Dalhart Dairy Keeps Family Tradition Alive While Bettering the Future
Story by Sarah Naron
When your family tree includes three generations of dairy farmers, it’s almost a given that you will follow in those same footsteps. This was certainly the case for Donald and Cheri DeJong, owners and operators of the Natural Prairie Dairy, an establishment located in Dalhart which prides itself on being a certified organic dairy.
Both Donald and Cheri grew up in California and attended California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Both were agriculture majors with their hearts set on one day relocating to Texas to live the life of a farmer, and they bonded over their shared passion and very quickly turned those dreams into reality.
“Right after graduation, within about a year, we got married, and we moved to Texas,” Cheri shared. “So, Donald likes to say we got here as fast as we could. We knew Texas would provide a lot more opportunity for us.”
The couple settled in the Lone Star State in 2005 and established a small farm, eventually turning their focus to farming acres of organic land. According to Cheri, both she and Donald are “dairy farmers at heart” and quickly set their sights on making that passion their life’s work.
“As soon as we began the process of farming organic land, we immediately started thinking about producing organic milk,” she said. “That led to the very first conversations of Natural Prairie Dairy. We saw a huge opportunity as customers began to ask up about organic solutions, as it was during that time that organic farming was really starting to take off, so we decided to give it a try.”
As Donald shared, however, getting the operation up and running was anything but easy.
“Mother Nature is the one thing we truly can’t control,” he pointed out. “We’re in farming, we’re outside. We’ve been through droughts, hailstorms, tornadoes, rainstorms, you name it. There have been times where we weren’t able to grow the amount of crops we needed to.”
Despite the difficulties they sometimes face, the couple continues to keep going, leaning on the Lord whenever times get tough.
“We always find strength in our faith, knowing that God is in control,” Donald said. “We just have to do the best we can.”
Today, the Natural Prairie Dairy has grown from its humble origins and single cow to a booming business which employs more than 400 people and is home to more than15,000 certified organic cows. The success that he and Cheri have enjoyed, Donald said, is a product of “care of the land, care of the people, and care of the cows.
“In this business, you have to have extreme attention to detail, and achieving excellence takes a full team, all working together toward a common goal,” he explained. “We don’t settle for mediocrity.”
The care shown by Donald and Cheri to their employees has not gone unnoticed, as the dairy was bestowed the honor of being designated a “Great Place to Work” in 2021. Of the employees, 87 percent expressed pride in all they have accomplished while working at Natural Prairie Dairy, while 86 percent cited good feelings when thinking about the ways in which working here has allowed them to contribute to their local community.
When it comes to selecting new members of the Natural Prairie Dairy family, Donald and Cheri do so with the utmost care. All new hires must complete a stringent, elaborate training program through which they learn the ins and outs of the day-to-day operations of the dairy and the best practices of caring for its cows.
“We believe that healthy cows produce healthy milk,” Donald said. “That’s the bottom line. A cow with a high quality of life will always give you higher quality milk. We are all about cleanliness, illness prevention, and accountability.”
The cows who reside at the Natural Prairie Dairy spend a minimum of 120 days per year in the pastures, and grazing makes up 30 percent of their food intake. Throughout the months in which conditions are unsuitable for grazing, organic feed grown on the farm is provided to the animals. Herbicides, pesticides, or artificial fertilizers are never served.
Donald and Cheri believe that the organic status of the dairy’s pastures plays a prominent role in the top-quality milk produced there.
“The better care we take of our pastures, the more milk we make,” Cheri pointed out. “Being organic really starts with the land all the way through the cows and team members, but you have to start with great pastures.”
Through their efforts to maintain the highest possible level of sustainability in all of their farming endeavors, Donald and Cheri have created a way of recycling cow manure in a way which is expected to revolutionize the agriculture industry as a whole. Aided by Sedron Technologies, the couple developed the Varcor, a machine which takes what is typically viewed as useless, undesirable waste and utilizes it for the good of the land around it.
“Basically, the Varcor turns cow manure into clean water – you can drink it, if you want – and a dry, organic fertilizer you apply to the crops when needed,” explained Charlie Stone, a media representative for Natural Prairie Dairy. “More specifically, the Varcor transforms the cow waste into three things – potable water, aqueous ammonia, and dry phosphorus powder.”
The water produced by the Varcor is then used to provide hydration to cows and crops, while the ammonia plays a key part in providing the nitrogen necessary for crop growth and the phosphorus serves as an organic fertilizer.
“Not only will this system drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will eliminate the need for manure ponds and several different pieces of farm equipment and create a closed-loop farming system,” Stone said.
Donald spoke proudly of the invention and its potential to impact the agriculture industry.
“The Varcor was born in Texas but will change animal agriculture globally for the better forever,” he said. “We are blessed, indeed, to have settled in the High Plains of Texas, where anything is possible if you work hard and take care of this beautiful land.”
In addition to striving to better the future of agriculture as a whole, the DeJongs are also working to ensure that the Natural Prairie Dairy is well cared for in the years to come.
“We’re focusing on family and the next generation of our family to lead the business,” Cheri said. “It’s a true gift to be able to farm with our family through the generations, and that’s a gift that we would never take for granted.”