Talking to Edwina Price on any given day might involve holding on a minute while she puts away the baby raccoon that’s tearing around the house. But that’s the way it is at Price Dairy. Everybody has a place to call home on this 162-acre farm in Tillamook County, Oregon. They lease an additional 130 acres of pasture nearby.
A typical day on the Price’s farm begins at the breakfast table with Edwina and three of her grown sons who run the farm. George, Joe and Mike plan the day’s work over a good meal, and then they’re off to feed and milk 290 Jersey/Holstein cows, move fence to fresh pasture, re-set irrigation lines, clip silage, or any of the hundred and one things that might be on tap depending on the time of year. Some days they can hear the Pacific Ocean pounding the coast line barely a mile over the low hills that surround their valley. Only two of Edwina’s five children are absent from this daily gathering: her second oldest son, Andy, who is on his third tour of duty in Iraq, and her daughter, Kimberly, who is about to move to Nebraska with her husband.
The Price’s have been dairying since the 1960s. Edwina divorced in 1980 but continued to run her dairy with the help of her children when they weren’t in school. In 1996 she decided to move the family from Washington to Oregon when it looked as if development was about to overtake their farm.
It took them five years to find the right place. They even considered moving to Nebraska at one point when that state was making a push to bring in dairies. Trouble was, Edwina says, “The banks wanted you to start at 1,000 cows and double to 2000 within 2 years. It wasn’t for us. We’re just not that kind of people.”
Finally in 2001, they found the land in Oregon, which had once been a dairy. “The pastures were in fair shape, but all the buildings were worn out. The milk house and parlor were held together with baling twine and come-alongs. The boys built their own parlor.”
What appealed to them most about the new farm was their ability to pasture much of the year. “We were always a pasture-based dairy, even when we were conventional,” Edwina says. “We were basically doing organic from the get go. For several years our vet and our nutritionist kept saying ‘Why don’t you just go organic? You’re already doing it.’”
Edwina says she was the foot-dragger when it came to the transition, but the boys talked her into it. The Price Dairy has been with Organic Valley since April 2007 and, Edwina says, “It has made a drastic difference in our lives. We like the feeling of Organic Valley. We like the people.”
When we went fully organic we dropped our grain ration quite a bit. Thirty to forty pounds of grain per cow per day is the norm for conventional dairying. Now we supplement the pasture diet with about 12 pounds a day in winter and less in the summer when the pasture’s in full growth. We lost some production but in the long run the cows are much healthier, they live longer, and they’re walking much better. We rarely have hoof problems now like you get in conventional operations. The mindset of the cows when they’re on grass is so much better. They’re happier. You can tell when the grass is starting to get ready in the spring because they can hardly wait to get out there.”
To keep the pastures healthy, the Prices balance the soil pH with lime and fertilize with manure. A no-till drill allows them to drill-seed clover and perennial rye into the pastures to fill out the mix which includes orchard grass, a power house plant for graziers and cows alike. The Prices also practice rotational grazing, which benefits the pastures and the cows. The pastures don’t get eaten down to the nub so the plants recover more readily, and the cows always have the tastiest and most nutritional parts of the plants to graze.
There are quite a few dairies in south Tillamook County, and a typical day for Edwina Price is as social as it is full of surprises. “After the family breakfast I go into Cloverdale and have coffee at the Black Tail Café with the other dairy women. Then I’m back to cook lunch for everybody, unless they’re working in the fields, in which case I take lunch out to them. Sometimes if we’re working together with other farm neighbors we take turns taking lunch out. We’re really lucky to have such great neighbors. We share equipment and chores. Farming is hard enough as it is. You really need to cooperate with each other.”