Dairy Farmers Make ‘Rich’ Investment
Will Brothers Expand Mt. Crawford Operation To Include Creamery
Posted: March 29, 2013
The Mount Crawford Creamery, owned by brothers Frank and Kenny Will and located on their farm in Mount Crawford, is slated to be up and running by the end of March, at which time the brothers hope to increase milk production from 500 gallons to 1,000 gallons per day. The Wills say they were prompted to invest in the new operation after milk prices nosedived in 2009, a development that threatened their farm and livelihood. (Photo by Nikki Fox)
Frank Will talks about plans for the shop area in the new creamery building on the brothers’ farm. The Wills plan to sell non-homogenized dairy products, including skim, 2 percent, whole and chocolate milk, as well as butter and cream. (Photo by Nikki Fox)
While the diets of the Holstein dairy cows on Frank and Kenny Wills’ farm in Mount Crawford are supplemented with forage and grain, the cows have daily access to pasture as well. (Photo by Nikki Fox)
Kenny Will walks through the new creamery building he built with brother Frank on the site of their farm. The creamery is slated to be up and running by the end of March. (Photo by Nikki Fox)
The building is standing at attention, ready for gallons of fresh cow milk to make its way from the milking barn behind it to the store at its front.
Come March, their operation — dubbed Mount Crawford Creamery — will be the only creamery in the area processing and selling their products on the same site, the owners say.
It will also be one of only a handful of milk processing facilities in Virginia. Shenville Creamery east of Timberville was among the oldest in the state before bankruptcy forced the operation to close in 2004.
“I think a lot of people are looking to see what happens with us,” said Frank Will, explaining that other local dairy farmers interested in making the investment in a creamery may be holding off to see what happens with this one.
Will, 53, owns the 85-head dairy farm with his brother, Kenny Will, 55. It’s been in the family since 1924, passing through several generations before landing into the current owners’ hands.
The brothers have been selling about 500 gallons of milk each day to Dairy Farmers of America, a Kansas City-based cooperative.
They’re hoping to increase their output to roughly 1,000 gallons per day so they’ll have enough milk to sell skim, 2 percent, whole and chocolate milk on site, as well as cream and butter.
They’re also hoping to sell from several stores within a roughly 20-mile radius of the farm. The team could start selling ice cream if business goes well, which is essential to the future of the farm.
In 2009, the Wills’ operation was dangerously close to going under.
Like most dairy farmers in the nation, the brothers struggled to keep their heads above water when milk prices plummeted and feed costs rose.
“That was a depression for milk,” Frank Will said. “In two months’ time, the price almost fell in half. It’s been tough ever since. We haven’t been able to catch up.”
The maze of stainless steel pipes and containers in the back of their new white building is a bold attempt to do just that.
“We either had to do something different or quit,” Frank Will said.
They’re certainly not quitting. The brothers are hoping to benefit from the booming local foods trend that’s been sweeping the nation the last few years by offering non-homogenized dairy products as fresh from the farm as you can get. Homogenization is a process that breaks down fat globules, dispersing the fat throughout the milk rather than collecting it as cream on the top.
State law requires pasteurization of all milk sold for consumption. But the Wills are using low-temperature vat pasteurization — a method of slowly heating milk for longer than larger processors would and then quickly cooling it to maintain as much flavor and nutritional value as possible.
While the cows’ diets are supplemented with forage and grain, they have daily access to pasture.
The farmers practice crop rotation, strip-cropping on steeper slopes and no-till planting, which are all considered eco-friendly techniques.
Frank Will said the fact that the milk will be sold literally inches away from where it’s processed means “you’ll know exactly where your milk’s coming from.”
With a smile, he adds: “We’re hoping all these people with the ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local’ bumper stickers really mean it.”
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org