Lyness opting for on-farm milk bottling, explains process to group
PITTSTOWN — Spring Run Dairy is the second small dairy in the state to commence bottling operations after Peter Southway’s Springhouse Dairy began bottling operations a few years back. In both operations, the milk is pasteurized but not homogenized, leading to a thicker, creamier, richer tasting milk.
Garden State dairy farmers typically have few breaks from their herds of cows, so they work harder than many vegetable growers and are feeling squeezed by forces within the dairy industry.
Talking to a group of New Jersey Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ag Professionals touring the farm this summer, Dan Lyness said about 25 to 30 percent of the farm’s income now comes from retail sales of regular and chocolate milk, while the rest of it is shipped out wholesale, to much larger milk processing and distribution operations in south Jersey.
Lyness took the small group of young agriculturalists into the farm’s milk processing center and bottling room. To comply with the state’s Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, you need a vestibule, “a clean room,” in New Jersey. Some states don’t require a clean room.
“It’s not a bad concept,” Lyness said of the clean room. “It gives you that barrier and break between the fields outside and what goes on in here. You can remove flies, bugs, dust and dirt before coming in here, it prevents that stuff from getting in here while you’re pasteurizing.”
Lyness and his crew have a small batch pasteurizer and now process milk from the herd three days a week, as his father, mother and a cousin are now helping out to keep up with customer demand.
“We pump in milk from the bulk tank to the 100-gallon batch pasteurizer, and we pump it in from the milk house. We have heating elements in it, you’re bringing the milk temperature up by heating water, it’s indirect heat, you’re bringing the temperature up to 146 degrees for 30 minutes — 145 degrees is legal — for white milk, and once it’s done, you drain all that hot water and we pump in tap water and circulate that through and then we have a 300 gallon tank of colder water outside that’s at 35 degrees, and we start circulating ice cold water to cool the milk down,” he said.
“It’s all about preserving the taste and quality of the milk,” he added. “We tell new customers it’s cream lined, so shake well. Some customers say it’s chunky, so we tell them just shake it.” Lyness noted that the homogenization of milk didn’t come along until about 50 years ago, “so most older folks remember a cream-lined type of milk.”
It takes about four and a half hours to process and bottle 100 gallons of milk, using half gallon and quart sized plastic jugs.
Human hands aren’t involved in the bottling process except to load fully sealed plastic milk bottles into nearby crates where it then goes to a large walk-in refrigeration unit.
Because they’re not using glass bottles, it’s an efficient, less expensive way to pasteurize, he said.
“My mom is in here every day when we pasteurize and we’re bottling three days a week now. We may be up to four days a week soon.”
Dan’s father Gerry Lyness, a “retired” livestock farmer and longtime member of the Hunterdon County Board of Agriculture, is growing about half an acre of vegetables right on the farm to sell at the newly opened retail stand.
The Creamery at Spring Run Dairy began bottling operations on Feb. 1 of this year.
Dan Lyness feeds his cows a mix of hay, straw, alfalfa and roasted soybeans, all grown right at the farm to keep costs down.
“Six months into this, I think we’re above and beyond where we should be,” Lyness said. If the dairy’s product line is expanded in future years, the next logical step would be yogurt, because all the expensive processing equipment he and his father and the rest of his crew installed can handle that.
“We’re just taking baby steps,” Lyness said. “We want to be really good at what we do. I don’t want to make butter, ice cream, yogurt, all these other things just yet. Right now, we’re sticking with bottled milk.”