Less than a mile west of state Route 36 off Church Road in Erda, a former school teacher and coach raises Jersey cows and sells fresh dairy products.
David and JoAnn McCleskey operate Ivy Oaks Jersey Farm where they milk their purebred cows each day to provide their customers with fresh milk, butter, and sometimes cheese.
The McCleskeys first opened their farm in Rush Valley in 2010. Five years ago, they moved to three acres in Erda, but that’s not when their story started.
David McCleskey, who was born and raised in California, worked in the dairy business for many years while obtaining a bachelor’s degree in dairy science and a doctorate degree in sociology.
In 1984, he decided it wasn’t the right time for a dairy farm.
“I sold everything that I had and went into law enforcement, became a teacher, and a coach,” Dave McCleskey said. “Then, I got cancer.”
Dave McCleskey quit working because of his cancer. After he beat the disease, he tried to go to work again.
“No one would hire me,” he said. “They said I was overqualified, so I asked my wife what to do and she said, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ So, she said ‘How about cows?’ So, that’s how we got back into this. The cows basically saved my life.”
The McCleskey’s own 24 Jersey cows, a breed that originated from the Isle of Jersey between England and France.
“Jerseys are the smallest dairy breed,” said McCleskey. “They give the highest quality milk, usually the highest butter-fat and protein percentage. The quantity isn’t as much but we are more into quality not quantity.”
“There is never a dull moment with Jersey’s, because look at them, they are all redheads,” McCleskey continued laughing. “They can be very temperamental. They are very intelligent and curious.”
The Ivy Oaks cows can live to be up to 12 years-old. They can produce around five gallons of milk a day, which supplies over 100 families per week with fresh milk.
At the McCleskey’s farm, the cows are grass-fed and aren’t given antibiotics, according to Dave McCleskey.
“One of the big differences between our milk and the milk at the store is that ours is raw,” Dave McCleskey said. “We feed for the quality of milk as opposed to the amount of milk.”
The milk from the farm is safe for pregnant women and babies, according to McCleskey.
Whole milk bought from the store is around 3% fat and 3% protein, and the farm’s milk is almost 7% fat and 4.5% protein.
The Ivy Oaks Cows produce A2 beta casein milk, which differs from other milk by one amino acid.
“The majority of the milk in the world is A1 beta casein and a lot of people are allergic to it, especially if it’s not done in a raw form, because raw milk has all of the enzymes and good bacteria in it for gut health,” Dave McCleskey said. “Our milk is basically hypoallergenic.”
Right now, the McCleskey are able to milk seven of their 24 cows, because the others are either pregnant or too young to be milked.
Their Jerseys or “girls” as David McCleskey calls them, will have one baby a year via artificial insemination with around a 95% chance of birthing a female calf.
There is one bull on the farm named Avenger, that the McCluskey’s are raising to collect semen from to send all over the world, because of his pure bloodline.
The McCleskey’s are able to milk their cows until they are around seven months pregnant and after they calf, the babies are kept with their mothers for an extended amount of time.
“We do things differently than most dairies because we are so small,” McCleskey said. “We can leave the babies with their mothers until they are of weaning age, which is around three to five months. When we leave them with their mothers longer, we find that overall, their health is better, because cows are extremely social animals. This allows them to get socialized at an early age and they understand how to be a cow.”
In the rare case that a male baby is born on the farm, it is usually raised for beef.
Most of the cows at Ivy Oaks are related and their lineage can be traced back to 1860.
Farm life is a full-time job for the McCleskeys.
Dave McCleskey milks his cows twice a day and spends the rest of the time making butter, feeding his girls, and cleaning up after them.
Someone also has to be around to watch the cows to make sure they are safe, healthy, and happy, he said.
Because JoAnn McCleskey is a full-time kindergarten teacher at West Elementary, David McCleskey does a lot of the work on the farm himself.
“I am very active and busy, and because our operation is small enough, I can do basically everything myself,” Dave McCleskey explained. “It’s a 24/7, 365 deal.”
Each cow generates around five gallons of milk per day. It takes Dave McCleskey around four hours per day to milk all of the cows.
“When it’s milking time, the cows just line up by the door and if they haven’t come to the door, I can just call them by name, “McCleskey said. “They all know their names.”
Dave McCleskey loves his cows and each of them have unique names.
To order milk from the farm, visit Ivy Oaks Jersey Farm on Facebook and send a message.
Milk at the farm is $7 a gallon, bottled in half-gallon mason jars, and lasts up to two weeks in the fridge.
“We have the best milk,” McCleskey said.
Their butter, including regular butter, honey cinnamon flavor, and their garlic herb butter is $5 a pound, bottled in half-gallon containers.
“Our garlic herb butter is really good for a stir fry or to baste a turkey,” McCleskey said.