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Anyone operating a small-scale dairy?

1994 Views 11 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Ken Scharabok
The trend around here is toward big dairy farms getting bigger ...

However, I am intrigued by the idea of starting up a small operation ... say about 20 cows. Seems there would be less stress on the animals and less need for expensive equipment to handle feed and manure ...

Has anyone done this? Or seen it done? Opinions??? :)
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I guess you could call mine a mini dairy. I am milking 2 Jersey cows by hand right now. Selling all the milk that we can produce. By next year we will have 4 cows in production and maybe think of a milking machine. There is certainly a market for the fresh Jersey milk. I sell butter also. When my goats freshen in a couple of weeks I will be milking them and selling that milk also. Have already had several of my customers wanting the goat milk as well. I sell lots of goat cheese. There is a larger dairy about 25 miles from me that also sells raw milk and milk products, but they have holstein. Several of my customers want the rich cream that the Jersey produces and have switched to mine instead of theirs. It looks like a larger operation that would give the customer what they want would fair better than the ones that are just out for the quantity instead the quality.
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Wow, the state you live in allows you to sell raw milk? I don't think we can do that in Michigan. :(
I've thought about selling shares in a cow ... or, what is more likely, simply trading with the neighbors for stuff they have that I need (such as land on which to pasture these beasts!).
It sounds like you have found a good niche in the area in which you live. Kewl! Thanks for sharing your story! :)
Yes it is legal to sell raw milk in OK from the farm. You might want to look at this link. Looks like Michigan is very strict on raw milk. This site has lots of good info.
Wow -- great link! Thanks again, Judy! :)

I had no idea things were so bad in Michigan. A proposed law to make it illegal for farm animals to drink raw milk on the farm??? I don't think it was the calves who were crying out for pasteurization ... :rolleyes: :no:

Although .... since I work on a commercial dairy farm, I'd probably hesitate to drink raw milk unless I personally knew the milker ... and their level of cleanliness ... For instance is it the owner of the farm doing the milking? (Like you, Judy :) )... or someone making minimum wage, who'll be working somewhere else next week? On the farm where I work, I think they've hired 7 night milkers in the 6 months I've been there ... these are not folks real committed to the job, if ya know what I mean. ;)

I bought a 2-gallon pasteurizer, and plan to pasteurize any milk that leaves our farm ... I figure our friends will just be more comfortable with the idea.
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we run a dairy herd in michigan. 49 milking now. been milking almost
20 years . i drink milk right from the tank,no pasteurizing. you start out
small and then things just grow. if you can milk a cow for 4 or 5 years
you make a larger profit than just milking a cow for 1 or 2 like a lot of
the big farmers and their BST .
I considered the possibility, but when I ran some numbers I figured start up costs would be too high and the rate of return too low for me.

Have you looked into seasonal grass-based dairying? It's an interesting concept that seems like it would work especially well for a small herd. Basically all your cows freshen in the spring and are dry in the winter. Management intensive grazing (MIG) provides most of the cows' nutritional needs. A google search on seasonal dairying should point you in the right direction.
MIG sounds great! I hate it when calves freeze to death when they're born on those cold winter nights. :(

BC, most of the cows on the farm where I work are in their 1st or 2nd lactation. I'm not sure if they're getting BST. What got me started thinking about this was hearing that the farmer is going to cull a second-lactation cow since we can't seem to get her mastitis cleared up. She went bad during a period when he had a night milker who wasn't leaving the cows on the milkers long enough, and we had a whole bunch develop mastitis. :( Seemed like such a waste ... there has to be a better way!
Some dairies run a Holstein/Jersey herd mix. The Holsteins for volume and the Jerseys to bump up the milk fat content.

The primary sanitation requirements are in the areas of collection and holding. You might be able to use a milking parlor no larger than a one-car garage, with a separate room for the bulk tank. Usually the cows come up on a ramp with a pit between. Then they exit forward. Since the cows are fed a supplement while being milked, they look forward to it and usually don't poop or pee for it to be cleaned up.

How do you plan to sell the milk? Is there a cheese plant who will purchase it as Grade B milk (with its far lower requirements)? Will you have to milk to the schedule of the milk truck or will you have some flexibility on hours, such as perhaps milking at 9 AM and 9 PM, rather than 5 AM and 5 PM?

Dairying is much like other areas where perhaps 80% of output comes from the first 20% of effort. It is when you try to bump up your daily average you start upping the input cost significantly.

Get with your local county ag. agent on your plans.

Ken S. in WC TN
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Since the cows are fed a supplement while being milked, they look forward to it and usually don't poop or pee for it to be cleaned up.
Well maybe we need to start giving the cows a treat on the farm where I work, because I swear some take a perverse pleasure in pooping in the parlor!!!! :eek: :no: :yeeha:

Which reminds me ... a little story. On my last week at my newspaper job, I also was working mornings on the farm. I was doing some work in one of the other offices, and the editor there was writing a column about people's pet peeves. The premise was to go around the building and ask everyone what their biggest pet peeve was. All the office girls were saying things like rude customers ... early deadlines ... etc. When she got to me, I gave her a big grin, and replied, "COWS THAT **** IN THE MILKING PARLOR!" :haha:

Seriously though ... this idea is in the VERY fledgling stages! For one, I really don't have enough land to pasture any more animals. My neighbor, who raises beef cattle, has a barn that I think has a stachion-type milking parlor in it. Currently he uses the barn for hay storage, but he's building a bigger, new barn up the road. I've been thinking of perhaps suggesting a parnership with him ... if he supplies the facility and pasture, I'd chip in the cows and the work?Otherwise, I'd probably have to look for something to rent or buy.

I just found out this morning that the farmer is going to cull the cow I mentioned earlier. What a shame -- she was milking 86# (on only 3 quarters) before she got infected. :( I'm thinking she might not be a bad investment if I can manage to outbid the slaughter buyers ... ;)
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I have heard one treatment for at least mild mastitis is to put an agressive calf on the cow. Also, apple cider vinegar added to the feed or water is suspose to greatly surpress it.

Ken S. in WC TN
One reason small-scale dairying (say 60 or few head) are going out of business isn't that it is not profitable, but rather the inability to hire good help when family labor will not longer surfice.

Ken S. in WC TN
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