Jo Ellis: Carthage family finds niche with milk

Milk. The word conjures up childhood memories: family visits to a friend’s farm where I listened to the hum of a cream separator towering over my head, a vision of my mother holding small glass vials to test the fat content of milk brought to the general store by area farmers, and buckets of milk sitting in the cool waters flowing through a springhouse.

One of my favorite memories is of the half-pint jars of milk capped with a little cardboard top and served during breaks in my third- and fourth-grade classes in Kansas City. The jars were so cute, and the chocolate milk tasted wonderful.

I even remember largely unsuccessful attempts to wring the warm liquid from one of my grandfather’s cows and the thrill of finally feeling a small stream squirt through the cow’s teats. My grandfather could take one teat and aim a steady flow directly into a grateful cat’s mouth.

Milk has long been touted as nature’s perfect food. And now Cole Rector and his son Jerry Rector, with the assistance of Cole’s 6-year-old grandson, Zachary, are bringing raw natural milk to Carthage as well as other Southwest Missouri towns.

From 1981 to 2012, the Rector family members operated CD Dairy, located on Missouri Highway 126 east of Jasper. They ran a herd of 150 dairy cattle, selling their output to the Dairy Farmers of America. Two years ago, their return on investment became too small to keep the large herd. They sold the herd down to three but have since built it back up to 14 Holsteins.

Cole Rector said there are no independent dairymen left in Barton County now, only a large corporate operation. He is concerned that Jasper County will be following the same route soon.

His dairy cows are grazed on grass pastures, and are fed ground milo and barley and alfalfa hay. They receive no hormones or antibiotics. They are milked twice a day, with the milk going directly from the milking machines through a stainless steel milk line to a cooling tank from which the jars are filled.

“The thing that makes milk good is getting it cooled down immediately,” Cole said. He sells only to residential customers because state law requires that milk sold to commercial establishments must be pasteurized.

Controversy still rages over the safety of raw milk compared with pasteurized milk. Some people cannot handle either one. Raw milk proponents say pasteurization destroys beneficial bacteria and diminishes vitamin content, and while pasteurized milk may “last” longer than raw milk, it turns putrid while raw milk sours naturally. As long as the herd is disease-free and the milk is handled under sterile conditions, proponents say raw milk is entirely safe.

Google it, it’s all there.

The Rectors have nearly 100 regular customers now, gathered through friends, neighbors and the Internet. “We have gained so many customers, it’s just amazing,” Cole said, “And we have just touched a fraction of them.”

A large portion of his deliveries are to home-schooling families south of Joplin.

Cole delivers Tuesdays and Fridays to Carthage, Carterville, Oronogo, Carl Junction, Diamond and Joplin. Jerry delivers Mondays and Thursdays to Lamar, Jasper, Golden City and Liberal. The half-gallon jars cost $2. No deposit is required unless it is a one-time buy. Some nearby customers come directly to the dairy “because they want to take the milk right from the spigot on the tank,” Cole said.

He said some Hispanic families also come to get five-gallon cans of warm milk from which they can make cheese. Customers have come from Pittsburg, Kan., Kansas City and even St. Louis. The dairy can be accessed 24/7, Cole said. Empty jars are kept in a refrigerator, and payment is on the honor system.

“A person’s word is his honor,” Cole believes, a philosophy he picked up from his grandmother, who ran a store and gas station in tiny Buick, Colo., for many years.

Details: 417-437-0430 (Cole); 417-394-2681 (Jerry).

ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email [email protected]