It used to be a very common sight across the nation - small family farms with a small herd of dairy cows, offering milk for sale to farm visitors and nearby communities. Some farms went a few steps beyond that and built creameries to provide other dairy products such as butter, cream, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. Many urban families would traditionally drive out to the country on the weekend and buy these goods directly from the farmer, which not only supported the farm, but also maintained urban/rural connections.
Times change, and preferences change, and the regulatory climate for dairy production changed radically. Many farm dairies and creameries closed in the face of stiff new regulations and tight economic conditions. Modern concerns about food safety, disease control and public health strenghtened those regulations even more, and threatened to put small scale dairy production out of business entirely. But farmers are a resourceful bunch and some refused to give up on the idea of selling milk and dairy products directly to the public. Those producers came up with innovative ways to milk their herds and provide those goods in ways that not only met regulatory requirements but also turned a livable profit for the farming family. The public, in turn, began to demand the ability to purchase milk directly from dairy farmers again, rather than from retail outlets which could move milk hundreds or even thousands of miles from its source.
And thus began the renaissance of the small scale dairy.
We have been exploring the possibility of being licensed for dairy production, for direct sale to the public.
The pro's were considerable:
* Good net income per unit for liquid milk
* Excellent year-round demand for the local product
* Either new or reconditioned equipment is now available, to provide advanced milk handling for small scale operations.
These advantages had to be matched up to some considerable challenges:
* Extremely tight requirements for animal cleanliness and animal waste handling in the milking parlor area.
* Extremely tight requirements for safe food handling in the milk room, from the time the milk is collected to the time it is sold to the public.
* Considerable licensing and record-keeping requirements for the farmer.
* improved handling requirements for wastewater handling, from both the milking parlor and milk room cleaning operations.
The challenges are real but so are the returns. Given the benefits which well-produced milk and dairy products can provide, we are in the process of building facilities here which will allow us to sell those products to an appreciative community, in ways that provide both a safe product and a livable income.
Many homesteads and farmsteads have asked the question "should we have our own cow?" The number of gifts a cow brings to a farm is lengthy - milk for the table, meat for the freezer, manure for the garden and a very pleasant personality. The number of requirements and considerations is equally long - considerable hay and feed requirements, housing and fencing requirements, and milking equipment to make the most of that creamy treasure. We have shared some of our experiences here on our website but the words of experts can give you a great deal more. If you are considering buying a cow of your very own, or merely want to read about it, consider one or more of these books. We have referenced them all along the way, and they each have a great deal to offer.
The Family Cow, by Dirk van Loon
This was one of our first livestock book and it still has a prominent place amongst our most-used books. The author has had cows most of his life. He is both knowledgeable about and fond of these creatures. If you find yourself with a cow, or wanting to acquire a cow, he'll tell you how to house her, what to feed her, how to ensure she gives you a healthy calf and plentiful milk. He'll also share some of the cow's more endearing qualities, like their penchant for traipsing through the garden if not well fenced, their habit of grooming the person milking them, and their favorite sport of leading you when you're trying to lead them. No mistake about it, a cow is a lot of work, and sometimes she can be downright infuriating. But this book will show you how to make the most of her gifts, and minimize her less desirable qualities. With plenty of amusing or heartwarming stories along the way.
The Home Creamery, by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley
The ultimate goal of a family dairy cow is the milk and all the wonderful products made from that milk. The list is extensive, but the days of learning that at the farm down the road are sadly gone. Happily, a new crop of excellent books are now available to show you how to make the most of your milk supply. This book is one of them. Author Farrell-Kingsley will show you how to take that most common commodity, fluid milk, and turn it into beginner-friendly treats like butter, yogurt, ice cream, kefir and cheeses of many types. This isn't rocket science but it is an art that requires some careful handling. She'll help you navigate those paths until you can comfortably make whatever dairy products appeal to you.
Home Cheese Making, by Ricki Carroll
Ms. Carroll has written a wonderful book that not only takes you on a tour of how to make all sorts of dairy products, but she also describes the equipment, supplies and methods with such clarity that soon you'll be whipping up batches of cheese like a pro. She also introduces some of the more advanced science behind dairy product creation, so that it doesn't seem quite so mysterious. Her book is often referenced as one of the primary sources of information for wanna-be cheesemakers. She's also a really nice gal to talk to. She manages her own small scale cheesemaking supply company, so she is a treasure-trove of information about how to use both common kitchen tools and specific cheesemaking supplies to create batch after batch of yummy dairy products.
American Farmstead Cheese, by Paul Kindstedt
For those who have already fallen in love with cheese making and would like to take it to the next level - a small creamery or cheese business - this book is for you. Author Kindstedt goes into more of the science, and art, behind successful cheesemaking. He also takes us on a tour of various American small-scale cheesemaking businesses and creameries. He has many words of encouragement, and practical words of caution, but his love of the topic comes through in every sentence. I particularly appreciated his sidebar case studies about farms and families who have taken the plunge and opened their doors to artisanal cheese production. We may never reach that level, but this will be the first book we reach for if that moment ever comes. If you want to make money from cheese, this book will give you an excellent introduction to the unique considerations for a small-scale cheese business.