SEQUIM — Ryan and Sarah McCarthey hope customers will be on board with a rebranding effort for their Dungeness Valley Creamery.
It’s been more than a week since their farm’s raw milk received an all-clear following a 12-day voluntary recall after at least five lab-positive campylobacteriosis cases were found in milk.
The McCartheys said they had been considering a rebrand — with new labels, messaging and a new milk — for a while. The recall pushed it forward.
“After all the testing and cleaning and resetting everything, we felt it was a good opportunity,” Ryan said.
Sarah said they cleaned and tested their machines, then groups of cows and finally individual cows where the bacterium was found on one cow, Fiddlehead.
“There was no way for us to know because the cleaning and methods of prevention were working,” she said. “It must have been some weird, fluky situation.”
The couple said the Department of Health and a state veterinarian asked to have the cow culled to prevent any potential future issues.
Along with other regular testing efforts, they’ve added campylobacteriosis tests to their routine as well and plan to test each cow that has a calf before its milk goes for sale.
At this juncture, Ryan estimates about a $50,000 impact from the recall, including dumped product and testing.
Despite the immediate impact, the McCartheys are looking to the future with their Jersey cows.
They’re pursuing a “niche within a niche,” they said, selling only 100 percent A2 raw milk starting this week.
The couple says it is “more natural and common in human and goat milk.”
In the past, the dairy has sold milk that is a mixture of A1 and A2, which is a genetic difference, with cows producing one or the other type of milk.
Sarah said they’ve been breeding their cows for years to offer only A2 milk and that the beta casein protein found in A2 milk can be gentler on people’s stomachs than A1.
The McCartheys plan to incorporate a new tagline, too: “A2 Raw Jersey Milk — for all the right reasons.”
They’ll stop selling cream for now due to its high labor, but they’ll evaluate that after the A2 milk launch.
Milk prices will go up too. They said they had kept the price the same for most of the farm’s 15 years.
Ryan said margins have remained slim since a 2019 voluntary recall of products after E. Coli was found in a sample. That led to more cleaning measures, so costs have gone up while their milk prices have not.
“We never want to pass on the costs,” Ryan said. “We run the farm the way we think the customers would want us to.”
“We like to keep costs as low as possible because we want everyone to have it,” Sarah said. “We love what we do.”
At its highest production, the farm had 77 Jersey cows, and the McCartheys said they were still selling out of product, which they attribute partially to price.
“It’s some of the cheapest raw milk in the country, but we use some of the most premium Jerseys in the U.S., we use solar power and some of the most advanced cleaning systems,” Sarah said.
The couple said they’ve been dragging their feet to raise prices but are now kicking themselves for not being in a feasible position due to slim margins.
“We don’t want to put the business at risk with another recall,” Sarah said. “We want to provide a service that’s sustainable in every way.”
“We hope people get behind the launch,” Sarah said.
“We might sell less milk. We might need to reduce the herd, or we need to do something else because it’s not worth it, which hurts.
“I’m not OK with not having this lifestyle. This is what I went to school for. I know the Jersey breed. It’d be a shame not to do this.”
Along with the new milk, the McCartheys are putting new packaging on their product with pictures of their family.
With help from a graphic design company and a grant, they worked toward a brand identity to reflect their values as a family farm, Ryan said.
Rather than a generic farm picture, they chose pictures of their sons Tyler and Wade and their family.
“Both kids are excited to be part of the farm,” Sarah said.
Tyler will appear on the 1 gallon milk containers, the whole family on the half-gallon, and the boys on the quart and pint. A new photo of Sarah as a modern milkmaid will be added to the quarts and pints later, the McCartheys said.
Construction is expected to finish this month on a new self-contained, above-ground liquid manure pond south of the farm, Ryan said.
They’ve sought to decommission their existing pond to reduce odor and move the pond further away from the Dungeness River.
Ryan said it fits in with one of their three values to invest each year in environmental stewardship, animal care and product quality.
With a cost share grant and veterans benefits, Ryan said it’ll cost the farm about 10 percent of the total cost to build and connect the new pond.
For more information and updates about the Dungeness Valley Creamery, 1915 Towne Road, call 360-683-0716 or visit facebook.com/dungenessvalleycreamery.