By Rebecca Denton
From the Hatcher family’s small country store on Arno Road in Williamson County, Tennessee, visitors can see the rolling forest and pastureland that make up the 400-acre Hatcher Family Dairy Farm.
Directly across the street is a churned-up swath of earth that will soon become The Grove, an 18-hole golf course with 800 homes, a clubhouse, spa and fitness center.
The new development is an all-too-tangible sign of what’s happening to many dairies throughout the Southeast, the Hatchers say. But the family has no plans to sell their fifth-generation farm. Instead, in a final effort to save their dairy business and make it profitable for years to come, they have drastically changed the way they operate.
“We knew we had encroaching development, and the costs of fuel and fertilizer are rising,” says Charlie Hatcher, a veterinarian and partner in the dairy business with his brother, Jim. “If we wanted to stay here and make a go of it and be profitable, we had to try something different – some way to add value to our product.”
A Brand of Their Own
For decades the family sold its pasture-derived product to a milk cooperative, which combined the Hatchers’ milk with milk from other farms before sending it to be sold in stores.
But in 2007, the Hatchers branded their own milk and started selling straight to the public, tapping into a growing niche market of consumers who prefer to buy their food directly from the source.
“A lot of people are concerned about where their food comes from and how the animals are treated,” Charlie says. “And they like to know who they’re dealing with.”
Hatcher Dairy sells its milk at Whole Foods Market in Nashville and Cool Springs as well as in several local grocery stores in the Middle Tennessee area. They also opened their own country store – right on the farm – to sell milk directly to area consumers.
All in the Family
The Hatchers – a tight-knit farming family with an unwavering sense of loyalty to their land and heritage – are ideal candidates for this sort of back-to-the-basics venture.
Brothers Charlie and Jim have been partners in the dairy since the early 1990s, and the entire family pitches in to keep things running smoothly.
Jim is the farm manager, and he also takes the lead during processing day and makes some milk deliveries. Charlie’s wife, Sharon, manages the country store, and his daughter, Jennifer, is a veterinarian (like her dad) who fills in where needed. Charlie’s son, Charles, is co-manager of the dairy and manages the milk delivery routes. Lucy Hatcher – sister to Charlie and Jim – is the farm tour director and “chief cleaner and organizer.”
The Milking Process
Part of the farm has been in the Hatcher family since 1831, and they’ve been milking cows continuously since that time – either by hand or by machine.
These days the Hatchers have about 60 adult milk cows, including Holsteins, Jerseys, cross-breeds and two Brown Swiss heifers. The cows graze in pastures year-round, rotating among 11 paddock lots planted with seasonal grasses – a major selling point.
“Our cows get clean, fresh pasture on a daily basis, and that is the huge thing that sets our milk apart,” Jim says. “It’s strictly Hatcher milk, and we’re with it every step of the way – from growing the grasses and milking the cows to processing. It’s ensured quality.”
Visitors to the dairy’s website, hatcherfamilydairy.com, can see photos and read about the cows.
“We wanted to let milk drinkers know a little bit about the cows that are working so hard,” Charlie says. “We wanted to personalize it. The majority are named, and they’re all part of the Hatcher family.”
The Hatchers’ signature chocolate milk is named “Brownie’s Best” after a beloved Brown Swiss cow that lived on the farm for many years before she died. The farm also produces whole, two percent and skim milk, along with butter, cream, half-and-half and gelato.
“It’s been so rewarding because of the people who drink our milk,” Charlie says. “On a daily basis people say ‘We appreciate what you’re doing, we’re glad it’s local and we’re glad it’s family.’”
The Hatchers are counting on loyal customers like Dawn Redlin of College Grove, who comes in every week to buy three half-gallon jugs of whole milk, and new customers like Sally Lewis of Thompson’s Station.
“I like the idea of local products and supporting local agriculture,” says Lewis, who stopped in recently after hearing from coworkers that she should check out the store.
In addition to milk, the Hatchers sell lots of other all-natural, locally made products, including soap, candles, salsas, jellies, barbecue sauces and cheeses. The store also offers sandwiches on locally baked bread, Hatcher-brand tote bags and T-shirts – and visitors can check email using the free Wi-Fi. Farm tours are available on Thursdays by reservation for $6 per person.
“Some days I’m overwhelmed,” Sharon says of business at the store, “and it’s mostly been word of mouth.”
They’re hoping the momentum continues.
“We all work very hard, and there’s still not a lot of profit involved,” Jim says. “But selling the land is not an option. We feel it’s not really ours to sell. We’re just going to try to pass it on to the next generation.”
More About Hatcher Dairy
Visitors to the Hatcher Family Dairy website learn much more than just where to find the farm. In the “Cow of the Month” section, learn about a featured bovine like Brownie, the namesake cow for the family’s chocolate milk. Or, find links to other great dairy sites for basic milk facts.
Visitors can also reach the Hatchers by phone at 615-368-3405.