Unusually, when Brian and Christina got married, this dynamic couple had two dairies from which to choose. Brian had been dairying with his dad and could have taken over that operation, and Christina was already running Full Circle Dairy in partnership with her parents, Ward and Rosie Burroughs.
The only question not in play was their devotion to each other and to agriculture. Farming runs generations deep in their blood on both sides, and neither questioned that as a career choice. As Brian points out, “We were so blessed to have a large land base from Ward and Rosie entrusted to our care that enables us to graze our jersey cows like they ought to be.”
Christina started Full Circle Dairy with her parents in 2001 as a result of her senior project in college: a feasibility study on starting a grass-based dairy. After graduation she was invited back to the family farm. Christina worked with her uncle on his dairy and with her dad, Ward, on his pasture-based beef operation, went to grazing school, and ultimately made the long trip to New Zealand to study their mostly-grass-based dairy operations.
“With that background and with my mom and dad’s help, I had the confidence to start Full Circle Dairy,” Christina says.
A few years later, Christina’s younger brother, Zeb, started California Cloverleaf Farms, also in partnership with their parents. Cloverleaf was organic right off the bat.
“That was the first organic dairy in the family,” Christina says. “Brian and I weren’t really passionate about it until we started having kids. We began to question the food we were producing because it was important for us to know we were putting only the best into their little bodies. Then with my dad and Zeb supporting us and giving us confidence, Brian and I certified Full Circle Dairy organic in 2007.”
Brian says, “Because we were already pasture-based, it took a few years for us to see whether organic made a difference. Our herd health was already good. But where I really saw improvement was in the pastures. We are continually working on balancing the soils and that’s important since healthy grass, healthy cows and healthy food all start in healthy soil.”
Christina adds, “I think it’s possibly harder to be an organic dairy farmer. You have to think outside the box and try hard to not just make it okay, but to make it better. My mom always said you want to leave it in better condition for future generations.”
These days Full Circle manages about 350 acres of irrigated pasture that’s thick with a variety of rye, orchard, brome grasses and clover. They inter-seed with summer annuals that will grow in weather extremes; temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley hover in the mid-90s most of the summer, and can dive into the 30s in December and January.
“It has been fun to educate about organic in our community,” Christina says. “When we have a barbecue here for our church, we provide Organic Valley milk. When people visit, they ask why the cows walk out to the grass fields after milking. We explain that it’s because the cows know where their food is. It’s a great opportunity to show people what we do and why, and then they get to taste the milk and taste the difference. We’re especially honored because Brian’s on the carton. We’d really like to thank Organic Valley for that.”