Although John has always farmed close to organic, being certified has caused him to hone his management skills, and he finds himself "more on top of things." This attention to the details helps his cows at the same time it helps his bottom line.
"The longer I farm organically, the fewer problems I have," John says. "My animals are healthier. It's interesting to watch how it just gets better and better." He credits the increased range of homeopathic and natural treatments available to farmers today for making life easier for organic farmers. Breeding cows with an eye toward health and longevity also eases a lot of farmers' worries, as tendencies for illness decrease and the lifespan of the herd extends. And proper pasture management-allowing cows the forage they are naturally inclined to eat-simply makes for healthier, happier cows.
"I love my cows! Anyone who visits our farm can see that," John says. "I like to give them choices—of what fields they want to graze in, or what kind of hay they might prefer. Cows have to have a choice. You have to, in a sense, put yourself in the cow's position."
When Organic Valley approached John as a prospective milk producer, he was drawn to its cooperative model. He joined the Organic Valley truck in 2005, and has fed off the support and sharing of information amongst members. "I feel like I have a say in the co-op about things that are important to me such as quality of milk and getting information about farmers out to consumers," John explains. "I like the idea of giving consumers a look into our lives, so they can get a little taste of what it is like to be a farmer."