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MyShan Dairy: Small farm, big on quality

Oct 2nd, 2018 | Category: Community, Farms

by Mary Vermillion

Shannon Smith tells visitors that MyShan Dairy is a 4-H project that got out of hand. What started as a hobby for her daughter has grown into a family dairy business with 50 Guernsey cows producing up to 800 gallons of milk a week. And Shannon and husband Mylon Smith are not slowing down.

Micah, Shannon, and Mylon Smith with their Guernsey girls.  PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Micah, Shannon, and Mylon Smith with their Guernsey girls.
PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

The couple grew up in Lynden and attended Lynden High School where they met and started dating in 1988. After school, Mylon did chores for his grandfather on the family’s 220-acre dairy farm on Hampton Road between Lynden and Everson. “He was late for every date because of it,” Shannon said. Apparently, he was forgiven: Shannon and Mylon married in 1991. They were living on Main Street in Lynden when their daughter Maleah said she wanted to show a cow at the Northwest Washington Fair.

Maleah’s first cow was a Holstein. The next was a Jersey. Then came the cow that changed the Smiths’ life. “We bought a Guernsey and there was no turning back,” Shannon said. They love the breed’s gentle nature and high-quality milk.

Tired of keeping the cows at friends’ farms, Mylon convinced Shannon it was time to give farming a try. They leased 10 acres on H Street within sight of the Canadian border and began building their Guernsey herd in 2009. The business name MyShan is a blend of the couples’ first names. The Smiths also own Gillies Funeral Home in Lynden.

Today they have 50 cows comfortably situated in a barn that could fit 80. Their “girls” – as Shannon calls them – are laid back and gentle. “They’re spoiled here,” Mylon said. “It’s a lower-stress environment. They’re not crowded, and they can get outside on the grass and in the sun.”

For the first six years of business, MyShan sold its milk to Darigold, but Mylon saw opportunity in niche markets. Now, they bottle and distribute gallons and half gallons of their 100 percent Guernsey whole white, chocolate and mocha milk directly to Whatcom County outlets such as Haggen, the Green Barn and other grocers and restaurants. The Smiths also sell their milk to Grace Harbor Farms for Kefir and yogurt.

Switching to the smaller market worked for MyShan. “I like that I can set my own price versus the market (setting it),” Mylon said. “Plus, we knew we had a quality product that could be featured in niche products rather than mixed into the commodity market.”

A nurse for 27 years, Shannon will soon retire to focus on marketing the dairy. To expand their reach beyond Whatcom County, they joined the Puget Sound Food Hub.

“As soon as someone tastes it, they’re sold,” Shannon said. They noted Guernsey milk has more protein, cream, vitamin A, D and calcium, and the breed has the Kappa Casein ‘B’ gene, which leads to firmer, delicate tasting cheese. But what makes Guernsey milk truly distinctive is its color. Guernsey’s don’t break down beta carotene in their feed like other dairy breeds, so the antioxidant goes straight into their milk, providing health benefits for consumers and producing milk with a golden hue. MyShan’s milk is vat pasteurized, non-homogenized and silky, full fat. “We see no reason to separate the milk and add in vitamin A and D,” Mylon said. “Why take the natural out? Why alter it?”

The golden, rich pour is reason enough to choose MyShan’s Guernsey milk, but the Smiths noted the cow’s A2 beta casein, which once was common in all cows. Guernsey’s A2/A2 gene has health benefits and makes milk easier to digest – perhaps even for people who are lactose intolerant.

In 2017, MyShan became one of the few dairy operations in Washington state to earn Non-GMO Project Verified status for its milk. “We know people want to avoid genetically modified ingredients in their food,” Mylon said. The Smiths did not pursue organic certification because it wouldn’t allow them to treat their cows with antibiotics. “The cow is more important to us than organic certification,” Mylon said. “There’s not many Guernsey cows around. When we lose one, they’re not easy to find. We want to be able to treat them if they’re sick.”

Mylon adds that of the nine million dairy cows in the United States only about 25,000 are Guernsey. “In the 50s and 60s they were prized,” he said. “Then it became more about the quantity of milk than the quality of milk.” High-producing Holsteins and Jerseys became the cows of choice.

As their business grows, the Smiths are determined to keep MyShan a family operation. Although she’s busy now raising two children of her own, daughter Maleah plans to stay involved. Son Micah, who graduated from Lynden High School in 2017 and is now attending Bellingham Technical College, helps with the calves as well as bottling and delivering milk while still finding time for school and coaching football for his alma mater. His sister is a little jealous he gets to be on the farm. “I joked that my parents left the farm and cows to me in their will,” he said with a shy smile, adding she was not happy about that. The Smiths have two other sons, Landon and Lane, who live and work outside Whatcom County.

The family’s goal is to build up from 800 gallons of milk in a week to 1,000 gallons. Even at that rate, Myshan will still be one of the smallest dairies in the county. They have a 100-gallon vat for pasteurization and may invest into another next year. Buying their own farm near Lynden is a long-term goal. For now, they’re savoring moments like the mornings after milking when it’s quiet and the cows are eating, or the joy of a new calf being born.  They are simple pleasures amid the buzz of a growing business that all started with a little girl’s dream.

MyShan Dairy offers a self-serve farm stand at 112 H Street in Lynden. Their products are available at Haggen stores and the Green Barn. Shannon Smith also hosts tours for school groups, which can be arranged by emailing myshandairy2009@gmail.com. Visit their website at myshandairy.com or find them on Facebook or Instagram. 

 

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