Modesto Milling was the first feed mill in California to produce organic feed, and it is the only mill in California today that produces exclusively organic feed.
Modesto Milling was created as a dairymen’s co-op to provide mixed grain feed for local dairies in the 1960s. Some of the co-op members later expressed an interest in transforming their conventional dairies to organic. In 1998, Modesto became the first feed mill in California to begin manufacturing organic dairy feed.
A new manager of the facility in 2007 suggested the idea of the mill producing only organic feed. The board of directors made the decision to make the change to all-organic production. Today, Modesto Milling is 100 percent organic.
The switch to organic feed brought with it another change to the company. Before 2007, the feed mill had produced only bulk feed supplied to farms. Organic feed production was accompanied by adding sack distribution. Buying organic livestock feed in sacks was a new concept at the time. Now, Modesto’s organic sack feeds are distributed throughout the entire United States, including Hawaii. It can be purchased on location at the mill or ordered online — by the sack or by the pallet — from their website.
Modesto Milling has a good reputation for making quality feed for the health and longevity of animals. Much of that can be attributed to the diversity of ingredients that goes into the feed. While most animal feed is primarily made of corn and soybeans, Modesto uses a much larger variety. According to Chris Wagner, who is a grain buyer and in charge of all feed formulations for the company, every ingredient has its own story. He listens to the customers to derive formulas the farmers want and need for optimal palatability and production. Modesto now has formulas that are corn free, soy free, or free of both corn and soy. Black sunflower seeds naturally increase the anti-oxidant levels of the whole grain mix. Other untraditional ingredients are used to provide more quality to the feed. Diatomaceous earth and kelp meal complement the whole grains to remove internal parasites, pathogens, and toxins from animals’ digestive tracts. A particular species of kelp is used because it provides 10 times more bioactivity of normal kelp.
Wagner says that the company takes pride in the fact that clients regularly tell him how Modesto Milling products have increased their animals’ health, wellbeing, and production. Customers also find comfort in the fact that the mill produces only organic feed, eliminating the chance of mix-up between conventional and organic products. While the demand for organic feed is growing, the market is not strong enough yet to support large mills. Modesto Milling is small enough that it can cater to the increasing number of producers looking for alternatives to conventional agriculture. They search for different and cleaner ingredients with more integrity. Buying non-GMO is a big issue for many today. Organics play into it because genetically modified ingredients are not allowed in organic production.
Organic certification gives consumers confidence about the quality of the feed. The rules are more defined and specific than in conventional agriculture. Modesto Milling holds organic certification from both USDA and Oregon Tilth. It does business with vendors who hold organic certification. Many of its clients insist on the formulations containing certified ingredients because those certifications help them to maintain their own organic certification status.
Just as Modesto Milling is a relatively small feed company, most of its clients are small producers. Many are looking to grow more healthy food for their families. They are typically producers of backyard poultry flocks, small rabbit and goat producers, CSAs and other producers on a smaller scale than conventional farms. Wagner says that the demand for organic is growing all the time as more people become aware of the benefits. He credits the annual National Heirloom Exposition, with providing higher visibility and helping to increase that awareness.
Kathy McFarland is a former English teacher and a life-long gardener who likes to travel, read, write, and do almost anything outdoors. She is currently renovating her Hope Haven Farmstead in the Missouri Ozarks to make it more sustainable and productive.