It was a rainy saturday afternoon when we drove into the Schibli's driveway. We didn't know what to expect. We got their number as a tip the evening before and called before they had warning that their number was even given out. As we pulled to a stop two dogs approached. From inside the house we could hear some strikingly Swiss music. Yodelling perhaps. Suddenly the larger dog had a piece of meat about the size of the smaller dog to keep him quiet.
Anita came out to greet us. She was pleasant, but had no idea why we were there. Karl came around and was equally guarded. But they opened up quickly as we got to know them and discovered we share a lot of ideals.
Karl and Anita have 250 Acres just outside Waterford, Ontario where they raise 100 Brown Swiss cows, milking just over 40. The cows have 30 acres of pasture and the rest of the land is split up between hay for the winter, and soy, spelt, oats and peas, for grain.
Karl slowly trailed the herd up the lane on his quad as Jesse's mom, Jane chatted with Anita. When Karl was close, he said that one of the cows had just given birth to a calf in the field. He asked for some help to bring the calf to the barn, so we piled in his truck and drove back. We took our two year old with us, and what a beautiful sight he saw - A solitary cow standing over her minutes-old calf in the field. Karl told everyone to stay in the truck and to watch out for the mom. On the trip back to the barn he told us that when he had conventional, non-organic cows only 2 out of 5 cows would actually stick with the calf and protest if you tried to take it. Since going organic 49 out of 50 cows actively protect its calf being taken. And you better watch out!
The mother followed the truck the entire way back to the barn and Karl carried the new calf into the barn where they were reunited.
As 5 o'clock rolled around, the brown swiss beauties moved their way into the barn for milking. Amazingly they all backed into the stall ready to be milked. Karl and Anita cleaned the udders and attached the milking machines. Their routine was smooth, and they seemed to enjoy the process. They get an average of 700 Litres of milk a day from their cows, keeping some aside for the calves, and some for personal consumption. The rest is picked up and goes into the pool for Harmony Organic Milk.
Karl and Anita made the switch to organic over 10 years ago and are quite passionate about it. Being tired of scheduled visits from the vet, antibiotics, and supplements, they decided to give up the cows and focus on organic crops. When they began to transition the land, they were forced to transition the cows. And once they did that, as Karl says, the cows "came alive."
At one point Jesse asked a burning question for him. "Do you drink their milk?" Implying raw milk. Karl laughed, and at first we weren't sure what that meant. But he quickly followed it up with "Of course!" He explained all the wonderful things about milk. That it's alive, and that when you pasteurize it, you not only kill the bad, but you also kill the good.
There's a big debate over raw milk, and I wouldn't drink the raw milk from a regular conventional dairy cow. But seeing these cows eating their natural diet, on a small ration of grain made me a little thirsty for something humans have been drinking raw for centuries, in the state God made it.
Jesse then asked Karl if he could try some, and he said "No." We knew buying raw milk is illegal, but so is giving it away. Karl and his family are allowed to drink it, including his grandchildren, but he can't give any to his employees who aren't family. He thinks we couldn't even drink it if we were invited over dinner and it was served on the table.
After visiting the Schibli farm, I know that this is the sort of place I want my milk to come from. We went back shortly after our first visit to ask a few more questions, one of which was "How can we get a cow?" I think Jesse's mom is going to get one. They have more than enough room and we'll help out whenever we can. And that'll get us over one of the biggest hurdles on our journey away from the supermarket - milk.
Enjoy the movie. Jesse says full-screen is best.