Thirty-two year-old Jana McClelland has deep ties to farm life in the Two Rocks area of Sonoma County. Her grandparents, Bob and Lillian, began McClelland Dairy in 1965. Before that, they dairyed in neighboring Marin County since 1938, where they started with six Brown Swiss cows they milked by hand. Using the slogan “From She to Thee”, Bob and Lillian McClelland bottled their milk and delivered it to families in the area. As Bob and Lillian’s granddaughter, Jana, will take over the home dairy one day, you could say the slogan is still appropriate.
Jana is a partner in McCelland’s dairy with her mom and dad, Dora and George. Between the three of them, they accomplish more in a day than most humans could claim to do in a month. There are roughly 1,500 acres of pasture and cropland to manage, cows to milk, calves to take care of, farm tours to conduct and a u-pick pumpkin patch to manage in the fall, not to mention the farm store and farmers markets to attend.
Somewhere in there, Jana managed to graduate from Cal Poly with a degree in Ag Business. When it comes time for her to take over McClelland’s Dairy on her own, you get the feeling it wouldn’t stretch this powerhouse of a young woman in the least.
“Our ranch is in a historic area called Two Rock,” Jana says. “Wagon trains coming west to Bodega Bay would use these two, huge rocks as a navigational landmark. My dad always says they should have called it ‘Many Rocks’, because there are rocks everywhere. One of our jobs as kids was picking rocks out of the fields.”
But, as Jana will tell you, it’s great for grazing.
“The farm has always been a pasturing operation but, since we’ve been organic for seven years, we’ve gotten into intensive rotational grazing. Instead of having just a few fields for our milking cows, we rotate them through 45 smaller paddocks on 500 acres. Grazing is a big part of our operation and continues to grow. We see the benefit in cow health, our milk and in our feed costs. The grazing practices we use are better for the environment, as well.
We’ve changed our pasture content management quite a bit, too. We’re dryland farming (there’s no groundwater to irrigate with), so we tinker with the mix constantly to keep grasses growing as much of the year as possible. The biggest challenge for graziers is always figuring out what works best in your area.”
Jana’s brother, Robert, and his wife, Jolynn, also transitioned their nearby ranch to organic, and the milk from their 200 cows ships to Organic Valley, as well. It still feels like one big family operation to Jana, though. “We work back and forth with each other and borrow each other’s equipment.”
On the home dairy, Jana and Robert’s mom, Dora, used to do the farming but has scaled back to helping more with the tours and managing the packaging of the artisanal butter they make right on the farm. George manages the pastures, the heifers (first year cows), and equipment and building maintenance. Jana manages the daily milking operation, sales and marketing for the butter, and sales and media for the u-pick pumpkin operation. “Basically, we do everything in house,” Jana says.
Jana had finished college and was back working on the dairy when the McClellands transitioned to organic in 2003. Jana’s dad was the instigator. “When we made the decision,” Jana says, “it went against everything I’d been taught to do, which was to maximize production. But my dad said we’ve been doing this maximum production thing for a while and we can’t compete with the larger dairies that are located in areas where feed costs and land values are lower. We should be looking into organic.
Now I can’t imagine not being organic. I wish we’d done it sooner. There’s definitely an adjustment period where you’re still trying to get the production you used to get. You have to wrap your head around the idea that you don’t need that much milk to be profitable. Plus the cows have more calves because they’re healthier and they live longer, you can sell the extra young stock and…Well, there’s just no way to wrap your head around it until you do it and see for yourself.”
The McClellands have changed up their herd dynamics, too. “Our breeding philosophy has changed to a more economically compact cow that can walk further, a more pasture-based cow. While we love our Holsteins, we have Jerseys now, too, and some Brown Swiss, the breed my grandparents started with. And you never know, we might end up cross breeding. You can’t stand still in this business.”
Jana McClelland standing still? Not a chance.