods of heating water using solar tubes which saves about $200 per month. He was the first U.S. farmer to use this heating method. Such notions often come to Tom in the night; he keeps pen and paper by his bed.

Trantham touts the health benefits of his milk that isn’t homogenized and is free of additives. Customers with various health issues who haven't been able to drink milk for decades are able to enjoy his product. The sweet tasting buttermilk has gotten top marks with his growing customer base.

The silo turned creamery makes whole milk, chocolate, strawberry and buttermilk, along with organic yogurts and cheeses which are sold in the store, along with other local farm fresh products. On the way to the store on the 100-acre farm property you might see a family member from time to time. Tom’s son works with him as well as his daughter-in-law.

Happiness is contagious. The creamery’s cows are happy and as a result, customers who delight in the milk are happy. It seems like a distant memory when life looked impossible and a long hoped for dream was dying, but listening to cows changed the farmer’s destiny.

“God showed me a way,” and when he said this, angels must have been singing, “All you need is love.” What works for people works for all creatures great and small.

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