By Joseph Robertia
As the perception goes, most things are better fresh. But for many, drinking creamy, fresh milk out of a glass jar is a distant memory from childhood, or a story from parents’ or grandparents’ childhoods.
A new dairy farm in Kasilof could change that.
“We’re not selling milk. We’re offering a cow-share program for people who want the option of having raw milk,” said Gareth Byers, who, along with his brother, Kevin, recently set up a raw milk facility on a 5-acre farm off of Pollard Loop, less than a mile from the Sterling Highway.
People pay a one-time share price of $25 and an $8 maintenance fee per share, per week.
“In plain English, it will cost you $8 per gallon at the farm,” Gareth Byers said. “Basically, we’re paid to take care of the cows, while, as a shareholder, you come receive some of the milk.”
The Byers brothers have been lifelong dairy farmers. They got their start milking cows as
boys in Wisconsin, and as adults they made the move north to work at a dairy farm near Wasilla. Since 2007, Gareth Byers has owned a large Grade-A dairy farm in the Point McKenzie area.
“Up there, we have well over 1,000 shares out,” Byers said. “Down here, there’s nothing like it. I even met someone in Homer who was paying $45 a gallon to get cream shipped up from Wisconsin. So we brought down a few cows for shareholders to get milk for their families and personal use.”
Kevin Byers primarily runs the new Kasilof farm and tends to the cows. They’ve got five, made up of mixed breeds including Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Holstein. Like all dairy farmers, his workday beings early.
“I milk them twice a day, at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” he said.
The milk is immediately transferred to a large cooling tank, where it is chilled to between 36 degrees and 38 degrees before bottling. Then all the milking equipment is cleaned and sanitized. In between milking sessions, Kevin feeds the cows, cleans up after them and attempts to give them an enriching life.
“Cows have to have exercise, so I’ll give them hay outside during the day to let them walk
around and get some fresh air for a few hours, and in summer they’ll be out there day and night,” he said.
Gareth said the farm isn’t 100 percent organic, yet, but they are trying to do everything as naturally as possible while working toward that goal.
“We do not use any growth hormones or anything like it. We do use a very limited amount of antibiotic in extreme cases, but we are exploring options to quit even that, if possible. We grow all our own forage, and the barley we use is grown in Delta Junction,” he said.
From the five cows in Kasilof, Kevin is getting roughly 25 gallons of milk per cow, per day.
“It’s more than we have shareholders for right now,” Gareth said. “Most of our shareholders are in Homer, but there are a few locals, and we’re hoping that’ll grow as people find out about us. It should be popular with people who grew up drinking raw milk, health-conscious folks and the back-to-the-earth crowd.”
That’s not to say the Byers brothers don’t expect to have some detractors, since the raw-milk-versus-pasteurized-milk issue is not without controversy. While pasteurization kills “good” bacteria, it also kills bad bacteria that could be harmful to people.
“There can be risks involved, but we know what we’re doing and how to produce it as safely as possible,” Gareth said. “Still, we want people to learn about raw milk and what all the possibilities and risks are, to be informed before coming out.”
To learn more about the Kasilof cow-sharing program, or to become a shareholder, contact Gareth Byers at 907-841-1437.