By BEN MITCHELL
Milk is in the Pearsons' blood.
The Trout Lake family has raised dairy cows in the Trout Lake Valley since the late 1800s and are a large part of the region's rich dairy heritage. While the number of farms in America has drastically plummeted since the mid-1930s, the Pearsons have maintained their agricultural legacy, generation after generation.
That tradition is still going strong in fourth-generation Trout Lake dairyman, Travis Pearson. After helping out his father, Monte Pearson, on his Trout Lake organic dairy farm for most of his life, Travis purchased most of his father's herd of Jersey cows in order to start his own organic dairy farm, called Charisway (care-us-way) Dairy, which began operations earlier this month.
On Dec. 5, Travis -- along with friends and family -- shooed over 200 cows from Monte's Mountain Laurel Jerseys farm on Little Mountain Road and "guided" them on a two-mile trip through fields and roads to their new home on Dairy Road. The cows had other ideas though.
"It wasn't quite as smooth as I imagined it to be," Travis says with a laugh.
While some of the cows were well-behaved, others went on explorations through neighbors' yards and had to be persuaded back onto their paths.
"They're definitely curious, friendly cows," Travis assures.
The herd's new home is at 35 Dairy Rd. -- the site of a large dairy farm that Monte says ceased operations about 10 years ago. Travis purchased the property a while back and has spent over a year fixing up the place in order to get it ready for milking.
Like his father's dairy, Travis' dairy is a member of the Organic Valley cooperative, which distributes milk and other dairy products all over the Pacific Northwest. Travis is a big supporter of organic farming and stresses the importance of improving cow's quality of life, as opposed to increasing its milk yield.
"Our philosophy is, 'Don't push the cow, take care of the cow,'" he explains.
His father's farm received its organic certification in 1996, long before organic farming was en vogue as it is today. At that time, the controversial hormone rBGH was gaining popularity among dairy farmers with large herds who wanted to boost their milk production. The market became flooded with milk and prices tumbled in response.
"It was real hard for the small farmer to make it," Travis says.
Monte decided his dairy would stay focused on quality, not quantity and find markets that value the same principles -- and value rich, wholesome Jersey milk.
"The premium is worth the effort," he says of the milk's quality.
And there is plenty of effort. Travis says his day starts "not too early" at 5:30 a.m. when he gets up to prepare for the morning milking and feeding. The stalls need to be mucked out twice a day, the cows need to be milked twice a day (6 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and the cows need to be fed four times a day (6 a.m., 10 a.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m.).
The food for the cows has to be top shelf too.
"When it's available, you have to have pasture for the cows," Travis explains. "They're not just feedlot animals."
Since the cows produce organic milk, both the pasture and the feed have to be certified organic as well. In the summer, cows are rotated through different parts of the pasture every 12 hours, with feeding time being interrupted with their bi-daily milkings.
As Travis' dairy starts to produce milk, Monte's will be slowing down a good deal. He says he'll keep around 20 Jerseys to produce milk for the cheese used by Trout Lake resident John Shuman in his Cascadia Creamery products. Monte, who bought the farm from his own father in 1970, has been dairy farming full-time for 43 years and is nearing retirement age.
Travis, who has four young children (and one on the way) with his wife, Karissa, says his kids enjoy helping on the farm. He notes that it's too early to tell if they will want to take over for him when he's ready to retire, but he hopes that they will.
"It's a good tradition," he says.