A little farm making special milk in Pennsylvania

There are a lot of little farms in our area trying to survive by diversifying what they offer and how they produce their product. The Warburton Farm, also called Sunset Ridge-Warburton Farm is one of those farms. What is now helping the farm survive is something that was started to help their youngest be able to consume dairy products after he was born with a condition that leaves him allergic to certain proteins, including those in milk. That’s an awkward and inconvenient development when the family owns a small dairy farm and everyone else can eat the yummy treats made from milk.

When Eileen, the little boy’s mom, heard about A2 milk through her oldest son, who was researching something else for a project for 4-H and read about it, she wondered if her youngest would be able to digest it. A2 milk refers to a type of beta-casein protein found in dairy cows. In A2 milk, the protein is broken down finely, which makes it easier for people with digestive issues to process dairy products. It is not the same as lactose-free milk, which those with a lactose intolerance can drink.

She looked for the milk in the United States, but instead only found it in Australia and New Zealand at the time. (It is produced on a large scale in the United States now.) Then she wondered if any of the Jersey cows from their small farm was carrying the A2 gene and since testing for the gene only takes sending a sample of the cow’s hair to a lab, she decided to check.

Cardinal was the first of the family farm’s cows to test positive for the gene and it turned out Eileen’s youngest could drink the milk, which made Eileen wonder how many other people might benefit from A2 milk from a local source. That launched the family onto a journey to obtain grant money for a bottling plant and pasteurization machine.

I took photographs for Eileen of Cardinal sometime last year (I think anyhow, since 2020 feels like 5 years in one) and that photo now adorns the labels for the milk they sell in local stores. Each of the last two years I have also taken a few photos of the family, her and her husband, the two boys and her in-laws, and of course, Cardinal.

It has become an annual highlight for me — seeing a family doing what they love, caring for their animals but also enjoying providing a locally produced product for their neighbors and others.

I lifted this photo from their Facebook page.

This year I dragged my dad along because he wanted to show me some of the family farms that have recently gone out of business (and there are quite a few, sadly). He enjoyed talking to Eileen’s in-law’s who he knows fairly well, we had a tour of the bottling plant, saw the new baby goats, and then set off at sunset to see one of the larger farms up the road.

It had rained while we were there and a misty fog was rising up from the valleys around us and the sunset was golden and magnificent. There is a local woman who posts beautiful sunset photos and I was determined to properly compete against her with a beautiful sunset photo.

I liked the sunset photo I got but was completely bowled over maybe a half an hour later when we ended up with a flat tire, along a tiny dirt road, and I looked across the field at an amazing sunset.

While Dad and The Boy changed the tire I climbed up a small incline, looked out over the field and watched the sunset change from bright golden to pink and purple and blue.

It appears a little darker in my photos than it actually was, but it was still spectacular. And to the left of it was the farm that only a few weeks ago had to sell it’s dairy cows, glowing a soft purple from the sunset.

I told my daughter, once the tire was fixed and we were on our way, that it is always an adventure when we head out somewhere with Grandpa. We never know what will happen or where we will end up. Luckily we ended up driving around a beautiful area and seeing a hard working farm family, some amazing scenery, a large herd of deer, rabbits, and an amazing sunset.

A new beginning for a small Northeastern Pennsylvania farm

” Don’t worry,” the 14-year-old told me as he climbed in the driver seat of the doorless Ranger all-terrain vehicle. “I’m a better driver than my mom.”

He grinned.

I knew he was talking about the bumpy, high-speed trip his mom had taken my husband on about a week before when the family’s cows escaped the pasture while my husband was there to do a story for the local weekly newspaper. His mom, Eileen Warburton, assured my husband that the escape wasn’t his fault, but rather the fault of an exuberant family dog who had startled the cows .

She didn’t normally drive so fast, she told me, but it was important to get ahead of the cows to try to herd them back into the fenced-in pasture. I couldn’t help wishing I had been there to see my semi-city slicker husband holding on to the grab handle of the Ranger for dear life, a look of sheer terror in his eyes as they careened over the dirt roads and muddy cow pasture.

I know, I have a warped, slightly sadistic sense of humor.

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More than once since visiting farms in our area I have been amazed by the knowledge, politeness, and efficiency shown by children who grow up on a farm. They are well spoken, mature and handle themselves better than many adults. They engage visitors to their farm with wisdom and a sense of professionalism that most businesses don’t even possess. Children who grow up on a farm are eager to tell you how the farm works, what the livestock eat, how they herd the cows, milk to the cows, feed the cows or pigs or any other variety of aspects of a working farm.

They are also almost always confident and not in the least bit intimidated to talk to adults. I’d have to say that most of the credit for the demeanor of a child or children who grow up on a farm goes to their parents and grandparents or whomever else they work with, and live with, on the farm. They are taught, first of all, hard work and with that hard work often comes a love for God, family, country, the land, and their livestock. For families who farm, especially on a small family farm, farming isn’t only a source of income, it’s an entire lifestyle.

