Theodosia dairy farmers transition to offer raw milk, fresh from the farm
If you stop by David and Robin Mahan’s dairy farm in Theodosia, you’ll find happy farmers and happy cows, both doing their part to bring fresh milk to tables across the area. It’s the same goal today that has been at the forefront of the dairy farm since its origins in the 1950s when David’s parents, Bill and Juanita Mahan, milked cows there by hand.
“David is a second-generation farmer. His mom and dad milked by hand for years, and he grew up milking too,” Robin told the Times recently. “He helped on the farm quite a lot growing up, doing hay and all the other farm chores.”
Robin says her folks were also from Ozark County, and she lived here during the earliest part of her life, but after her parents divorced, the family moved to Kansas City when she was 5. She spent a good portion of her adolescent years in the city before they moved back to Ozark County when she was 15.
After graduating from Gainesville High School in 1972, David joined the Navy. In 1982, Robin also graduated from Gainesville High School. The two married in 1983, the year after Robin’s graduation. This September will mark their 40th wedding anniversary. After living away during David’s military career, the couple moved back to Ozark County in 1990 and took over his parents’ dairy operation.
“At our most, we had 70 cows we were milking. We were selling commercially, at that point, to large milk companies. But the hauling got expensive, and the milk trucks started charging a stop charge just to pull into the driveway. It seemed like prices were down more than they were up, and feed went up,” Robin said. “It’s just expensive to operate a large commercial dairy, and it’s all about quantity. You have to have a big volume to make any money.”
While the Mahans focused on putting away enough milk to meet their commercial obligations, some went to their own table. Unlike the commercial milk they were selling, which would be homogenized and pasteurized before going to a grocery store in a plastic milk jug, the milk they used for their own family was fresh, untreated and straight from the milk barn.
“We’ve always believed in the power of raw milk. For hundreds of years people have been raised on raw milk. A lot of people who are lactose intolerant can drink raw milk. We prefer the flavor, and we always drink raw milk,” Robin said.
As the cost of operating the dairy continued to go up, the Mahans began to wonder how they could continue doing the job they loved. After a lot of thought and prayer, the couple decided to launch a new farm-to-table creamery, offering milk and other products direct to area customers from their Theodosia farm.
Granny’s Creamery was born.
The milking herd was taken down to just a dozen cows, which has allowed the Mahans to have time to market and distribute the milk and other products. Quality is high, as its always been, Robin says.
“We know how to milk right and milk clean. David has milked the better part of his life. So he knows how to produce tasty, safe products,” Robin said.
Because the Mahans are so hands-on with their smaller herd, they immediately know if any cow is ill or has an issue, she said. If a cow is sick, it is taken off the line for a month while the animal is doctored and recuperates. Robin says if any cow gets mastitis and David isn’t able to remedy it with medication, the cow unfortunately has to be culled from the herd. While on medication, the cows are not utilized to produce milk.
“The cows eat grass in the summertime and during other parts of the year, they eat grass hay and are fed grain in the barn. They have plenty of pasture to graze on,” Robin says. “Our motto is healthy milk from healthy cows the way God intended. And we live by that.”
Granny’s Creamery offerings
Today, Granny’s Creamery offers raw milk in gallon and half gallon varieties, raw cream in pints and quarts, vanilla bean creamer made with real vanilla beans and sweetened with pure maple syrup, homemade butter and homemade garlic herb butter (made with herbs grown on the farm during the growing season). Farm fresh eggs are also available to purchase.
Customers have the choice of coming out to the farm, located at 163 County Road 904 in Theodosia, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. (or until the milk barn light is shut off, Robin says) where a refrigerator offers up the dairy products at a self-serve station. A payment box, operated on the honor system, is located nearby.
“A lot of people enjoy coming out to the milk barn. So many of them have moved here from all over. We’ve talked with people from Arizona, Texas, Ohio... just all over. Mostly, they’ve moved here because they want a refuge. They want to move away from the hustle and bustle of city life and find that they love it here. I’ve had a lot of fun talking with people at the milk barn,” Robin said.
David and Robin also run a delivery route, meeting customers to pick up dairy products and pre-orders. Currently, Granny’s Creamery provides delivery/pick up weekly at Theodosia, Gainesville, Caulfield and West Plains.
A transition - and those behind it
The transition from commercial dairy to becoming a farm-direct raw milk provider has been a bit of a leap of faith, the Mahans say, but they have been blessed along the way with help from neighbors, friends and family and support from the community.
