A look inside Bonner County’s only Grade A cow dairy
By Abigail Thorpe
Photo Courtesy of Pleasant Meadow Creamery
Drive down Dufort Road in Sagle, and tucked back in off a side road you’ll find Pleasant Meadow Creamery, a family owned, family run dairy that produces milk the gold old-fashioned way, and where the cows still graze freely in the fields. It’s Bonner and Kootenai counties’ only Grade A cow dairy, and as you drive up you can glimpse the Guernsey cows roaming contentedly in one of the several open fields.
The Herndon family owns and runs the dairy, which first started back in 2011 with one Guernsey cow, a commercial castoff from Lynden, Washington. But before she arrived, a dairy farm, and indeed cows themselves, weren’t in the picture at all.
The Herndons moved from Colorado to South Sandpoint in 2004 and, the following year, discovered 20 acres out in Sagle that was mostly flat, wooded and had a stream running through it—the perfect place to build their home. That spring they moved onto the property and built the first barn and an apartment above to live in, and in 2006, they introduced goats to the family acreage for personal milk. But there were two drawbacks to goats. One, when you have a surplus of milk, no one wants it. Second, they only milk five or six months out of the year with any volume. And so entered the first Herndon family cow.
Soon she was producing too much for the family to consume, and they started selling to friends in Ball half-gallon jars. By the time their first Guernsey arrived, the family had added an additional 20 acres to their land and needed a cow to graze it. Soon, that one cow would grow to several, and those 40 acres became Pleasant Meadow Creamery.
The Herndons were selling in one store under the Idaho Small Herd Exemption, and their raw guernsey milk was gaining traction—they couldn’t produce enough for demand. Today, they milk 17 cows, with six additional cows in line to join over the next year and a half.
They are now a licensed Grade A Idaho dairy and will have their organic certification by the end of this summer. Their ladies still graze out on the fertile soil every day, and you can find Pleasant Meadow Creamery milk in multiple stores throughout Bonner, Boundary and Kootenai counties.
The entire family works the farm—Paul and his wife Debra and their son and three daughters. The family is up and out the door of the main house Paul built in 2010 at 5:45am every morning. “Our lives are seven days per week and at least 12 hours per day, between our multiple jobs and school. There is little time for recreation in a family dairy, but we do love what we do and derive pleasure from it,” says Paul.
Each family member has a specific job. Paul handles providing hay on hay days—certified organic clover/grass hay that they produce on a leased 20 acres and has the same nutrients as the fresh grass the cows graze in summer. He’s also responsible for managing the herd—any breeding that needs to be done, natural health care for the cows and keeping detailed records of everything. When he’s not wandering the fields or one of the several barns or buildings he built from the ground up, he’s upstairs working at his private CPA practice, a trained eye always on the fields analyzing the cows’ behavior.
If a cow’s in distress, Paul is the one who tends to it. The family uses natural remedies and herbal tinctures for pretty much everything, a process they’ve found much more successful and healthy for the herd than using conventional medicine and antibiotics. It also allows them to remain organic, as one antibiotic or inorganic supplement, and that cow has to be removed from the herd and production.
Paul and Debra’s three daughters feed the calves, clean pens, fill waters and more, and their son works full time milking the herd two times a day, every day but Sunday; Sunday Paul milks. Debra records the prior day’s production each morning and plans for bottling on their four bottling days.
On these days, bottling starts around 7:30am, and the van is loaded around 9am for distribution to their stores. “An average day is every day of the year,” laughs Paul. The evenings end with more feedings, cleaning and care, but the family is all in it together.
It’s not every day you get to see a working dairy farm, one family at the helm. Standing in the production facility—which Paul, of course, built himself, including all of the electrical, two books in hand, teaching himself the process from start to finish, just like he did dairy farming—you can see the herd of Guernseys wandering the frozen fields. One of them, Lava, enjoying the warmth of the barn while paying two friendly calves a visit.
Each member of the herd is like a family friend. They all have names—if you watch closely as they’re mentioned, they’ll turn their head and look at you as if they know you’re talking about them. The family chose Guernseys because they have a reputation for producing the highest quality, best-tasting milk, and they graze their cows because it produces a better tasting milk that is healthier for consumption. The fresh grass helps produce a better combination of fatty acids in the milk, making it better for human health, and the results show. Lab analysis has shown the milk is higher in fat percentage, protein, enzymes, and has a better balance of omega 3 and 6 than conventional milk.
“The testimony of our customers is what proves to us that this is a product that is special,” explains Paul. “First and foremost, the number one compliment is that this is the best-tasting milk people have ever had. The second biggest compliment comes from people who had given up drinking milk believing it was incompatible with their bodies—until they tried ours and discovered it was quite compatible.”
Their organic processes extend to the fields, where they adhere not only to the standards, but the principles of being organic. “All human health starts in the soil,” believes Paul. “On our farm, the wildlife, from soil on up, has increased year after year. It is a joy to be such a mecca of wild bugs, birds, plants and animals, in addition to the farm animals. It is symbiosis.”
You’ll always find Pleasant Meadow in a glass bottle, partly to keep plastic from landfills and oceans, and partly because the glass helps preserve the delicious flavor of the raw, unpasteurized milk, which is more palatable and beneficial for human digestion and health than homogenized, pasteurized milk. And the family can’t keep their milk on the shelves of the 12 retail stores they stock.
“What is most rewarding are the accolades on the quality of the product we receive from our customers,” explains Paul. “The reason we do this is because it is so well received. If it was not, we would easily be doing something else. Praise on the quality is what keeps us continuing to do the incredibly hard work.”
You can find their milk in Yoke’s, Winter Ridge, and all of the Super 1 Foods from Bonners Ferry to Post Falls, as well as at Pilgrim's Market in Coeur d’Alene and Only Local in Westmond. You’ll notice a soft golden hue to the milk—a result of the beta carotene from grass passing directly into the fat of the animal and into the milk—and the reason they call it “Golden Guernsey Goodness.”
You can find out more about Pleasant Meadow Creamery on their website at PleasantMeadowCreamery.com.