Photo by Jeff Smith
At the end of a dirt road, alongside an Irish-green pasture full of Holstein cattle, Tom Trantham welcomes us to Happy Cow Creamery and Trantham 12 Aprils Farm, introducing himself simply as Farmer Tom.
A spring breeze rushes past and wind chimes seem to ring in the new season as he begins the tour of the 100-acre property by pointing out that he’s really not the owner—not quite yet. “I started making payments to the bank in 1978,” he says. “And I’m trying to make it to 103 when the farm is all mine.”
Trantham runs the place with the help of his daughter, Tammy, and son, Tom III. From the start, the Anderson County farm was one of the state’s top milk producers, but the late 1980s brought drought and a series of economic hardships that nearly caused the operation to go bankrupt.
By April 1989, with the cost of feed alone costing him 65 cents of every dollar he earned, Trantham faced the loss of his life’s work—until he heard a crash. His cows had broken out of the fence and wandered off to greener pastures to graze on wild clover and oats, but the cattle’s mischief ultimately saved the farm.
“They came back in the barn that evening and had a different smell to them,” he says. “They had the sweetest smell, because they’d been grazing on wild clover and laying out in that beautiful sunshine.”
The next day, Trantham realized they were up 200 pounds of milk, and it was their most delicious and nutritious milk yet. Since then, he’s ensured that his cows regularly graze on fresh, April-like pastures every month of the year by systematically planting the paddocks with seasonal forage crops including rye, ryegrass, alfalfa, oats, sorghum and clover.
Trantham’s “12 Aprils” concept of growing green, grazeable pastures year-round revolutionized sustainable dairy farming. Now, 30 years later, Happy Cow—the on-site bottling plant and creamery—continues to thrive, its award-winning milk filling the shelves of area stores, like Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Fresh Market and, of course, the creamery’s own shop. And, by the way, should you decide to purchase milk at the farm store, know that the product has traveled no more than 48 feet from the udder to bottle, a claim few others can make.
What else is in store on the farm tour? You’ll board a trolley that whisks you around the property, past its 6,000 strawberry plants, 14 beehives and adorable baby calves. You may even learn a name or two while you’re there.
“We have 160 cows here, and every one of ’em’s named,” Trantham explains. “Tammy can tell you every calf born and every cow on this farm—tell you their name and their mother and their father.”
At the end of the tour, Trantham treats his guests to a free milk sample—served ice cold—and a single-
Serve ice cream, then invites them to shop the farm store to purchase their own Happy Cow ice cream, whole milk, strawberry milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk and butter. “I bet we sell more butter here than any store in the state of South Carolina,” Trantham says proudly.
The store also sells chemical-free, ethically produced products, including meat, jam, sorghum syrup and a smorgasbord of Wisconsin cheese. So, you can bring home not only food that’s great for your health but a feel good story of heartache and triumph that’s great for your soul.
The Happy Cow Creamery and Trantham 12 Aprils Farm are located at 332 McKelvey Road in Pelzer, just off S.C. Highway 418.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays.
Admission: Farm tours, which must be booked in advance, are $8 per person (ages 3 and older) and run from March until November, weather permitting. Group tours are available.