At Red Bell Farms LLC in Mount Vernon, Mo., Roxanne Bell supplies fresh A2/A2 milk and butter directly to customers who prize it for its friendliness to those with a dairy intolerance.
The unpastuerized milk comes from her three Guernsey cows on her 260-acre farm, where she also runs 100 Angus-cross beef cows.
As the owner and operator of Red Bell Farms, Roxanne chose the Guernsey for a variety of reasons.
“They’re gentle, they love to be babied,” she explained. “Plus, I think they have great eye appeal. They’re a beautiful cow, I love the color.”
But the primary reason her customers come to her is the A2/A2 milk those Guernseys produce.
“There’s some conflicting figures and percentages on what breed has how many, but I know that Guernseys predominantly have the A2/A2 gene.”
Roxanne detailed how A2/A2 works: “It is a protein that the body does not reject and will absorb better in the gut. So that eliminates some of the lactose-intolerance in people.”
She also handcrafts butter with the A2/A2 milk in small batches for her customers.
Using a bucket milker with her Guernseys, Roxanne said they average about 55 or 60 pounds a day.
She flash-chills the raw milk, and she’s very particular about how the product is handled after that, even after it leaves her farm.
“I strongly encourage my customers to bring coolers when they come to pick it up because any fluctuation in temperature will shorten the shelf life of your milk,” she said.
Roxanne is also particular about her cattle’s diet. They are all grass-fed during grass season and hay-fed during the winter. She does not use silage, and she gives them the minimum grain needed when they’re milking. Beyond that, she sticks to the grass and hay diet exclusively.
“I rotate my paddocks for optimum grass production and follow up with the beef cows. The Gurensey girls get first choice,” she said.
To breed her dairy cows, she uses AI with bulls confirmed to have the A2/A2 gene. For the beef cattle she uses natural cover.
While Red Bell Farms is a relatively small dairy operation, Roxanne is no stranger to much larger herds. For 25 years she owned and operated a dairy with her husband, Glen Hanock, and at peak numbers they were milking 260 cows (mostly Holstein).
Farming runs in the family as well. Her grandparents, Helene and John Bell Sr., bought the farm’s original 300 acres in 1928. Roxanne grew up there when the family was growing crops, beef and hogs.
“It was all hay production and beef when I bought it from my dad.” In 2008 her father, John Bell Jr., sold 212 acres of it to her (she rents an additional 45 acres). She started the dairy operation about two years ago.
Her family just recently opened a farm store, Heritage Farm and Dairy LLC, in Bois D’Arc, Mo. Run primarily by her husband’s son and daughter-in-law, Matthew and Taryan Hancock, Roxanne reported it’s been very successful.
“We thought it would be good, but it’s exceeded our expectations,” she said.
They sell the family’s grass-fed beef and dairy products at the store, along with bakery items and chicken through various partnerships.
The Heritage store also sells milk to Edgewood Creamery in Purdy, Mo., which was established in 2015 by Roxanne’s in-laws Charles and Melissa Fletcher and her daughter and son-in-law, Aubrey and Tyler Fletcher. The creamery was sold in 2018, but Roxanne works there as well, doing sales and other work that comes up.
Roxanne recently started a new project, growing garden produce for both Red Bell Farms and the Heritage store.
“We have planted sweet corn, watermelon, we’ll have potatoes, green beans, tomatoes of course, and hopefully some cantaloupe,” she said. “Depends on the weather.”
With her beef herd, Roxanne sells directly to customers and through Joplin Regional Stockyards. Booking with a meat processor, however, is very difficult right now, delaying distribution to customers.
For Red Bell’s dairy products, though, she has about 23 regular customers. Facebook, word-of-mouth, and a few signs along the road have been enough marketing to sell what she wants.
“I don’t plan to get any bigger here because the way I do it is very labor intensive,” she remarked.
Roxanne is particular about her farm’s products because she is particular about her family and customers’ health.
“My family drinks this milk,” Roxanne pointed out. “My 3-year-old grandson has been drinking this milk since he was 15 months old.”
Roxanne accepts new customers by appointment only, and then she recommends to people in these challenging times that they find a farmer they’re comfortable with and stick with them.
“There’s not a lot of money in agriculture,” she remarked. “We do it because we like it.”