Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Philosophy of a Micro Dairy
I am a Micro Dairy owner now, and I have been a large dairy farm owner in the past. And I can tell you from first-hand experience that there is no resemblance between the two. Running a Micro Dairy with four cows allows me to have a normal life, make a decent living and have time in the day to do all the things I want to do. My goal, through this blog and my company, Bob-White Systems, is to help as many people as possible successfully realize their own dreams of starting and managing a Micro Dairy.
To paraphrase Bob Marley, you can do it if you really want it. Whether your goal is to have a diversified farm that offers a range of products for sale to your local customers, or you want to be totally self-reliant and feed your own family, or even if you have a career or day job but want farm fresh milk for yourself and to make a few extra bucks, a Micro Dairy or small-scale dairy is a real-life-sized endeavor. You don't need to smell like manure and be chained to your cows and endless chores. With a Micro Dairy you can have a healthy rural lifestyle, treat your cows humanely and make a great delicious product that here in Vermont sells for between $6 - $10 a gallon right from the farm. Or use it to make home or farmstead cheese, yogurt, butter or other products and sell it for even more.
To my thinking, Micro Dairies are part of the future of agriculture and not the past. It’s something we strive to create at Bob-White Systems, and I get to interact with people on a daily basis who are involved in all sorts of farming. Along with my own experience, that gives me great insight into the right and wrong ways to have a Micro Dairy. Over the next year or so, I will be sharing those with you – and hopefully you will be sharing your experiences with me so I can pass them along here. And send your questions – if you have a question, chances are a bunch of other people have the same one.
Whatever your current level of farming experience, I really want to stress that Micro Dairies are extremely simple operations – or should be. Any region where you can grow grass, you can produce farm-fresh milk. Very little equipment is required beyond the milking and processing equipment:
- A good water supply - dairy cows require nearly 50-gallons of clean water per day.
- A small or compact tractor with a loader is useful for handling manure, bedding and other materials and good fences are required for the pastures.
- Miscellaneous grooming and handling equipment will be needed for the cows including halters, leads and brushes.
And, of course, a barn. Again, think small: up to six cows can be kept and milked in a compact, comfortable barn not much bigger than an ordinary two-car garage. Half of the barn houses the cows and the other half contains the milk handling and storage systems (see our own barn in the photo).
Don’t worry; I’ll be covering these and many more topics in great detail. If you’ve read this far, then you are most likely very seriously considering a Micro Dairy. That’s great – the more, the better. Especially now, as consumer concerns about the health and safety of our food are growing as rapidly as they are about the health of our environment, the humane treatment of farm animals and the loss of our rural working landscapes. There’s no mystery why organic food production and sales have grown significantly during the past three decades and the number of farmer’s markets has more than doubled since 1994.
Today, efforts to produce and consume locally-grown foods have taken center stage and are increasing exponentially. Headlines about the dangers of tainted factory foods appear regularly. More and more people want to know what is in their food and where it comes from. Or they want to produce it themselves – including cow, goat, sheep, buffalo and other types of milk. Local milk production makes perfect economical and ecological sense for many areas of the country, instead of having it shipped in (or, in the case of Vermont, shipped out, processed and shipped back in).
This Micro Dairy blog series is going to start off by giving you an historical perspective then move on to helping you with goal setting and planning, site evaluation, permits and regulations (lots of those!), working with animals, making value-add products and much more. Remember to send your questions and comments, and if you’re in South Royalton, Vermont be sure to stop by the Bob-White Systems store or visit us online at BobWhiteSystems.com.
Thanks very much – I’m looking forward to hearing from you.