Healthy, Happy Cows and Goats
The philosophy of Camelot Cattle Company is that well cared for animals are happy animals, and happy animals produce the best milk.
Marc and Michelle DeLong have been offering raw milk from their registered herds of Jersey cows and Nubian goats, along with a line of skin care products made at the farm by Michelle, for a couple of years, but thanks to an increased demand for their home-grown products, the couple remodeled their 1800s barn to Grade A status, added a bottling room and opened a self-service store in December 2016 at their rural Stone County, Mo., farm outside of Marionville, Mo.
Marc’s roots run deep in the dairy industry. His parents, Ron and Patty DeLong, are members of the Missouri Dairy Hall of Fame, and the family produced many premier animals during their more than four decades in the Holstein and Jersey industry.
Michelle was a city girl, growing up in the Springfield, Mo., area, but she became engrossed in horses. Eventually, Michelle began milking for the DeLongs, and she and Marc married six years ago.
“I really didn’t want to milk, but we got married and started milking,” Michelle recalled with a laugh.
While it wasn’t initially in the “plans” to go back to milking when the DeLongs sold the larger dairy, Marc kept back some of the better cows and heifers, not knowing fully what they would do.
“We decided to try and do something,” Marc said. “It was Michelle’s idea, actually.”
“It started with just one cow and she is actually still our best producer,” Michelle said. “She was giving about 80 pounds a day and we thought that was a good start.”
The goal for Camelot Cattle Company is to have 10 cows milking year round in order to be consistent in the availability of milk.
“We want milk for our customers when they want it,” Marc said. “We don’t want to have any slack. There are other people who will just quit in the winter months, and some just really cut back and slow down, but most people don’t do things the way we do.”
While producing milk for their customers is important, Marc said there is much more to Camelot Cattle Company.
“I just really like breeding good cows,” he said. “These are good genetics; we do all AI breeding and are working to produce merchandise cows.”
“The cows we have now are the absolute best cows his family developed over 40 years, so we weren’t starting from scratch,” Michelle added. “There’s years and years of breeding done by his family in the works here.”
In addition to high-quality cows, Marc and Michelle insist that their barn and facilities are held to a high standard. The pipeline system allows the milk to go straight from the cow into the cooling tank to await bottling, which is done daily, and all facilities are cleaned daily.
“We don’t even handle the milk,” Michelle said. “Nothing gets into the milk. The cows are bathed regularly and their hair is kept short; everything is done how it should be.”
Cows are also tested monthly and the DeLongs said they have never had an issue with somatic cell counts.
“We keep everything clean and healthy,” Michelle said. “If you keep the cows happy and healthy, it’s usually not a problem.”
While the couple could sell their Jersey milk to a processor, they have no desire to change.
“I’m not going to let someone sitting in an air conditioned office tell me what he’s going to pay me for my milk,” Marc said. “It’s my milk, my farm, my cows.”
When asked how Nubian goats became a part of their operation, Marc simply pointed to Michelle and smiled.
“I got into it so I could make soap,” she said. “When I met Marc, I actually had more than 80 goats. I would just buy goats if I liked them; they weren’t even all the same breed. He said I needed to buy the best quality I could afford, so I sold all of my goats and started with some really nice registered Nubians.
“I was getting milk, but I didn’t look at the quality of the udder and the animal. I didn’t know that the quality of the udder had something to do with the milk; it was a milk goat and it gave milk.”
Milk from the goats is bottled for sale, and Michelle makes water-free, natural goat milk soap and skin care items, which can also be purchased in the store.
Like the cattle, close attention is given to goat genetics. The DeLongs selling kids, both doelings and bucklings, to other producers across the country, and all of the kids for the 2018 season are spoken for.
The couple follows the same “healthy and happy” philosophy with their goats and monitor herd health closely. The herd is tested annually for CAE with no positive results, and all animals are G6S Normal either by DNA test or parentage.
“We get the best bloodlines we can, from wherever they are,” Michelle said.
While raw milk from the Jersey herd is available year round, the Nubians are seasonal breeders.
“They take January and February off, and kid in March,” Michelle explained, adding that she wants to keep her milking doe number to about six or eight head.
The DeLongs do not promote their milk as organic or claim any classification other than high-quality milk from high-quality cows and goats. Camelot Cattle Company’s dairy herds are grass based, and are given only a small amount of grain while in the milking parlor. They produce their own hay, which is a mix of grass, clover and alfalfa. The animals also have access to free choice salt and trace minerals, as well as organic kelp.
“We really don’t have any problems, but if I’ve got something sick, I’m going to doctor it.” Marc said. “We will dump their milk, but we aren’t going to let anything suffer.”
While Jersey cattle and Nubian goats might appear to be an odd pairing, Michelle said the two actually complement each other.
“Nubians are the Jerseys of the goat world,” Michelle said. “We just want to offer raw, whole, unprocessed milk from both the cows and the goats. Our milk is handled right and as fresh as you can get it.”
“People say our Jersey milk is like ice cream,” Marc added. “We’ve got customers who say our milk is the best they have ever had. The quality of the animals and the way we handle our milk is why; it’s done right.”