The Mahrt’s started out with sheep, because Garry preferred ovines, but eventually the sheep took a back seat to bovines when Gillian bought 27 Jersey-Holstein heifers from a neighbor farmer.
Today, the Mahrts milk about 200 Jersey and Jersey-Swedish Red crossbred cows.
Though they transitioned to organic in 2005, Gillian says, “We were pretty close to organic before that. We’ve always grazed our animals. Why buy expensive hay when there’s plenty of rich grass? Knowing your land intimately really helps you use it more wisely. We’d worked the ranch for a while and set up paddocks for the sheep so they could be rotationally grazed.”
Grazing the animals made as much sense to Gillian as it does to other farmers in Sonoma County, who’d learned long ago that their Mediterranean climate was good for pasture, not crops. Growing up in England had predisposed her to grazing animals as a matter of course, and an internship in Australia taught her plenty about dry land farming.
Gillian and Garry dairy seasonally today. Since they’d both worked on seasonal dairies while they were in Australia, “We just thought that was the proper way to do it,” Garry says.
Gillian adds, “I like the idea of having all the calves born in the spring and getting that process out of the way. That’s the way it’s done in the wild. There are spring grasses coming on to sustain the mother so she can produce milk for her young, so it seems a more natural way to do things. There aren’t any barns to clean out other than the milking parlor. The milking herd goes out right after milking into a fresh paddock and they graze until it’s time to milk again. It’s very simple.”