30 Days: Tom Trantham, Twelve Aprils Dairy Farm

If a cow were to actually jump over the moon as the famous nursery rhyme suggests, Tom Trantham would likely propel himself toward the sky and follow suit.

“Follow the cows instead of leading them,” he told us this week, while taking a break at his Happy Cow Creamery farm store in Pelzer, South Carolina.

That philosophy sure worked for Tom, but it took a cow jumping over a fence to convince him.

Like many American farmers who put all their hopes into a dwindling dairy industry, Tom was bottling a lot of milk in the 1970s and 1980s, but never reaping the profits. Instead, he was in the hole financially, praying for a break to redeem his sinking business.

One sunny April morning in 1989, his most unruly, but brilliant, Holstein broke free from the fenced-in pasture to graze on the greener side. The rest of the herd followed slowly, grazing a seven-acre field of natural springtime pasture: rye grass, clover and fescue.

Learn more about Tom’s dairy in our video interview below!


RAFI’s Tom Trantham “That’s My Milk Money” from RAFI-USA on Vimeo.

Tom says he realized then that “we took the most perfect food on Earth, we’ve altered it, homogenized it and artificalized it.” After that day, his next milking yielded a two-pound average increase of milk per cow.

With the help of RAFI’s Michael Sligh, Tom took his method to Clemson University. There, researchers compared his management-intensive grazing to his former confinement system and found a 31 cents per cow per day savings under a grazing system. In 1994 and 1995, the herd grazed 437 days, leading to a $15,805 savings for Tom’s 70 cows.

Through his own epiphany, Tom has helped enlighten countless dairy farmers and policy makers throughout the country and abroad. Farmers from Canada to Argentina pop into Twelve Aprils Dairy and the Happy Cow Creamery store to learn from Tom’s operation.

In 2002, Tom was named winner of SARE’s Patrick Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture. He has spoken directly to senators and representatives, helping change farm policy for the better. He served on the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) board, as well as president of the United Farmers Organization. Today, he is on RAFI’s Board of Directors.

“RAFI’s belief in our efforts to make things better have been an immeasurable factor in our ability to contribute to the farming community,” he says.

Thank you, Tom. We could not do it without you. Your dedication to sustainable practices, perseverance to succeed and openness to teach others is what makes us grateful to be shoulder to shoulder with you. 

To nominate your favorite farmer or food hero for RAFI’s 30 Days of Thanks, click here.

Follow along every day at rafiusa.org/30daysofthanks

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