Low-stress living is a way of life for New Zealand's most northerly licensed raw milk producers.
"Everything is designed around making life as stress-free as possible for our cows," Mangamuka's Paul Jellick said.
"This approach maximises the quality of production from a raw-milk herd," he said.
Paul, his son Cam and herd/dairy shed manager Charlotte Fletcher-Beesley run a tight team capitalising on each other's strengths to produce raw milk from a 100-cow Friesian-cross herd on the Jellicks' 340-hectare Mangamuka property, selling it direct to consumers around Northland.
"It's been a huge job setting up this operation but we love it," said Cam, raw milk business owner-operator. "The business is growing every week."
The Jellicks' raw milk is sold to consumers as is — as it comes out of the cow — within hours of the morning milking. It is not pasteurised or homogenised.
Their operation is one of just 24 Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) registered and licensed raw milk producers in New Zealand — and the only producer of its type north of Whangārei.
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Eleven months into selling their milk straight from farm to table, things are going well.
The raw milk-producing dairy herd is the key part of a highly monitored and controlled production system, maximising food safety. Strict MPI licence requirements mean rigorous testing, close monitoring of stock health and annual licence renewal.
Fletcher-Beesley is herd and farm manager. Paul is the operation's 'MacGyver', fixing things and stepping in across the board where needed.
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Milk from the raw-milk herd is bottled on site then delivered around the region in the family's little white truck — complete with cartoon-like drawing of Oreo, one of the raw-milk producing cows, on its side.
For Paul, it is a long-held dream come true.
"I've always loved the idea of producing milk and selling direct to the consumer," he said.
Fifty years ago, as a 7-year-old in the 1960s, Paul lived in a house on the very edge of then tiny Cooks Beach on Coromandel Peninsula.
He would climb over the fence from home to the neighbouring farmer's place. From there he would climb up onto the trailer from which the farmer delivered milk in cream cans around the neighbourhood.
Paul would go on the neighbourhood deliveries, collecting payments for the milk ladled out of the cream cans direct to consumers' billies.
The Mangamuka raw milk herd is managed and milked completely separately from a 100-cow Fonterra manufacturing herd also on the property.
The raw milk cows go through the farm's 38-a-side cowshed first at milking time. Their milk goes into its own temperature-controlled vet to chill. It is then bottled on site and taken to customers who have pre-ordered online.
Animals are treated to a strict seven-step hygiene process before cups even go onto the cow.
Milking typically begins at 4.30am every day. On Wednesdays, when the milk is delivered to Whangārei, milking begins at 3.30am. Milk is in the vat by 6.30am, bottled by 8.30am and then on the way south in the family's three-tonne chilled truck by 9am. First customers — in Moerewa en route to Whangārei — have it in their hands by 10.30am.
Mangamuka is at the centre of the milk delivery area. The raw milk is delivered to Whangārei on Wednesdays, Kaitaia on Tuesdays as well as Kerikeri and Kaikohe on Mondays and Thursdays.
"The milk consumers buy comes straight from the cows that morning — just a few hours after milking. That's same-day production," Paul said. "There are no chemicals, preservatives, added sugar or acidity regulators — it's 100 per cent natural."
Consumers pre-order online through Facebook and the website.
Paul's raw-milk production dream kicked up a notch in 2015 when he bought the Mangamuka farm after shifting north from Kawau Island where he was a digger driver. The farm was, coincidentally and unknown to him at the time, just 5km from the farm on which his great-grandfather Mick Jellick had once farmed.
In 2016 Paul went to an MPI workshop in Auckland where New Zealand's first regulations for the sector were outlined to raw milk producers from around the country. These rules finally became legislation in 2017.
It was son Cam's decision to shift to the farm in 2018 which brought the raw-milk dream fully to life.
Cam, an electrician, left that work and running his own electrical business in Tauranga.
"I wanted to try something different," he said.
The need to get everything exactly right, the first time, is a theme that links both businesses.
For Paul, being able to work as a father/son team is something he most appreciates about the raw milk operation.
The raw milk herd calves from May to December, about seven cows a week to ensure continuity of supply-365 days of the year we are producing raw milk. Calves remain with their mums for about a week when born.
MPI input 'essential'
MPI in 2017 brought in the first formal regulations for New Zealand's raw milk production sector. There was no formal industry control until that time.
"MPI involvement in our production is essential," Cam said. "It gives consumers peace of mind."
Low stress farming includes a very low stocking rate of 0.5 cows per hectare, only a third or less of many conventional farming systems. The low stress approach is crucial to help with keeping somatic cell counts low in their milk to meet strict MPI raw milk production rules.
Milk is tested on-farm after every milking. Test samples are also sent off to Hamilton and Auckland every 10 days.
Annual relicensing involves an MPI inspection and further verification of assessment results.
Environmental features are also included. The property's waterways have 5m riparian fence setbacks. No fertiliser or nitrogen is used.
"We have a low carbon footprint," Paul said.
The raw milk cows' low-stress life results in quality milk.
"All our raw-milk cows are like house cows," Cam said of the way the herd is treated,
Charlotte has names for each of the cows in the raw milk hard and cuddles them daily.
"I love getting up early every morning before the sun is up and going to the cowshed to help make the raw-milk dream come to life," Charlotte said.
The raw milk is produced in a chemical free system. The property's low stocking rate means not as much pressure on the animals and fertiliser or area does not need to be applied.
The Jellicks drink the raw milk themselves, enjoying its creamy taste.
"It's important to be able to get chemical-free food to eat," Paul said.
The raw milk is particularly popular with baby boomers who remember the taste of this milk from their childhood.
The Mangamuka-made product's popularity is perhaps summed up best by an enthusiastic new customer who this month bought some online for the first time.
"We pulled up to his place to sell the milk and he was waiting at the head of the drive with his arms open wide in delight," Paul said. "[He said] 'I've been waiting 50 years to try this sort of milk again'."
Paul Jellick speaks about raw milk production at a 7.30am Whangārei business breakfast tomorrow at Cobham Oval's Plus Pavilion, 79 Okara Drive. ■