“Cows are God’s favorite animal,” said Tom Trantham, founder of Happy Cow Creamery. On the first day of our national trip to South Carolina and Georgia under the shade of their agri-tourism picnic shelter, Tom shared with VALOR the incident that kick-started their successful grass-based dairy operation.
It all started with a break out – in 1988, Tom’s dairy cows somehow pushed their way out of their pen into a lush, pasture one day. Annoyed, Tom brought the cows back to the pen where they belonged (at the time), but he noticed that his milk production jumped by 200 pounds the next day. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between the Trantham family farm and grass production.
Today, Tom, along with his son (also named Tom) run 90 cows on 70 acres as of a rotational grazing program they call 12 Aprils. They have 29 paddocks, two to six acres in size. The cows are moved nearly every day into a fresh paddock, where they eat off the top half, and most nutritious part of the grass. This pattern allows for the rotation to begin again every 30 days, giving the grass enough time to rest and grow. Different seasons call for different grass varieties: rye in the winter, sudan grass in the spring, and millet in the summer. Their practices call for no herbicide application. While they sometimes fight buttercup and dock issues, the Tranthams believe that the practice of bushhogging behind the cows as they leave a paddock curbs the presence of weeds.
Their herd is primarily Holstein genetics, but you won’t find any framey cows here. “Big doesn’t mean big milkers, just big eaters,” is Big Tom’s philosophy. These moderately framed mamas are producing between 70-75 pounds of milk during the best grazing. That milk travels a mere 58 feet from the parlor to the bottling facility, which runs 5 days a week. The creamery is celebrating it’s 17th birthday this year. The milk, low pasteurized at 450 degrees and non-homogenized, is sold both at their onsite location and across the state to retail locations.
The philosophies and practices that they have implemented on their farm were done decades before it was trending in other parts of mainstream agriculture – this is truly a family that had a farming vision ahead of their time. With only 42 dairies left in South Carolina, a ray of shining hope for the dairy industry beams from Happy Cow Creamery.