Brown Dairy low-stress operation produces ‘sweet’ milk

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Brown Dairy low-stress operation produces ‘sweet’ milk

Billy Ray Brown holds a gallon of Brown’s Family Dairy’s Cream Line Milk produced southeast of Oxford. The milk is now distributed in about 30 locations in north Mississippi, keeping the dairyman, his family and farm employees scrambling to meet the demand.
Surrounding Brown are (from left) Judd Gentry, Asa Tucker, Steven Gray and Charlie Barnett.
The Panolian photo by John Howell

By John Howell
When Lafayette County dairy farmer Billy Ray Brown finished speaking at the Batesville Rotary Club last week, no one wanted to trade places with him, but everyone in the room envied the joie de vivre he has found in doing what he always wanted to do.
“It’s a lifestyle, but it is very demanding,” the dairyman said of the unique small dairy operation he has developed on 60 acres southeast of Oxford at Yocona.
Demand for milk from Brown’s Family Dairy began in area farmers’ markets and has spread to about 30 outlets in north Mississippi including Piggly Wiggly and the Cotton Warehouse Farmers Market in Batesville.
Customers are willing to pay a premium for the milk for several reasons, according to the dairyman. They like to know the source of their milk, they like its taste and they are concerned about the animals’ welfare.
The creamy flavor of Brown’s whole milk is a reminder of why those of a certain age — old enough to have tasted milk before it was produced almost exclusively on factory farms —  call it “sweet milk.”
“Every one of our cows has a name,” Brown said. “These cattle are not pushed; they’re just giving a few gallons per cow. It’s just easier on them.”
His favored breed is the Jersey, a smaller-bodied animal that produces less, but better tasting milk. He said he has also experimented with Guernsey, Brown Swiss and Holstein dairy breeds.
“We bottle our own milk,” Brown said.
The dairy operation includes on-site bottling for retail sales. Bottling is slowed, the farmer continued, by the limited capacity of his pasteurizer, the 30-gallon capacity heating system which heats and kills any bacteria in a process that takes 3.5 hours. Bottling has become a 24-hour operation to keep up with demand.
Milk extracted from a cow at Brown’s dairy one morning will probably be available for sale in a grocery cooler or a farmers’ market by the following day, he said.
“I wasn’t raised in a farm family,” Brown said.
But he was always around farms and always wanted to be a farmer. During a stint at Northwest Mississippi Community College, he worked at Buz Wardlaw’s pig farm that was once located where the Airport Industrial Park has been developed.
Then he spent about 10 years working for Briscoe and Sons’ farm in Lafayette County, all the while trying to figure out how to turn 60-something acres of family land in the Yocona Community into a family farm. He studied and spent much time with Mississippi State University agricultural specialists before deciding that he wanted to try a small dairy operation.
“I’d been around cattle, but nothing around dairy at all, so I did a lot of research and I went to a lot of dairies and looked at them. There’s a huge difference in dairy and beef,” he said.
“The only way I could get into the dairy business was to bottle my milk and get a premium for it,” Brown continued.
“When we did this, it hadn’t been done, so we didn’t know if it would work or not; that was the scariest part to me,” he said.
The venture has turned into a working family farm in the truest sense. Brown’s wife has an active role in the operation as do their children, Molly, 14; Sarah, 13 and Harris, 10.
“Each of those kids has some small part in the farm,” according to their dad, duties that may include bottling the milk and bottle-feeding calves. Harris has taken an interest in the family’s small hog operation and a cow/calf beef herd, both located in another area, Brown said.
In addition to milk sold in retail outlets, cream from Brown’s Family Dairy is sold to Sweet Magnolia Ice Cream in Clarksdale. Brown said that he offers free tours of the farm Mondays through Thursdays. “We’re too busy on the weekends,” he said.
See farm photos and learn more at

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