Keith Fagernes, a third-generation dairyman, and Selma Bjarnadottir have teamed up to run the Flying Cow Creamery in Rochester, Wash.
He cares for the herd, and she runs the creamery and makes the yogurt.
Fagernes says his herd is the only one to receive the Northwest Dairy Association’s award for maintaining the association’s quality standards for 15 consecutive years and its annual award for superior milk quality.
Fagernes maintains a low somantic cell count in the milk his herd produces, which indicates freedom from infection. A healthy cow has a count of 200,000 or less. In the 1930s, the standard was 50,000 or less, but it was raised because with industrialization, as fewer dairies could meet that level.
Most dairy co-ops allow a count of 350,000, and the state of Washington allows 450,000.
Fagernes’ herd has maintained levels between 39,000 and 50,000 for the past 15 years, proof that it can still be done.
Their herd of 50 milkers is closed — no new animals are brought in from outside and only artificial insemination is used — so the risk of outside diseases in the Flying Cow herd is low.
After a decade of selective breeding and culling, today all of Fagernes’ lactating cows are confirmed producers of A2A2 milk, which contains the A2 type of beta casein protein instead of the more prevalent A1 protein. Researchers have found that some people digest those proteins more easily.
Milk and yogurt are Flying Cow’s only products. The yogurt culture was chosen after two years of research and customer taste-testing.
The yogurt is incubated and sold in made-in-the-U.S. returnable glass containers.
“Sure, ones from China are cheaper,” Bjarnadottir agrees, “but we want American industry to thrive, and we don’t want our containers in the landfills.”
The yogurt is incubated in the containers they are sold in, and there are “too many unknowns” to do that in plastic containers.
The only ingredients are the milk and culture — no thickeners, stabilizers or sugar.