Troy and Barb DeRosier, owners of Crystal Ball Farms Dairy near Osceola, have overcome adversity before.
On March 29, 2018, the DeRosiers, who have been farming since 1995, saw their free-stall barn and milking parlor destroyed by an electrical fire.
Before the fire, the DeRosiers processed and bottled most of the organic milk from their approximately 80 cows in their on-farm creamery for delivery to restaurants, stores and other customers throughout northwest Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota.
The fire shut down the dairy farm for about eight months and the creamery for a year and a half.
Things returned mostly to normal following the creamery’s reopening in June 2019. Then, this spring, the coronavirus hit.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Troy DeRosier said Crystal Ball Farms was hit particularly hard.
“Half our market was high-end restaurants and coffee shops, and they disappeared overnight,” he said.
Fortunately though, DeRosier said, it didn’t take long before their market shifted and they started seeing four to five times the usual number of customers coming into their farm store to make purchases.
The DeRosiers started Crystal Ball Farms as an organic dairy. After the fire destroyed the cow barn and the milking parlor, the cows left the farm and joined the herd at a neighboring dairy farm. But with the cows off the farm, Crystal Ball Farms lost their organic certification. Now the farmstead dairy specializes in “all-natural non-GMO products and in practice ... are as close to organic as possible.”
“They left here and we couldn’t keep them on organic pasture,” DeRosier said. “Life is actually a little easier without the certification.”
In their recovery from the fire, the DeRosiers rebuild included a slatted-floor barn with a manure pit, a double-12 parallel milking parlor and a 90-foot silo.
“We’re very pleased with everything we did, and everything is working perfectly,” DeRosier said. “I’ve had cattle all my life, so I knew what I wanted and how I wanted everything to work. But we had to make the final decisions quickly to get work started.”
Cows at Crystal Ball Farms are bred for A2 proteins that can be less likely to cause allergies or lactose intolerance for some consumers.
“The name Crystal Ball Farms explains our strategy of looking at the future of milk and the dairy industry,” according to the Crystal Ball website. “Armed with this information, we have been breeding for A2 proteins for over 14 years — one of the first in Wisconsin.”
After rebuilding, the DeRosiers doubled the size of their herd, and the farm is now home to about 200 made up of mostly Holsteins with the best producers crossbred to Fleckveih for the A2 protein genetics, DeRosier said.
They milk about 160 twice a day, and milkings in the the new parlor can be done by just a person or two. The slatted-floor barn and a conveyor-belt feeding system also cut down on labor.
“We designed the whole system to be pretty labor efficient,” DeRosier said.
DeRosier said without the organic certification, it’s easier to get better production out of the cows. He said per-cow production is up 20 to 25 pounds per day since dropping their certification. While not having to feed organic is part of the reason for the increase in production, he said, some credit also goes to the considerations they made as part of the rebuild.
“Cow comfort is much nicer now,” DeRosier said. “Cow comfort is phenomenal.”
The creamery wasn’t damaged in the fire, but it was shut down for about a year and a half before bottling operations got back up and running.
“With things sitting idle for that long, a lot of things didn’t work when we were ready to get going again,” DeRosier said. “We spent quite a bit of time getting the bugs worked out.”
Excess milk from the dairy is is shipped to AMPI, and the DeRosiers shipped all their milk to AMPI once dairying restarted on the farm and before bottling operations were able to begin again.
As restaurants and coffee shops begin to re-open, DeRosier said Crystal Ball Farms will be able to handle an increase in demand.
“We have more room in the creamery,” he said. “It’ll just mean less excess that gets shipped to AMPI.”
Crystal Ball’s milk is non-homogenized, which gives the milk its namesake cream line at the top of each bottle, and is pasteurized at a low heat, preserving enzymes and resulting in a sweet taste.
The farm store is open slightly limited hours right now, but they are usually open when they are in the creamery for processing: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. They are also currently offering online ordering and Thursday delivery within about 50 miles of the farm.
DeRosier said their products are also still found in many stores in the region and in Wisconsin and Minnesota metropolitan areas they were in before the fire.
“It took a while to build back our markets,” DeRosier said. “But even without the organic certification, most of our customers stuck with us.
“Most of them just want to buy local. They want to know where their food comes from.”
For more information, visit https://crystalballfarmsdairy.com or call 715-294-4090.