A Small-Scale Goat Cheese Business

Learn how one farm family earns a comfortable living from its small-scale goat cheese business and how you can do the same.

  • Goat
    Nubian goats are great milk-producers, which make them ideal for small-scale dairy operations.
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    A diagram of the family's cheese plant.

  • Goat
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Probably every back-to-the-lander has dreamed about making his or her homestead pay its way. These monetary ruminations tend to crop up at two times: while the would-be entrepreneur is either pouring out pounds of expensive feed to contentedly munching, "freeloading" livestock or climbing into the car, probably before daybreak, to commute to a necessary but unrewarding job in the nearest metropolis.

Well, the fact is that some folks actually have broken that "live on the farm, work in the city" cycle and earn respectable incomes from their small homesteads. For example, Gerald and Suzanne Aiello — owners of Belle Terre Farms in the rolling countryside near Orange, Virginia — have figured out a way to make their herd of 40 Nubian dairy goats pay for the farm's upkeep, provide capital for additional building and development and furnish an income for the couple and their two daughters. The keystone of this successful homestead business is a cheesemaking program — modeled on similar farm-based operations in Europe — through which the Aiellos turn out a tangy feta cheese from raw goat's milk. The undertaking has the potential of bringing in a net income of $30,000 or more a year.

Of course, Suzanne and Jerry didn't just drift into this profitable farm business. Rather, their success is the result of what they half-seriously refer to as their five-year plan: a carefully plotted homestead management program in which the Aiellos' long-range goals for Belle Terre were meshed — after a good bit of planning and research — with the resources at hand (consisting of a small herd of sleek Nubians and the entire family's willingness to work).

Brainstorming How to Make Money on a Homestead

Like most owners of small-scale dairy herds, the Aiellos were quick to recognize that the market for milk is diminishing — a trend that started in 1964 and doesn't seem likely to reverse. (In fact, one dairy journal has estimated that the goat's milk requirements for the entire state of Virginia could be fulfilled by one 120-doe herd!) So, several years ago, instead of trying to sell their surplus milk, Jerry and Suzanne decided to put it to work on their farm by using the liquid as feed to raise veal and pork for sale.

Unfortunately, both of these ventures proved to be so labor-intensive that the family decided the revenue gained was not worth the time required to bring it in. In the veal-raising enterprize, for example, each milking doe could feed two calves a year. A day-old calf cost $120 and was milk-fed for 60 to 80 days. About 80 percent of the calves were sold privately for about $400 apiece, or $3.50 per dressed pound. The remaining animals were peddled at the livestock market where a calf would all too often sell for not much more than the price Jerry and Suzanne had paid for it in the first place.

Obviously, then, the veal operation's cash flow was poor — and death losses, which amounted to one or two calves a year, were devastating to the small-scale program.

8/23/2021 10:41:28 AM

I am a small-scale certified organic farmer just outside Madison WI thinking of going into the goat€™’s cheese business. I would love to see this article updated with some current pricing and other data with which I could draw some decisions about whether it’s worth getting involved in goat farming. With 80 acres of land we can definitely use goats for keeping our farmland under control and for naturally fertilizing it, even without income from cheese or milk. But how do the costs of keeping goats on your land year-round compare with mowing & tilling the land?

5/23/2011 7:10:45 PM

My wife and I are in the third year of our licensed cheese making goat dairy. (We also make cow cheeses using milk from another nearby dairy.) It looks like we may make a profit this year - wahoo! With increased demand for artisan cheeses, and with reasonable planning and a lot of frugality, a cheese making business can succeed. I figure if we're doing okay in this lousy economy, we must be on to something. And it's a great time to buy used equipment.

rose watson
1/23/2010 1:02:05 PM

I am very interested how things are going for these people. I would like to start this type of business in Canada, I am concerned about the legalities. I would love to hear from someone!

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