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Let’s Eat: Making a difference in dairy

Slate River Dairy offers milk and dairy products of the highest quality to local consumers.

Wilma and Jim Mol have been dairy farmers at River Bend Farm for a quarter of a century, but it is only since 2015 that they have been selling their own milk and dairy products as Slate River Dairy.

“We chose to diversify because we were not happy with the quality of dairy products that you could find on store shelves,” Wilma explains. “Even though there are a lot of policies and regulations to ensure that the milk that leaves the dairy farm is quality, we just did not find that quality in the dairy products on the store shelves.”

Originally from the Netherlands, she was surprised to find so many additives in most dairy products at Canadian supermarkets. The Mols decided that they would take on the challenge and make a difference themselves.

Creating Slate River Diary took four years, as the family farm had to jump through numerous hoops. “We started August 2011. In August 2015 we bottled our first bottle of milk,” Wilma says proudly.

“When people think about diary farms, they think about 1930s, 40s. You harvest crops, you put it in front of the cow, it eats, and gives milk. It’s not that simple any more,” Wilma says.

“Cow comfort” has become not only a priority, but a science, for the dairy industry. “We want a very comfortable cow,” Wilma explains. Ventilation, barn layouts, what cows sleep on, and how much water is available and at what temperature, are all as important as what cows eat.

At her farm, cows sleep on rubber mats and have free stalls, which means they aren’t tied up. They can walk around, eat, lay down, or sleep when they want to. “They brush their hair when they want to - we have a cow brush,” Wilma smiles. “We want to keep the cows as comfortable as possible.”

They grow their own feed (peas, barley, alfalfa and timothy grass) and a nutritionist comes every six to eight weeks to take samples of the feed for analysis. He puts together a supplement for a  balanced diet. A vet checks the herd every four weeks, and a hoof trimmer gives the cows a “pedicure” every other month. “It’s not just us farming, we have a whole team behind us,” she says.

Currently, Slate River Dairy uses about 25 per cent of River Bend Farm’s milk, with the rest going to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. Slate River Dairy’s best seller is whole milk, followed by chocolate milk. Heavy cream and skim milk are made every other week. Yoghurt is available year round but cheese and butter are not made during the summer, as the facility gets too hot. During the holidays, eggnog is popular.

Slate River Dairy has a stall at the Thunder Bay Country Market, and their products are available at five other retail locations around town, and also in Dryden. When the pandemic started, Wilma found that people began focusing more on buying local, and the dairy upped production.

When asked about the future, Wilma says they currently don’t have the time or staff to do more, but would like to hire somebody so that she can concentrate on other things. “People always ask for ice cream,” she smiles. “It’s always in the back of my mind, and I would love to do it.”

Slate River Diary is currently closed due to holidays, however, they will reopen Tuesday, Aug. 24 and will be back at the Thunder Bay Country Market Wednesday, Aug. 25.

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