On September 20, 1985, we left The Netherlands thinking we were going to take a vacation in Florida to see if there were possibilities to start a dairy.
We found a Dutch couple that needed help badly but could not afford it. They were willing to let us use 40 acres and their milking barn to milk 55 cows we leased with the $5,000 savings we had and his 180 cows 2x a day. This is how Working Cows Dairy was founded. During the 2 summers we were there, Jan planted watermelons on part of the 40 acres and ran a fruit stand in Cottondale, FL to make extra money.
We stayed there for 2 years and found a small dairy about 20 miles down the road we could rent. We moved our belongings:
- Mobile home
- Pick-up truck
- 29 cows, paid for
Growing Our Family
We stayed in Grand Ridge Florida for 4 years and had 3 boys born there: Jonny, Mendy, and Ike. We moved our way up with Jan still planting watermelons and cantaloupes in summer months and Rinske doing most of the milking. After 4 years, the lease was up and could no longer be extended. We looked at a lot of places to see if we could build a small dairy barn, found many away from bigger towns, but with 3 little boys that wasn’t an option for us. Until one day in the Hoard’s Dairymen (a dairy magazine), we found 80-acres for sale where we still are in Slocomb, AL.
A week later, we moved now with:
- 3 boys
- Mobile home
- Pick-up truck
- 220 cows, paid for
- lots of small equipment
At this farm, there was a double 8 milking barn, feed barn, a shop, and working pens. We milked our cows 3x a day to make our new payment for the farm work. We grew our dairy by buying an additional 350 acres and building cooling barns, a 48-stall carousel milking barn, and a free-stall barn for 480 cows.
Now we were milking 750 cows, caring for an additional 150 dry cows and lots of calves, plus had 18 employees. Every dollar bill that came in went out right away to pay bills. At that point, we decided this was not our goal when we came to America, all we wanted was having a profitable small dairy.
Organic, Grass-Fed, Animal-Welfare Approved
In October 2006, we made the decision to go into “niche” marketing of organic products and transitioned our land and cows. Since November 1, 2009, all cows and land have been Certified Organic. We had a contract with a big organic processor and after 2 ½ years they could not pay us any more for organic milk (they really had thought more dairies would move to organics). At that time we switched from being a grain-fed dairy to an Animal Welfare Approved, 100% Grass-Fed dairy.
On May 28, 2010, we started bottling our own milk. First, it was just whole milk gallons and half-gallon, and a little later also chocolate milk. About 2 years into it, we started to separate our milk and offer heavy whipping cream, 2%, and fat-free milk too. Our production for years has been more than enough in the springtime.
Award-Winning Farmstead Cheese
We finally put our money into a cheese plant in 2016 (in the old milking barn). Rinske started to make her first cheese on February 18, 2017 and has learned a lot the last couple of years from YouTube and visiting a dairy farm and cheese maker in Fryslan (the province in The Netherlands with lots of dairies and where we are from). For the first couple of years, we made raw milk cheeses and last year went to pasteurized milk cheese. We love this cheese and had seen that we could send in a sample for a competition for the Good Food Foundation. Sure enough, on January 17, 2020, Rinske won the award with: