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Outstanding Dairy of the Year

Thursday, July 12th, 2012 | Posted by

Doug Buttke carries fresh milk for dairy calves at the Buttke Family Dairy in Sebastopol. (Kent Porter / PD)

By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent

Sebastopol’s Buttke Family Dairy has been named the North Bay’s Outstanding Dairy of the Year. The Buttkes will receive the Edward J. Maddelena Memorial Trophy on Farmer’s Day at the Sonoma County Fair Aug. 5.

For those that have known them for years as neighbors and colleagues, the question was, “What took so long?” This hardworking family has been in the milk business since 1977.

Three generations are involved with the placid cows: Doug, 60, and Judy, 58, who started the dairy; their son, Nick, who is a partner; and three grandsons. It’s a demanding, but satisfying way of life for the family.

Doug has always worked in dairies, and Judy grew up on one in Petaluma. So when they went into business, cows were a cinch.

Judy and Doug Buttke

The dairy produces Class A milk, meaning it is for drinking, not making other dairy products. The milk is sold to Safeway.

See photos from the dairy here

Their cows are mostly Holsteins (the black and white ones), although they have some Jerseys (the brown ones).

Cows mean work. Doug Buttke wakes at 2:30 a.m. to get the cows ready for their first milking. It takes about three hours to milk 170 cows.

He points to one cow with an exceptional udder and says, “That’s a good cow. She produces eight gallons at each milking. The average is half of that.”

Then he gets the cows out on the grass and washes down the barn. By then it’s time to feed the calves. They first feed from a bottle until they learn they can get more faster from a bucket.

The young calves run out of their igloo calf houses eagerly as Buttke walks by. Each has a house and small pen until they get old enough to go into the pasture. He then checks on his cows’ health.

Lane Buttke, 3, holds on as his cousin Ryan McDonald, 10, drives Nicholas Buttke, 4, and Ryan McDonald, 7 (in back). They are delivering a load of hay to the dairy cattle.

“They get the same sort of ailments we do,” says Buttke. “They can catch a cold and get pneumonia. Sometimes they can get foot rot. I have to keep my eyes open and treat them right away.”

By then it’s 8:30 a.m., and he is hungry and ready for breakfast. Judy, who rises at 6:30 a.m., knows he has already put in a full day’s work.

“I couldn’t get away with a continental breakfast,” she says with a laugh. “No way.”

Their son Nick handles the afternoon milking while Doug naps. Judy and the boys all help with the chores, feeding calves, cleaning up. On a farm there is always something to do.

They lease about 750 acres for their dairy and beef cattle. Their other son, Glen, is partners in the beef business.

The rhythm of their lives changes very little. Once a year the cows calf and are tenderly cared for. Once a year the Buttkes are required by law to spread the manure from the animals. When you smell the dairy air at that time of year you know the farmers are complying with the law.

A couple years ago they got computerized. “We computerized the feed and the milk weighing,” says Judy.

Occasionally the EPA complicates their lives.

“Every year they change the regulations, but we manage,” says Buttke. And they have had their share of city folks who move to the country and complain about the milk and feed trucks. That’s before they finally realize that dairies are the reason they have countryside, and dairies have needs.

Doug Buttke keeps a freezer full of ice cream for his grandsons' afternoon snack. From left, Danny McDonald, Nicholas and Lane Buttke.

In addition to the basic work of a dairy, Judy works for North Bay Dairywomen, a group that promotes dairy products at agricultural fairs, Ag Days and such. She also serves on theDairy Princess Committee, filling the position young women in the industry vie for. And she is busy with the Canfield 4-H.

“I did it with my kids as they learned to raise animals, and now I do it with the grandkids,” she says. The kids also belong to Future Farmers of America, and they have rooms of trophies to attest to their work.

Their daughter Clarette McDonald is office manager of Dairyman’s Feed & Supply Co-operative in Petaluma, so the entire family is connected to the industry.

The Buttkes also belong to the Farm Bureau and the Hessel Grange. “It once closed for a year, but now all these young farmers have come into it, and we are very happy,” says Judy.

What do the Buttkes do for fun?

“We bought a ranch in Hopland,” she answers. “No cows there, just wildlife. We take turns going up there once in a while and hunting.”

After a few days they get lonely for the cows and have to come back, so Judy adds that they have no plans to retire to Hopland.


  • Ruby

    Congratulations!!! Much deserved.

  • carleen

    Refreshing Story

  • Christa Gleason Pollard

    Congratulation Buttke Family!! A wonderful hardworking, fun loving family. A great article.

  • mickey christmann

    Nice job Doug and Judy

  • skip and donna

    congrats doug and judy

  • http://facebook Donna & Earl


  • Don and Kathy

    Congratulations! Great Work!

  • Tony And Cindy

    Hey Neighbors, Congratulations. You are all such hard workers!

  • Elaine Rasmussen-Thompson

    Congratulations for all your hard work, dedication and being great examples for generations to come!! Am sure the dairy industry is proud!

  • Isha

    Hi I live in sebastopol, how can i buy this milk?

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Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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