It’s been more than 40 years since customers have been able to buy pure Guernsey milk at the grocery store, but that changed this week when Jim Eby received his first shipment of 100 per cent Guernsey milk from his dairy herd on his farm near Conestogo.
“It’s a little overwhelming, because no one has done this before,” he said on Tuesday afternoon at his farm, Eby Manor.
“We’re breaking new territory.”
For decades, milk in Canada has been marketed as just that – milk. Eby said the industry’s marketing board has discouraged differentiation within the industry for decades in order to promote the sheer volume of sales.
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As a result, dairy breeds like his Guernsey cows tended to be pushed to the wayside in favour of higher producing cattle breeds like Holsteins, which produce up to 30 per cent more milk. While farmers still had heads of Guernsey cattle in their operations, their milk was simply mixed into the pool of other milk heading to processing plants and lost all of its unique qualities.Thanks to the breed’s unique genetic makeup, milk from Guernsey cattle is higher in Omega 3, Beta Carotene, and A-2 protein than other dairy breeds, Eby said, adding that the milk marketing board has changed its thinking in recent years, opening the door for him to market his own brand of milk under the board-controlled Golden Guernsey label.
“What they’ve done now is that they’ve come to realize that people want choice, so the board’s mindset has changed and they’re open to allowing farmers and producers to find niche markets for their milk.”
He says he is the only farmer in Canada now selling 100 per cent pure Guernsey milk to the public, and he estimates that less than one per cent of all farms in Ontario are solely Guernsey operations.
The milk is not processed on site and Eby pays to have a truck come to his farm and transport his milk to Hewitt’s Dairy in Hagersville to be pasteurized and processed separately from other milk, a strategy that will actually save Eby money in the long run by not requiring him to build his own processing plant on the farm and have to conform with food inspection policies.
The milk is sold to the marketing board, which then sells it to Hewitt’s Dairy for processing, and it is sold back to Eby at the same price that the marketing board paid for it, minus the shipping and processing costs.
The first 500 litres arrived in an air-conditioned truck this week and that milk has been shipped to some 20 stores throughout the region and even as far as Toronto and should be on shelves now. Local retailers include Kitchen Kuttings in Elmira and Hilltop Acres Poultry in Breslau.
“That’s all we figure we’ve got sales for right now, and we have another order for 500 (litres) next week, and we hope we can start growing it,” said Eby. His 60 head of cattle can produce about 1,200 litres of milk every day, so 500 litres of sales in the first week is but a drop in the bucket of what he can potentially produce should interest continue to grow.
“There’s definitely an interest there, and it’s definitely a niche market. It’s not going into the national grocery stores – we can’t compete with their price – and so it’s going to be treated as a specialty product.”
The milk will be sold in retro glass bottles and retail for between $3.70 and $3.90 per litre, which is about the same as certified organic and other niche milk in the grocery store now. He chose the glass bottles not only because milk tastes fresher than from a plastic container, but because glass is better for the environment, he said.
While his milk is not certified organic, Eby said customers will be enticed by the extra health benefits that his milk offers over traditional milk.
“What’s in our milk you’ll find in milk of all breeds, just the quantities are higher (in Guernsey),” said Eby. “It’s just the breed. It’s their genetics.”
The first bottle off the truck went to Paul and Cathy Noble, who raise Guernsey cattle on their farm in Moorefield. They bought the bottle at the annual Guernsey breeders annual meeting in March, and paid handsomely for it; $80.
“It’s great because I believe the consumer is looking for local, and looking for choice,” said Paul after taking a drink out of the first bottle. “Here’s an opportunity for the first time in 40 years to get Guernsey Golden milk. What a great opportunity.”
The ability to market his own milk to the public is a dream come true for Eby, a second-generation Guernsey farmer whose father Howard started the farm back in 1959.
“It’s always been a dream to see Guernsey milk marketed again, because that’s why my Dad got into the breed in the first place. I’ve always had that dream but never really expected to see it come to fruition in my lifetime.”