In the heart of Ayden, stands a farm that many are familiar with and love for their high-quality dairy products. Although the family is a natural with dairy cattle today, their story actually started with a variety of other crops. Founded in 2011 by David and Neil Moye, Simply Natural Creamery originally started 30 years ago as a row crop operation, which is still a working aspect of the farm today, but when the Moye’s had children, they wanted to give them the opportunity to learn about and raise livestock. Thus their journey into dairy farming with Jersey cows began.
Jersey cows are not only known for their easy-going temperament, but they also give high-quality milk that is packed full of vitamins, nutrients, butterfat and A-2 Beta Case-in, making it easy to process for lactose-intolerant individuals. Today, the creamery is home to over 300 Jersey cows with 150 of them giving milk at a time. This October, the farm will celebrate its seventh year in the current milk processing facility. The Moye family uses this facility to process 8,000 gallons of milk a week and make their high-quality products, including chocolate milk, skim milk, ice cream, butter and more!
“One of the most exciting parts of my job is watching the baby calves being born each month,” said Natalie Aynes, Manager of Simply Natural Creamery, “the birthing field is right across from our offices, and no matter how many times I have seen a baby calf being born, it is always amazing to be a part of the process of new life coming to the farm.” Since the birthing field is so close to the office, where the ice-cream is served, customers can also experience the birth of a calf if visiting on the right day and time. “Sometimes that can create an interesting conversation for the parents to have with their children,” Natalie joked, “but it’s always a good educational piece for our customers to see the full process of our products from calf to carton.” All of the cows on the farm have names, from babies to mommas. According to Natalie, each baby calf name starts with the same letter as the name of the mother. “For example, if the mommas name is Sandy the calf’s name might be Storm or Sally,” she said, “this system is just a fun way for us to stay organized.”
Once the baby calves are born, the weening process begins on the mother cows timeline. “Some momma cows want to stay with their babies for a while before they are separated and others want to go to the milking parlor right away,” Natalie said, “we allow them to stay together until it is necessary that they be parted.” Just like humans, cows do not start producing milk until after they have had a calf of their own, which means that the front end of the process actually takes a bit of patience. “Most cows are usually impregnated between the ages of one and two,” Natalie said, “which means that we don’t start getting milk from them until around two or three years after they are born. So, it takes a while to get a return on investment from them but it’s always worth it.” Once the cow has a calf, they will continue producing milk on a regular basis, taking breaks for a period in-between pregnancies.
Each day on the farm starts by feeding the cattle. A majority of the food given to the Jerseys each day is made on-site. Remember the row crop operation that started Simply Natural? It is still in operation today and is used to ensure that the dairy cows receive a well-balanced, healthy and nutritious diet. The farm veterinarian visits the farm on a routine basis to check the levels of products in the feed and make sure the animals are receiving all the nutrients they need. After feeding, the momma cows are milked three times a day, 4 a.m., noon and 8 p.m., in the 16-stall milking parlor. Per day, each cow will provide anywhere from 8 to 12 gallons of milk that is stored in a holding tank and delivered to the processing plant on-site.
The first step in the milk-making process is to standardize the milk. This step in the process separates the cream from the skim. The skim will be transferred into three different tanks and cream will be added back in at varying percentages to produce the different milk varieties, like whole, low-fat and skim. After that, the milk is pasteurized at the proper rate and time to maintain the milks high-quality taste. Finally, the milk is homogenized before being bottled to ensure the cream is kept in with the skim and doesn’t rise to the very top, giving it a consistent texture and flavor.
Once this three-step process is complete, the milk is bottled with a machine that can fill up to 21 cartons at a time. After bottling is complete, the cartons are then placed in a cooler until it is sold either to grocery stores or on-site at the facility. Although the milk products are extremely delicious, Simply Natural Creamery is most known for their ice cream products, including their signature flavor, Cow Pattie.
The process to making ice-cream utilizes the cream from the farm. Raw cane sugar is added to the leftover cream as well as the flavor base for each ice cream variety, including strawberry, chocolate and mint. To date, Simply Natural Creamery produces forty flavors of ice cream! Once the ice cream base is complete, it is placed into tubs and put in the freezer that sits at negative fifteen degrees. The ice-cream will then be left in the cooler until sold to grocery stores or used on-site for visiting customers.
The most popular flavor of ice-cream sold on the farm is Butter Pecan, but a recent addition is giving it a little competition, Peanut Butter Brownie. “This flavor utilizes real brownie bites, a brownie base and peanut butter,” Natalie said, “it is truly delicious.” Her favorite flavors are strawberry, which uses fresh N.C. berries, peanut butter, made with their fresh peanut butter, and Cow Pattie, their signature flavor featuring chocolate and peanut butter.
Although it can be difficult to manage the multiple moving parts of the dairy operation, Natalie wouldn’t trade a single day for the joy she feels in educating the public about dairy farming and providing them with high-quality products that they enjoy both on and off the farm. “We have tour groups come out ten months out of the year and I love seeing their faces as we walk them through the process and teach them about how our products are made,” she said, “then seeing the joy on their faces as they eat our ice cream at the end is worth every struggle it took to get here. We even have some lactose intolerant individuals start crying as they realize our ice cream is something they too can enjoy due to the A-2 Beta Case-in that doesn’t hurt their stomach.”
Tours are given on the farm every day. Monday through Friday, the tours run at 10 a.m. and noon by reservation only. On the weekends, however, tours are given hourly on a first come first serve basis. Customers can expect to see the cows in the field, the milking process, the processing and bottling facility as well as the office locations and ice-cream shop. “Every part of our business is transparent and we are 100% honest with all of our customers,” Natalie said, “the only facility that is not shown on the tour is our ice-cream processing building because it has recently moved because of lack of space.” Tours are an hour and a half long and customers are encouraged to ask questions and learn about every aspect of the farming operation.
Products from Simply Natural Creamery can be found at grocery store chains across the state. In fact, if you visit their website, there is a map where you can type in your zipcode and it will generate stores closest to you that sell Simply Natural products. They also have farm locations in Ayden, Greenville and Morehead City where products can be enjoyed while learning about the operation.
In the future, Simply Natural Creamery will continue working towards its mission of providing high-quality dairy products to customers across the state and beyond. They are also working to expand their agritourism operation, so keep an eye on their website for upcoming events and new product offerings! Most importantly, Natalie and her team will continue educating the public on the importance of dairy farms across the state and teaching people not only how dairy products are made but why they are an important addition to our regular diet.