“Is that mud on her side?” Eileen asked when the 14-year old, Blaine, walked their prize Jersey cow Cardinal out of the barn that day. “I guess we’ll have to wash her again.”

I don’t live a very exciting life so the idea of watching a cow being washed was exciting. I trailed along behind the boy and the cow somewhat like a giddy child who has been promised a trip to the playground. I’ve visited a few farms in the last couple of years while taking photos for a personal photo project focusing on the joys and trials of family farming. I’ve apparently grown accustomed to the smells of barns because I barely noticed when Cardinal decided to deposit a large amount of fresh manure while patiently waiting for Blaine to finish brushing and spraying her down. I am either accustomed to the smell or my clogged sinuses, courtesy of spring allergies blocked it from me.

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DSC_7812DSC_7816DSC_7820DSC_7823Off to one side of where the cleaning was happening, and behind the main barn, was a pile of stone and the future site of the family’s bottling facility for a future-planned business in processing A2 milk. According to the A2 Milk Company, all milk contains two different kinds of proteins – A1 and A2. A2 milk comes from cows who only produce the A2 protein.

Some dairy farmers say A2 milk is more easily digested by people who otherwise have difficulty digesting milk with both proteins. Those with lactose intolerance may be able to digest the A2 milk easier, but because their intolerance is to the sugar (lactose) in the milk, they would still need to consume the A2 milk with caution and maybe special enzymes, Eileen told me. Most people with lactose intolerance are able to drink lactose-free milk, such as the brand name Lactaid milk.

A quick search online will show you there is a quite a bit of controversy about the benefits of A2 milk for those who otherwise have difficulty digesting milk. Consumers seemed thrilled with the prospect of having access to milk that is potentially easier  to digest, but there are those in the dairy industry who are skeptical that there is any superior benefit of A2 milk. Some a market to promote it as a threat to the overall dairy industry.

“It’s just a theory at this point in time,” Greg Miller, National Dairy Council Chief Science Officer recently told CBS news. “There is no science that really says that there is any value in a2 protein milk relative to conventional milk. The two studies that were done were with a small number of subjects with different variables that don’t give us the answers we need to tell whether this is really true or not.”

For the Warburton family, scientific research wasn’t necessary. Anecdotal evidence was enough for them. Eileen’s 4-year-old son Marshal has been unable to digest milk or soy since birth, which presented a unique challenge for a child living on a dairy farm. When Eileen read about A2 milk being used in New Zealand she decided to explore the benefits of it further. She tried to order some of the milk for Marshal but the fees to ship it overseas was astronomical. That’s when she began to wonder if any of their own Jersey cows could be producers of A2 milk.

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She pulled hair from the tails of the cows, sent it to be tested and was told that out 10 of the 14 cows tested were A2 milk only producers. The proof would be in the chocolate milk, so to speak, something Marshal had always wanted to be able to consume like his older brother. When Marshal didn’t react to the special treat made with the A2 milk from Cardinal Eileen knew they were on to something. Her family began exploring options of bringing the milk to the area to benefit those with similar digestion issues as Marshal.

I was standing in the Warburton’s cow pasture on a warm May day to photograph the boys with their first A2 cow, Cardinal. Photographing Cardinal alone was also on the agenda. Like I’ve said before, it doesn’t take much to excite me so when we headed to the upper pasture with the boys and a wooden bench I was giddy once again but this time to see all the cows gathering around us like five-ton, manure covered and smelly, curious children.

Big brown eyes looked at us and broad noses sniffed and nuzzled to see if we’d brought any hay or grain. Once Blaine sat on the bench the ladies gathered around him in a semi-circle to see what their boy was doing.

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Standing on the hill, overlooking the rest of Forks and Overton Township and the Warburton’s farm, I thought about how blessed my family is to live in an area where children are taught from a very early age about hard work and respect for the land, animals, and nature. We are blessed to have people living around us who have personal knowledge of, and a part in, where our food comes from.

I’ve learned in the last couple of years that working and living on a small family farm is not easy, but it is worth it in ways that have nothing to do with money.

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To learn more about A2 milk, visit A2 Milk Company’s site HERE or check out the story below that CBS Morning featured in 2017. The Rocket-Courier also published a story about the farm on their site today and that story can be found via their website HERE. 

 

 

To read more of the posts I’ve featured about farming or farms in our area, click on the following links:

Tell Me More About . . . Mark Bradley, dairy farmer

The Heartache is Real as Family Farms Start to Fade Away

The Farm

The State of Dairy Farming in Pennsylvania

Tell Me More About . .  . Engelbert Farms, Nichols, N.Y.