When you think of Montana, ranches and cattle often come to mind. Most people think of beef cows, which may make your mind wander to the taste of a great hamburger. If it does, don’t forget the cheese and something to wash it down with. We headed to the Bitterroot Valley for this Montana Made report where the Lifeline Farm prides itself on its dairy cows and the creamy goodness they produce.
Straight from the farm to your table is the motto that Lifeline Farm has lived and worked by for 40 years. Nestled in the heart of the Bitterroot Valley in Victor, Jennifer Holmes and her family run their herd of cows.
“The Bitterroot is a nice place to have a dairy in general because of the climate. The climate is a little more hospitable,” Holmes said.
Lifeline initially grew vegetables before adding dairy cows to diversify the operation and provide a source of on-farm fertility. Today, 300 Brown Swiss cows call the farm home.
“Brown Swiss have really nice milk for cheese making. They have the highest proteins and solid content of any milk so you get highest cheese yields,” Holmes explained. “That’s why the Swiss, who are known for their cheeses, raise Brown Swiss.”
It’s a quality that’s hard to miss if you’ve tried any of their products — whether it’s the milk or variety of cheeses.
The products are all processed at Lifeline’s Creamery Farm Store just down the road, allowing the dairy to support jobs and keep money in the local economy — which in turn keeps their dairy thriving during a time when many small dairies are dying.
“Right now, there’s a huge crisis in the dairy industry as far as price. Farmers are actually committing suicide because they are not getting paid what they need to get paid for their milk,” Holmes pointed out.
“A lot of that is two things. There’s consolidation within the dairy industry, so there are huge dairies with 30,000 cows and they are milking 30,000 cows and shipping milk all over the place so there is huge consolidation,” she continued.
“That’s just the opposite of what used to be when we had dairies all throughout the Bitterroot and small creameries in Stevensville, Corvallis and Hamilton. But, the great thing is we have a great customer base that recognizes what we do, what we do right,” Holmes said.
Cow happiness is number one at Lifeline Dairy according to Holmes. “We pasture our cows, we give them plenty of room. Even in winter…they can get out in the field and lay down and enjoy the sunshine just like us,” Holmes said.
Lifeline products can be found across the state and even Idaho and Wyoming. But, what Holmes says she enjoys most is meeting customers face to face.
“Oh hey… you know… that’s the cow I got my milk from and these are the people that the milk comes from,” Holmes said of her customers. “Because that’s something the large dairies also don’t have. They don’t have [a] personal relationship with their customers the stories of the cows, the stories of the people and so we try to communicate that as much as possible.”
Another perk to Lifeline Brown Swiss cows is that they are dual purpose — meaning the steers are raised for beef. That beef is all processed at the Lolo Meat Locker and can be purchased at Lifeline’s creamery in Victor.
- Reported by Justine Stewart/MTN News