ELON, NC — When Organic Valley came to North Carolina almost 10 years ago, the dairies that signed up had to source their feed from out of state.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of organic going on in North Carolina then,” said George Teague, owner of Reed Fork Farm, an organic dairy and feed mill.
When Teague converted his dairy in 2007, he decided to start a mill for himself and his fellow organic dairy farmers. “It’s just sort of snowballed from there,” he said.
Today, Teague markets the organic feed from his mill to both dairy farmers and backyard farmers. His feed is found in about 40 stores around North Carolina and beyond.
He sells organic oats, corn, wheat and barley, as well as feed mixes for hogs, broilers, pullets, layers, sheep, goats, ducks, horses, turkeys and of course cows.
Some of the grain he processes he grows himself. For the remainder, he sources as much as possible from other Old North State farmers, going out-of-state only when there is no in-state option.
At first, Teague used a portable mill, but in 2010 he invested in a stationary mill. Two years ago, he also bought a press.
“I needed oil for chicken feed,” Teague said, “so I decided to press my own rather than buy oil.”
Right now he presses flax and sunflower. (Soybeans are just roasted, as some of his backyard farmers prefer soy-free products.)
Recently, Teague has expanded his direct marketing efforts. He built an on-farm store, and goes to a local farmers market. He sells certified organic beef and eggs from 700 pastured hens he added about a year ago. He’s also getting ready to sell food-grade flaxseed oil and sunflower oil.
With so much growth in his mill, the size of Teague’s milking string has decreased, from about 160 to about half that. He would like to get back to the 100 to 150 range. Some of his cows are full-bred Holsteins, while others are Jersey crosses.
Overall, Teague has been happy with the switch to organic. “The cows are happier, we’re happier,” he said.
One tool Teague has found indispensable in his switch to organic dairying is a fly vacuum, developed at North Carolina State, with a grant from Organic Valley. Teague has the device situated on the alleyway that leads from his parlor to the pastures.
“I wouldn’t dairy without it now,” Teague said. “It really does a nice job.”
The dairy does do a lot of grazing, with ryegrass and oats early on, perennial stands of orchard grass and clover, and warm season use of sorghum sudangrass.
Teague is no stranger to innovation. In 1987 he installed a 16-stall Rotaflo rotary parlor, which floats on water. “I wanted to be able to milk by myself,” Teague said. The system is designed to use the float water for washing up. The float water is then replenished.
The farm, which has been in the family since the 1800’s, became a dairy in the 1950’s under the guidance of Teague’s father Franklin. “He’s very supportive of what we’re doing,” Teague said.