By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
There’s been a decline in the raw milk production at Healthyway Dairy in Santa Fe. Fewer cows are being milked so there is less milk. Is it due to the recent hurricane? Was it the winter freeze? Has the pandemic impacted dairy cows? Nope. The answer is just simply a matter of natural farm circumstances.
Payday, the farm bull, impregnated a whole bunch of female cows in a short period of time. The expectant cows had to be taken out of milking duty two months prior to their expected calf delivery date.
Together, farm owners, Irene and William Nelson report they’ve had 18 pregnant cows in 2021. “If we milk a cow past seven months gestation, our customers will tell us the milk tastes funny,” said William.
The farm is bursting with new life as each of the mothers gives birth to a calf. But not all of them will stay on with the Nelsons. Many will be sold to other farms or individuals who want a milking cow of their own. The male calves will go to farms looking to add a bull to their estate.
Milk production is picking back up with the birth of the calves.
Irene grew up on the 35-acre dairy farm she and her husband now own. “I always wanted to be a farmer but my dad said there’s no money in it, you can do better for yourself,” said Irene.
She was 15 years old helping on her daddy’s farm when her future husband, William, showed up to work on the farm. He was a couple months younger than her. Both wanted to be farmers, but her father insisted they were going to do more with their lives.
At age 18, the couple married, and both found jobs outside of farming. Irene operated a day care from their home, then worked in school cafeterias and finally settled into owning a carpet cleaning business. “I did really well with the carpet cleaning. Then people started putting in hard floors and the business declined,” Irene explained.
William became certified in HVAC and went on to work for Santa Fe ISD for 33 years. His loyalty and service earned him a building named after him, The W.A. Nelson Maintance Building.
When the Nelsons were close to retirement from their jobs, Irene decided she wanted to have a cow for milking. She found one in Conroe. From that point, the couple added more cows and were giving raw milk away to family and friends.
The next step was selling their milk, which they did for a while to a few customers.
The time came when they had to get certified by the health department or shut down their sales. Since it was obvious to them they could make money selling raw milk, they went through the process and are in full compliance with the health department for raw milk production and sales.
Healthyway Dairy hosts 31 milking cows. All of them have a name and their milk is labeled with the cow’s name. Each cow can produce five gallons of milk a day.
Milking the cows happens twice a day: once before the sun comes up and again in the late afternoon. The Nelsons have staff who run most of the milking operations while they maintain the farm and the cows during non-milking times.
Purchasing raw milk from the Nelsons is a simple process: you show up and go into the little red shed, pick your milk, and pay for your milk. There is no one manning the shed. But there is a security camera. “We do it on the honor system. People come in and get their milk and leave the payment in the box,” explained William.
Customers come from all over the Houston region. “When we were a smaller operation, we knew all our customers; now not so much,” said Irene.
They may not know their customers, but they do know their cows. William points to one of the cows out in pasture and says, “She has udders just like her grandmother’s and mother’s.”