If you haven’t learned by now, Kriemhild Dairy is intimately connected with Red Gate Farm, our sole seasonal Meadow Butter supplier. Farmers Bruce and Nancy Rivington own 90% of Kriemhild and have had an essential role in developing our values and guiding the direction of our small agricultural business. In fact, we all would consider being able to access and experience the farm a job perk: we get to interact with their beautiful, and curious, herd of cows, have walking privileges to the rolling pastures, and occasionally get roped into doing some farm work.
You, or someone you know, might even be familiar with the farm. Kriemhild and Red Gate Farm often collaborate on farm events to encourage people to engage with the staff and animals who contribute to the production of their food. Red Gate hosted its first Calving Day this year, but many visitors’ first experience of the Farm is during Madison County’s Open Farm Day. Red Gate Farm has been participating in Open Farm Day for the 8 years the event has existed, this year will be no different. But, likely unbeknownst to visitors, 17 years ago, Red Gate’s rolling green pastures looked very different than they do today.
From Canada to CNY
When the Rivington Family moved from their dairy farm in Ontario, Canada to New York, they were on a clear-cut mission: to graze. The Rivingtons wanted to increase the amount their cows could graze, and ultimately switch to seasonal dairying for human and herd wellbeing. Although the Canadian supply management policies promised consistent revenue for Canadian dairy farmers, the system would not accept the variable amount of milk produced by a grazing seasonal dairy. With aspirations of expanding their farm and embracing seasonal grazing, the Rivingtons began to search the Empire State for their new home.
Nancy and Bruce visited about 18 different farms hoping to find one that was suited for grazing. Mainly, they were searching for at least 400 acres of contiguous land so as to make it possible to move a herd easily from one pasture to the next. This was more of a challenge than expected. “Real estate agents have real funny definitions of contiguous,” Bruce recalls.
It was in the depths of winter when the Rivingtons were introduced to Red Gate Farm. Although the land was buried in snow, the Rivingtons knew it was the farm they were looking for. They bought the farm in 2000. Red Gate Farm was a dairy farm historically, but most of its 512 acres had been in conventionally managed corn and alfalfa crops for almost 3 decades. Although rotating corn and alfalfa crops is an effective practice for those who strive to grow an abundance of those two crops, this type of management can take its toll on the land.
Bringing Back The Grass
Growing a single or limited amount of crops on the same land quickly depleted the soil of its fertility, making it necessary to apply chemical fertilizers to just as quickly supply the exact amount of nutrients the crop needed. Repeated tilling and cultivating also deteriorated the soil. This practice released soil nutrients into the air and broke up the roots and aggregates that held the soil together, increasing the rate of erosion. Bruce remembers discovering the poor condition of the soils, “When we first bought the farm we had to hunt to find an earthworm.”
Despite its sorry condition, Bruce and Nancy knew the healing effect that grazing could have. So, the Rivingtons gave the Red Gate Farm fields their last tilling ever, only to plant an abundance of perennial grass seeds. Starting with a small herd, they gently grazed and mowed the grass to encourage root growth and carbon sequestration. After 5 years of careful and nurturing management, Red Gate Farm began to resemble the farm we all know today: 737 acres of lush green grass carpeting miles of land speckled with colorful moseying cows grazing at their leisure. Even the section of field burned with pesticides was regenerated, and now is ironically one of their most productive pasture, growing almost exclusively native grasses. “That’s the pasture I like to take people up to, to show them,” Bruce boasts.
Land that Doesn't Just Work, But Lives
The Rivingtons did not merely transition Red Gate Farm from one crop to another. They reclaimed land stripped of its nutrients, only able to grow corn and alfalfa, and regenerated it into a thriving ecosystem. Their land not only grows nutrient dense grasses, but it also feeds an expansive community of soil microbacteria and microfauna, acts as a habitat for wildlife, and even mitigates greenhouse grasses.
Although this happened long before Kriemhild was established, we would not exist without Red Gate Farm, so we embrace it as part of our story. We hope to help other farmers tell their own similar stories as we grow. Until then, you can visit Red Gate Farm on July 29th as we celebrate Madison County’s Open Farm Day. It’ll be a great chance to learn more about how agriculture can be a pivotal point of community, nutritional, and environmental health.
When Being Yellow Bellied is a Good Thing…
We love the first day of butter making. There’s nothing like churning the first cream of the season into a 1200 pound mountain of smooth, lightly salted, very yellow butter. As we take a ceremonial first taste, we have to ask: why is spring butter so magical?
Milk is a complex mixture of fat, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and other miscellaneous constituents dispersed in water. Yet, the amount of these components vary based on the cow’s diet, the breed of cow, and a cow’s stage of lactation. Being a seasonal, grass-fed dairy is reflected in how our butter tastes and also how it changes over the course of the grazing season.
Spring butter has an unmistakable yellow glow. This color is affected by the increased amount of fresh grass in the cows’ diet during the spring as they start grazing. Fresh forage is bountiful in carotenoids, classes of mainly yellow, orange, or red fat-soluble pigments, which then manifests in our high fat butter. When ingested by a cow, one carotenoid in particular, beta-carotene, is converted to vitamin A. This results in a butter with a higher vitamin A content in the spring. Winter butter is produced primarily when the cows are on stored feed such as hay and hay ferment, so it is paler in comparison.
If you don’t notice a huge change of color in our butter, it’s ok. Many of the cows that produce our butter are mixes of breeds that naturally produce milk with a higher carotene content regardless of the season (i.e. Jerseys and Guernseys). Also, very often the cows at Red Gate Farm are grazing fresh forage well into November, and don’t stop milking until December. So, there is a small window in which we are creating “winter butter” from a mix of fresh forage and stored forage. Because of all of these variables, the color shift over the grazing season is subtle, gradual and not at all linear.
More than just the color, the texture of Meadow Butter changes over the season as well. Spring butter is perfectly spreadable, if not slightly leaky, while winter butter can be firmer, even appear to be somewhat brittle. This change reflects the saturation of milk fat in the butter. The presence of longer-chain saturated fatty acids increases the hardness of butter. Milk with a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acid content tends to create softer, runnier products.
During their outdoor grazing period, our cows’ milk is composed of lower saturated fatty acids and higher unsaturated fatty acid concentrations. During the winter, when the herd is fed stored forage, the reverse is true and our cream contains more saturated fats and less unsaturated fats. Saturated fat molecules are more uniform, and they form crystal structures more readily than unsaturated fats. These fat crystals yield a firmer product with a higher melting point. Many bakers consider the firmness of winter butter better for baking, finding that it makes it easier to work into a dough and bakes into perfect flaky pastries and crusts.
One final variable that affects Meadow Butter is you. Since, our butter can be frozen without compromising its taste or texture, if you choose to squirrel some away for the winter, then you can enjoy spring butter year-round. In fact, at Kriemhild we store our butter reserves in a commercial freezer between packing and farmer’s markets or wholesale shipments. This storability is also why we attempt to reserve enough to bridge the winter off-season, though (as our regular customers know) demand has historically outpaced our rate of butter-bank deposits -- which is another reason why we “run out” each winter.
Although we at Kriemhild Dairy rejoice the arrival of our spring butter, we celebrate the seasonal variation in dairy. With its cycles, subtleties, ebbs, and flows, we embrace all the nuance that seasonal dairy brings -- yes, even the off-season. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder (and hungrier), and experiencing seasonality garners true appreciation for the natural rhythms of our food system.
As the Butter Churns
Author: Ellen Fagan and Victoria Peila