Farm Progress

McCarty Family Farms earns certification for excellence in animal welfare, environmentalism, on-farm security and worker care.

Walt Davis 1, Editor

May 31, 2017

4 Min Read
THE PLANT: The evaporated milk processing plant at McCarty Family Farms Dairy in Rexford whet into production in 2012.

McCarty Family Farms, a fourth-generation operator of dairies with four farms in western Kansas and Nebraska, has reached a milestone in its quest for continuous improvement.

McCarty has become the first dairy in the nation to receive all four demanding Validus certifications for excellence in animal welfare, environmentalism, on-farm security and worker care.

Validus is an independent certification company that works with farmers to ensure food is produced using the most socially responsible, on-farm production practices. Validus is a division of Where Food Comes From Inc. — a North American resource for third-party verification of food and agricultural production practices.

Validus uses proprietary assessments and audits to certify products. In each of the four areas, farmers must meet strict guidelines set for that certification, which is given only after extensive on-site audits.

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WATER CAPTURE: The red tank captures water from the evaporation process. Water is filtered under ultraviolet light and used to sterilize equipment in the processing plant.

"Initially, we started with the animal welfare audit, because we were aware of the concern of consumers about this issue and because of our relationship with Dannon," says Ken McCarty, co-owner of the operation.

About a year ago Dannon announced the Dannon Pledge, which required farmers supplying to Dannon to obtain independent validation of on farm animal welfare practices via Validus. More than 90% of Dannon’s farmer partners have already undergone their first review with Validus.

For McCarty, that requirement provided inspiration. "We believe that the changes we made as a result of participation in the animal welfare audit improved the health of our herd and increased our production," McCarty says. "That encouraged us to go for the other audits in an effort to make improvements in our entire operation."

The Validus certification represents over a year of rigorous training, documentation and reviews by animal welfare experts across four dairy sites with more than 8,500 cows.

McCarty says that almost all of the production from the family's four farms is marketed through Dannon.

"Our only constraint is the capacity of our own processing plant," he says. "At times, we have to market to non-Dannon sources if we have more milk than we can process."

He said that occurred with this spring's "flush" production, which he attributed, in part, to improvements in cow health that came from being part of the Validus animal welfare audit.

Farm found room to grow in Kansas
Tom and Judy McCarty were third-generation dairy farmers in Pennsylvania in 1995, and had operated a 155-cow family dairy for decades.

They were landlocked and facing the reality that their four sons would have to seek jobs outside agriculture. It was their accountant that talked to them about finding opportunity in the growing dairy industry in Kansas. They decided to visit. And the rest, as they say, is history.

They moved to Rexford in Thomas County in 1999, built a large, modern dairy, and in April of 2000, began milking. In December 2009, they were recognized as the Kansas Distinguished Dairy Family of the Year. Eventually, all four of their sons — Ken, Clay, Mike and David — expressed interest in joining the family dairying operation. Today, the family operates the original dairy in Rexford and has added operations in Bird City and Scott City, and a fourth operation in southern Nebraska. All four brothers have found a niche in the family operation.

In 2012, they decided on a new venture: a processing plant to produce evaporated milk and pasteurized cream capable of processing 525,000 pounds of milk a day for sale to Dannon Yogurt to supply its Dallas-Fort Worth plant.

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TALKING COWS: Clay McCarty explains the McCarty Family Farms milking parlor operation at Rexford to Kansas Dairy Association members on a tour in 2012.

At the time, Tom says the family was looking for a way to avoid the volatility of the milk markets and find a way to stabilize the price they received for their milk. The Dannon contract provided that.

The plant recovers the water condensed from the evaporation process and allowed the McCartys to add 500 cows to the milking operation using the same, or less, water, something they felt was important to environmental stewardship in water-short northwest Kansas.

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