A year ago this month, we published an article on the increased demand for non-dairy drinks made from nuts, oats, and coconut. Despite the high demand for these beverages, most people in Illinois still prefer milk from cows.

Unfortunately, there has been a nationwide decrease in the number of dairy farms. Between 2003 and 2020, in the U.S., the number of dairy farms is reported to have decreased by 55%. Illinois is no exception as the number of dairy farms continues to decline annually.

Go big or go home seems to be the message across the farming industry. Most dairy farms in America are family-run operations that sell their milk to a commercial processing facility where it is combined with milk from other farms. Individual farmers don't set the price for their milk. They also don't have the assurance that they will make enough money to cover their costs. This financial uncertainty and federal regulations have caused the consolidation of many farming communities into the hands of agribusiness.

We know that farmers are nothing if not resilient. Here in Illinois, we are seeing the growth of small family farms. In dairy production, several family farms have changed their business models to continue to provide milk and other products to the community. Individual farmers can pursue raw milk dairy licenses and sell direct-to-customer or start their own bottling plants if they have the money to invest in the equipment. This gives them complete control of their pricing and distribution.

Little Brown Cow Dairy is one of these direct-to-customer dairies. Terry and Bob Hoerbert own the farm located in the west-central Illinois town of Delavan, about 30 miles south of Peoria. Like many family farms in Illinois, they saw increased interest in their farm products during the pandemic as consumers became interested in "buying local."

Little Brown Cow Dairy has a small herd of Jersey cows that produce milk with a high buttermilk content - perfect for ice cream and very flavorful. In 2019 the Hoerberts began using organic practices. The cows graze in the pasture on grass and other plants, and their diets are supplemented with non-GMO hay and silage. Their diet is high in protein, and so is their milk. 

(See our related article on Gehrke Grass-fed beef)

The Hoerberts switched to small-scale sustainable farming and built a pasteurization plant on their farm. They are required to have a milk sample tested daily in Peoria to ensure there are no traces of antibiotics.

They deliver milk to stores and other customers. In the Chicagoland area, their milk can be found in Plainfield at Hufendick Meat Market and Ten Drops coffee shop. Market Wagon also delivers it in some areas.

Kilgus Farmstead Creamery also bottles the milk from their small herd of Jersey dairy cows. Like the Little Brown Cow Dairy, the Kilgus cows graze in the pasture during the warm months and are kept in the barn during the winter where they eat feed produced on the farm. Their cows are never treated with rBST or other synthetic hormones.

They have a small bottling plant on the same property where they graze their cows, giving them maximum control over their milk from start to finish. The Kilgus Farmstead Creamery milk is not homogenized. Once it's bottled, the cream rises to the top naturally. For some, it will remind you of the milk the milkman delivered when you were a child.

Even the bottles their milk is sold in were selected with care. They are made of UV-resistant plastic that prevents the breakdown of vitamins and minerals.

The Kilgus Farmstead, 60 miles east of Peoria in Fairbury, IL., hosts cows from Deerland Dairy Creamery. Deerland is another family farm in Freeport, IL. Together they co-created 100% whole milk buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt.

Kilgus Farmstead products can be found at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, and Deerland Creamery is often at the Woodstock Farmer's Market on Saturdays.

Rolling Lawns Farm in Greenville, IL., has been a dairy farm since 1910. Michael and Jennifer Turley took over the family farm and its Holstein cows in 2012.

The Turleys decided to "bet the farm" when they integrated the farm operations with dairy processing to deliver a superior dairy product. According to their website, they purchased a 25,000-square-foot property and converted it into a dairy processing plant in 2017. In 2019, the Turleys opened The Milk House, which seeks to provide customers with the freshest milk possible. Milk is brought from the farm to the "Milk House" and is processed and bottled in a matter of hours, and is ready to be delivered the same day. In 2021, The Milk House launched its own premium brand of ice cream.

Rolling Lawns dairy products can be purchased at their Greenville retail store, grocery stores, and donut shops from St. Louis, MO to Carbondale and Springfield in Illinois.

What do these dairies have in common? They all seek to provide the highest quality standards and taste. Their cows are seasonally pasture-grazed, which is good for the health of the cows, the consumers, and the sustainability of the farms.

We'd love to know what you think if you try any of these products!