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Klein Farms cuts out middleman by selling directly to consumers

Tamara Scully for Progressive Dairyman Published on 23 May 2017
Klein Farms

It was an accident that began one farm’s journey to direct sales of raw milk and processed dairy products. After dairy farmer Layne Klein was injured and sold the milking herd, he and wife, Beth, decided to try a different mode of dairy farming – selling products directly to customers.

With a raw milk license, some cheese-making skills and a small on-farm store, today’s version of Klein Farms Dairy and Creamery germinated.

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“We’re in the middle of people,” Layne Klein, speaking at the Center for Dairy Excellence On-Farm Processing Forum, said.

The Kleins turned to processing because “milk price has too much volatility,” and they needed a more secure and profitable way to return to operating the dairy. “We will share any information we have,” Beth told dairy producers interested in following their footsteps into on-farm processing.

The farm, just over the border from New Jersey, and a few miles outside of Easton, Pennsylvania, brings in a lot of foot traffic, despite its location off of the main roads. They sell raw milk, which is in demand – lactose intolerant people swear by it – and illegal to sell in New Jersey. It’s not illegal for the dairy farm to sell raw milk to New Jersey residents, but technically those residents are breaking the law if they return back over the border in possession of the product. About one-third of the farm’s customers are from New Jersey.

Klein Farms store sign

“We believe in raw milk,” Layne said. “Store milk just tastes terrible. Milk should not last a month; it should spoil.”

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Their customers seem to agree. The dairy sells 1,400 gallons per week retail and wholesales another 500 gallons. Their milk is sold both on the farm and at various health food, mom-and-pop and ShopRite stores throughout the local area. Milk is sold in gallons, one-half gallons, quarts and pints. They offer retail discounts for volume sales.

After selling, then reestablishing, the milking herd, the farm rapidly grew from milking 20 cows to milking 60 in order to meet demand for their products. The Holstein Friesian breed cows are fed a diet of 70 percent forages and 30 percent grains, all non-GMO.

Dairy processing

Raw fluid milk is not considered a processed product, and the license to sell raw milk had different inspection requirements than pasteurized fluid milk. Inspections occur four times per year for licensing purposes. In addition, they perform water tests monthly and run sample testing of their milk twice per month.

The farm does process milk, however, just not for fluid sales. In addition to the raw milk sales, the farm also makes yogurt and a wide variety of cheeses and spreads, all from their herd’s milk. They use a 200-gallon vat pasteurization unit, with steam, which heats milk to a lower temperature than high-temperature short-time pasteurization and holds it there for 30 minutes.

Klein Farms milking herd

Yogurt is made overnight, due to the time involved in the process. They make 150 gallons of yogurt each week. Drinkable yogurts, made separately, are a “huge, huge seller” and are made separately, with 50 to 75 gallons needed each week.

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“Kids love to drink yogurt out of a squeeze container,” Beth said. The farm charges $2.50 per pint or $4.95 per quart for their popular yogurt drinks.

The yogurt is “the best moneymaker per hundredweight,” Layne Klein said, yielding about $200 per 100 pounds of milk. Soft cheese nets about $80 per hundredweight, while hard, aged raw milk cheese brings in anywhere from $100 to $140 dollars for each 100 pounds of milk.

The Kleins also have a from-scratch bakery, with lots of homemade goodies filling the shelves at the dairy store. They sell locally roasted coffee, local honey, bread, maple syrup, jams and soaps and lotions. They also sell their own beef and pork from their local USDA-inspected butcher. Pasture-raised chicken and their own eggs round out the selections, along with locally grown in-season produce.

Klein Farms cheeses

The farm sells their processed dairy products at farm stands and retail stores throughout the nearby New Jersey and Pennsylvania region. They make deliveries in their own truck four times each week.

One thing that customers have to come to the farm to purchase is the ice cream. Happy Holstein Ice Cream is a partnership, with the farm holding 50 percent ownership of that business.

The partnership was a way of satisfying their customers’ demands for homemade ice cream. The ice cream was originally planned to be made with their own milk and sent to a local dairy plant to have cream added and to be processed into the ice cream base. But they found that there was “zero advantage” to using their own milk and having to truck it back and forth from the processing plant.

Instead, the farm’s ice cream is made with a regionally-sourced ice cream base and processed on the farm with only all-natural ingredients added – nothing from a box or a can. For example, their mint chocolate chip flavor is made with Italian mint paste and algae for the coloring.

“That’s what our customer base wants,” Klein said. “They are very educated about food.” Whether the milk in the ice cream came from the farm’s own herd or from milk from other regional herds has not been a concern.

Klein Farms bakery

The Kleins have just about outgrown their newly opened on-farm combined ice cream parlor, retail store and processing plant with bakery. Finances prevented them from building any larger. Although the new building is significantly larger than their first store, they could use more room. They advise others interested in processing to plan for future growth.

The public is welcomed onto the farm not only to visit the store, but also to enjoy a small playground and visit with farm animals – goats, chickens, peacocks and more. They are also welcomed into the barns. The farm has to be kept very clean.

“People can walk all around our farm every day,” Klein said. “We are a destination,” even more so now that the ice cream parlor has opened.  end mark

Tamara Scully, a freelance writer based in northwestern New Jersey, specializes in agricultural and food system topics.

PHOTO 1: The farm has an open door policy and visitors are welcomed into the barns, as well as at the playground and “petting zoo” area near the store.

PHOTO 2: Layne Klein said their customer base isn’t concerned with whether or not every product came from the Kleins’ own herd. They just want to know it’s local, natural and homemade.

PHOTO 3: The milking herd grew from 20 to 60 cows in order to meet product demand.

PHOTO 4: The Kleins began their adventure with direct marketing with a raw milk license, some cheese-making skills and a small on-farm store.

PHOTO 5: Homemade goodies complement the cheeses and yogurts made at the farm. Photos courtesy of Klein Farms Dairy and Creamery.

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