“During this new phase of our life, God has put many people in our path that need prayer. So we’ve kind of started a ministry with it. We include a Bible verse on our milk jugs, and wherever they land, we know that the right people who need to see it, will,” she said.
One person who has helped them tremendously is Lindsey Rhodes, a neighbor who has single-handedly taken on the complicated cream separation process.
“We quickly formed a wonderful friendship with Lindsey and her family. She was really committed to seeing Granny’s Creamery succeed and even with a large family (four little ones and one on the way) and a husband who works as a deputy for the sheriff’s department [Matt Rhodes],” Robin said. “See we had purchased this cream machine, and it came from the Ukraine. It was so complex and complicated, we were just going to send it back because we couldn’t figure it out. But, because it came from the Ukraine, there really was no way to return it. Lindsey took on the challenge of getting it operational and creating those products. It’s been a very important part of the business, and she also designed our website - which is something neither David or I know a single thing about,” she said, laughing.
Dr. Mark and Leesa Robinson, the owners of Marlee’s Creamery, a raw milk farm in Carthage, have also been a big help in helping launch Granny’s Creamery.
“Our cousin Shanna Clayton (co-owner of Theodosia local meat store CF Meat Co.) recommended we give [the Robinsons] a call, which we did. We contacted them for help, and they said they would pray about it. After praying, God told them to help us and educate us on how to be a raw milk farm. We took that heart. They drove all the way from Carthage to visit with us and invited us to their farm. This couple deserves to be commended for not only their service to God but for their many trips to Jefferson City fighting for raw milk farm rights in the state of Missouri for many years. They are wonderful people who taught us so much and who are only a phone call away with any questions we might have for them. They are truly about God’s business in helping their fellow farmers,” Robin said.
Educating on the benefits of raw milk
In addition to providing raw milk for the community, the Mahans enjoy helping to educate friends and neighbors about the benefits of raw milk, dairy farming and where their food comes from.
Recently the Mahans worked with Lutie School art teacher Lauren Weyrauch and her students to provide some bright and cheerful artwork at the milk barn. Weyrauch had her art students draw sketches of a proposed mural to be painted on the front of the milk barn. The most like design was then used as a template for the milk barn painting, and the class came to the farm and completed the artwork.
“We were amazed at what they came up with. It was better than if we’d have hired a company to do it. And, it was a lot of fun. There were about 25 high schoolers who came out to the farm. Some had never been on a farm... some helped me plant flowers and spread mulch, others enjoyed the baby chicks and bottle fed calves,” she said. “Maybe some of those kids will be interested in agriculture in their future after leaving high school. It seems like farming is not something that a lot of kids think about when they’re deciding what they want to after school. It’s a hard living and a lot of work. It never stops. You have to love your animals, be committed to them and know that you are producing food for the world. But all that hard work sure makes you appreciate your food a lot more because you know what it takes before it gets to the grocery store.”
A taste that brings the good, old days back
Raw milk is a hotly debated topic in the United States, with each state declaring its own laws regarding its sale. In Missouri, raw milk producers are able to sell it at their farm and at pick up locations where they sell directly to the customer. Raw milk is defined as milk fresh, generally from pasture-raised cows, that has not been altered in any way, allowing it to retain all of the naturally occurring health benefits. It’s different than most milk that is available commercially in grocery stores, as it is not pasteurized or homogenized, processes of heating the milk to a temperature that kills bacteria. Supporters point out the health benefits and taste of raw milk while critics often argue that the lack of pasteurization creates an unnecessary risk of bacteria and food-borne disease.
The Mahans say that they’re 100 percent supportive of the sale of raw milk and have not had any issues from the milk they’ve produced, sold or drank themselves.
Robin says some of their customer base choose raw milk because they cannot digest commercially sold dairy products very well. Others seek out the healthy vitamins and minerals available in raw milk. Still others are searching for something that’s a little harder to find these days - a taste that gives a glimpse back in time.
While talking with the Times, Robin recalled a visit with a man who visited the farm not to long ago and mentioned that he also grew up on a farm and had to milk an old jersey cow by hand. He said that as a kid he didn’t care for the job too much, but he now thinks back fondly on those memories.
“After taking one drink of our milk, he said he was taken right back to those days he spent as a boy on a stool in his own family’s milk barn.”
Find out more
Granny’s Creamery is located at the Mahan’s farm, located at 163 County Road 904 in Theodosia. The self-service dairy buying station is generally open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. To keep up to date with deliveries and other offerings, contact Granny’s Creamery at firstname.lastname@example.org, 417-545-1784 or by following “Granny’s Creamery” on Facebook.