Within Waikato's massive multi-million dollar dairy industry the small Cleavedale Farm on the edge of Matamata is working to develop a taste of something different - its unique Jersey Girl Organics brand of A2 milk.
Family owned and operated by fifth-generation farmers John Vosper and Liz Mackay, Jersey Girl Organics produces organic, non-homogenised A2 milk from only Jersey cows - bottled and processed on the farm.
Jersey breeder and former school teacher, John says they know there is lots of milk around, but they wanted a point in difference with their product.
"My family has worked the land at Cleavedale Farm for 100 years now. In 1911, my great-grandfather walked his Jersey cows from Taranaki, where he grew up, to Matamata. These cows were said to be the first Jerseys in the Matamata area."
Today, not only John's uncles and cousins are still on the farm, two of his three children, son Michael and daughter Laura, are also involved in the family business.
"Laura has a business management degree, helping us with the logistics and things. Michael is a farmer, he helps us managing Jersey Girl Organics running between factory, office work and farm duties," John says. They are also supported by two farm workers and five staff helping with Jersey Girl Organics.
What started off with John's great grandfather milking between 20 to 50 cows by hand, now grew into a herd of 210 Jerseys calving twice a year and getting milked via a 20 bale rotary.
Liz says: "Originally, we were calving only once a year, meaning we had to drink supermarket milk in the winter when the cows were dried out. That got us started, because we are not used to that milk and we don't really like it."
Since 2002, Liz and John's farm is also certified organic. This means they operate according to BioGro NZ organic standards like not using synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics or growth modification.
"We are trying to work with nature to create a healthy diet, mixing it up with different plant species. We avoid antibiotics and rather try preventive steps by trying to build a good immune system through herbal extracts and tonics. If treatment with antibiotics is inevitable, we sell the cow afterwards."
Another important criteria of being organic is animal welfare. Says Liz: "We keep all cows and calves, even the males. They are living together with heifers and other young stock on 40 hectares by the Kaimai tunnel, and they are later used as service bulls."
John says: "We are trying to use low impact farming methods and we don't homogenise. Being an organic farm it is a lot of hard work, but we learned heaps."
The process of homogenisation involves breaking up the milk fat to smaller sizes so that they do not separate from the rest of the milk. Liz says: "We only pasteurise, so our milk and cream separate, allowing the cream to rise to the top. I think the cream is the best part, I had to fight my dad for it all the time when I was a kid."
John and Liz used to take on WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) to help on the farm. "Our first one made us realise how special our milk is. He said that our breakfast was the best he had on his journey. We were surprised because it was literally just cornflakes and milk."
Since 2017, Jersey Girl Organics has won six awards for their milk, including an outstanding NZ food producer sustainability award. John says: "People often say our milk has a silky mouth feel and a creamy taste. I wouldn't go that far, but we also had someone saying it's like drinking icecream."
All of their their Jersey girls are pedigrees which means they are all named. John's favourite is number 31 "Her name is Whirr. She is such a friendly cow. Sometimes she sneaks up to you and gives you a bump in the paddock."
Apart from the fact that the love for Jersey cows has been in John's DNA, he says that he thinks Jersey cows are the best-looking.
"You only have to look into their eyes. I also think Jerseys have a great temperament - we get told by a lot of people how calm our herd is. But Jersey bulls can be a bit dangerous, Liz and I both have been chased by one before. They suffer from small man syndrome."
Before retiring, John and Liz have some more plans for the future of Jersey Girl Organics. Says John: "I want to make the farm more resilient to climatic extremes, because there will be more droughts in the future. Maybe diversifying into horticulture as well with planting some apple, chestnut, feijoa and shelter trees."
You can find Jersey Girl online here.
So, what is A2 milk?
John says: "A2 is the name of a type of protein in the milk. Standard milk contains A1 and A2 proteins but A2 milk exclusively contains the A2 protein. The difference between A1 and A2 is how our bodies process it. A2 milk can be easier to digest, especially for people who have issues with digesting dairy or who have mild lactose intolerance."
Liz says, A2 milk is the type of milk cows used to produce centuries ago. "A mutation in the Friesian cow breed caused the A1 protein to be produced. Through breeding, trying to make the cows produce more milk and western farming it was made possible to spread it quickly into other breeds."
Today, A2 milk only comes from certain breeds of cows that have been bred to produce this type of milk. "Like our Jersey herd. When we started Jersey Girl, we had all our cows DNA tested, to find out which ones have the A2 gene."
Jersey cows are smaller and therefore produce less milk than a Friesian. "We are currently milking 150 cows on 85ha of land. Sixty cows are still about to calf. On average, we get 15 litres of milk per cow per day," John says. Jerseys are also said to produce milk with 30 per cent more protein and 20 per cent more calcium than standard milk.