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How to Start and Manage a Micro Dairy, Part 6: Permitting and Regulations

| 5/1/2013 3:03:00 PM

jersey cowsLet’s assume you love the outdoors and working with cows, don’t mind hard physical labor or getting a little manure on your boots. Like me, you have probably decided to start your own micro dairy. After, you’ve selected a location, know roughly how much milk you want to produce, and you know what you’d like to do with it, you need to think about the regulatory hoops you will have to jump through for the local and state authorities.

First step: Do your research. Take the time to find out which local and state regulations will apply to you and your micro dairy. For example, if you are planning on processing milk or manufacturing dairy products such as butter, cheese or yogurt, you should contact your state Department of Agriculture or your state Department of Public Health or equivalent agencies. At the local level, you want to determine if there are any building, zoning or health codes that will pertain to your micro dairy. A helpful online resource for researching micro dairy regulations is American Micro Dairies, a non-profit I established to promote the local production of safe and delicious farm fresh milk and dairy products.

But, wait. Before you contact your state and local agencies, make a list of questions that you’d like to ask. Regulations vary depending on your location; be thorough. Part of the planning process includes learning which questions to ask and of whom. For example, will you be required to have a toilet in your barn or processing facility? Are you allowed to have a composting or incinerating toilet? Can the milk processing facility be in the building where your animals will be milked? Will you need a hand-washing sink or will waterless hand sanitizer suffice? Again, the interpretation of dairy regulations varies from state to state and locality to locality. Be thorough. It will be helpful to keep an outline of your facilities, including the number of animals that you want to keep and what you plan to do with the milk, handy when you contact various agencies. Finally, when you contact the appropriate agencies, remember to be patient and to clearly demonstrate that you want your micro dairy to meet all of the necessary regulations.

composted manure
Manure that is in the process of being composted.

Here is a quick checklist to make the process a little easier:

  • Outline your micro dairy facilities, including how many animals you will keep and what you will do with the milk.
  • Research which state and local regulations apply to your micro dairy.
  • Create a list of questions to ask your state and local agencies before calling.
  • Contact your state and local agencies as early as possible; give yourself ample time to make any necessary adjustments to your micro dairy plans.
  • Explain your plans to your neighbors. Their support is important, especially if there are zoning considerations.

 If your community is not accustomed to dairy farms, be ready to answer a lot of questions. Additionally, remember to ask a lot of questions. Once you know what you will be required to do in comparison to what you want to do, you will be ready to move forward with the planning of your micro dairy. 

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