In the small town of Lindsay, Texas, with just a few milking dairies still operating, Circle N Dairy has reinvented the standard for family dairies.
Michelle Neu married into the family dairy business, and the lifestyle that came with it, in 1980. Her husband, Tommy Neu, is a second-generation dairy farmer.
“Choosing this life was easy, I just loved him. I supported him,” Michelle said.
Tommy’s father opened the dairy in 1967; the family’s only source of income was from the cooperative. The milk truck would gather milk from neighboring dairies, then combine the milk at the processing plant to be used for dairy products.
Circle N Dairy opened an onsite store in 2009 to supplement their income, in addition to traditional revenue from the co-op. Michelle said she wanted their product to go directly to their customers.
A once private dairy only visited by the cooperative milk truck is now a hot spot for local goods. While there are benefits to providing an outlet for customers to experience agriculture up close, the hardships of owning a small dairy do not go away.
“It was easier when the milk truck came,” Michelle said. “I won’t lie about that, but the store is more rewarding because you meet the customers that actually use our product.”
Raw milk was the first product available to customers directly from the dairy; however, Michelle said she wanted to bring in a more well-rounded supply of local goods.
“This is a place that customers want to come to because they don’t have access to something like this.”Michelle Neu
“We opened our little bitty store and were excited to start bringing in other things,” Michelle said. “We had neighbors bring eggs and someone else made baked goods. It has only grown from there.”
In addition to completing the expected daily tasks of owning a dairy, Michelle coordinates with local vendors, restocks the store throughout the day, and markets the dairy to customers.
“Dairy farmers are often recognized as some of the hardest workers in the agricultural industry,” Michelle said. She remembered waking up around 2 a.m. one Christmas Eve for the morning milk, trudging through waist deep snow to get to the milking barn. “Those are the moments where you decide if you truly want this life,” Michelle said.
“This is a seven days-a-week, every week of the year job,” Michelle said, “and I don’t want any sympathy for that.”
Michelle said she understands consumer’s growing interest in knowing their food comes from wholesome operations. Circle N Dairy has been offering private tours since before the opening of the Country Store. Interest in the tour amongst customers has grown as the popularity of the dairy increases. The tour shows people what dairy farmers do every day, teaches consumers about agriculture, and generates revenue.
“This is a place that customers want to come to because they don’t have access to something like this,” Michelle said. “We want them to experience the country life and enjoy it the same way we do.”
With investment and family tradition driving the day-to-day operations, Michelle said she could not imagine losing the dairy.
“People will come to our store and thank us for what we are doing,” she said. “They appreciate what we do and when we are feeling down, they kind of give us momentum to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to keep going and get up again tomorrow.’”