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Dairy: Healthier cows, healthier environment, healthier milk

Dairy farmer Mike De Smet, center, discusses the milking process with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich during Heinrich’s tour of De Smet Dairy in Bosque Farms. (Scott Turner/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

BOSQUE FARMS – Mike De Smet admits he’s no traditional dairy farmer in an operation his grandfather started in 1949 in Valencia County.

He told U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich during a tour of his farm that his practices have at times even bewildered his father, Huck, whom he followed into the business as a third-generation farmer. And it’s a far different operation from the one his grandfather, Landon, started. He started by hand-milking cows, Mike De Smet said.

He and his wife, Erica, don’t use pesticides or herbicides in the pastures their cows feed in. They don’t till the soil on their 126-acre farm. They don’t use hormones or antibiotics.

And their signature product? It’s raw milk.

“Our claim to fame is that we don’t homogenize anything,” Erica De Smet said.

Mike De Smet said they “try a multitude of stuff” to keep their cows healthy, to keep the environment of their farm healthy and as a result are producing healthier dairy products.

Dairy farmer Mike De Smet, left, discusses plants in his pasture that he uses to feed his cows with Sen. Martin Heinrich during a tour of De Smet Dairy in Bosque Farms. (Scott Turner/Albuquerque Journal)

“We stopped mono-culturing (cultivating a single crop in an area) a long time ago,” he said. “We are constantly planting upwards to 10 to 15 kinds of particular species of grasses or legumes in order to give our cows a full diet. Doing this not only gives our cows the nutrients they need; it’s building our soil health as well. It’s given us the ability to stop tilling. … It’s allowing us not to have to use synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, anything like that.”

What they’re doing was enough for Heinrich to add their operation to his food tour.

“It’s impressive,” the senator said. “I think there’s an enormous amount of innovation in agriculture right now. These guys represent a way of doing things that puts nutrients and organic materials back into the soil. I think you’re going to see more and more agriculture policies that encourage the kind of practices that they’ve discovered.”

The De Smets Dairy operation is small compared with traditional farms that have thousands of cows.

“We own about 150 cows and are milking about 40 right now,” Erica De Smet said.

Although a few Holsteins can be found among their small herd, they mainly milk Jersey cows, she and her husband said.

“We found that Jerseys do better in the situation that we’re in,” Mike De Smet said. “Holsteins are big cows. They need lots and lots of calories that other dairymen are feeding out with tractors and mixing wagons. For us with grazing, they’re out getting their own feed. We’ve found that a Jersey does a much better job utilizing that grass than a Holstein ever would. The Jerseys also produce a much more rich butterfat milk. As such, it’s a much more nutrient-rich milk.”

He told Heinrich when they discussed the milking process that their products are “much easier on people’s digestive systems.”

And that’s where raw milk, their top seller, comes in.

Raw milk contains naturally occurring probiotics for beneficial intestinal bacteria that aid in digestion.

“We also do a low-temperature pasteurized non-homogenized (milk),” Mike De Smet said. We do a yogurt that’s a cream-top yogurt. It’s a Bulgarian yogurt. We also do cheese curds, along with eggs.”

One of their products – green chile cheese curds – pays homage to New Mexico’s best-known agriculture product.

Their products are sold at the dairy and in stores in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Taos and Las Cruces, Erica De Smet said.

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