Starting a small dairy -- questions!

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by willow_girl, Aug 12, 2004.

  1. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    If you were starting a small (10-20 cow) dairy from scratch, how would you lay out and set up your operation? (Milking in stanchions.)

    What equipment would you want/need right off the bat; what could you do without or pick up as needed as time went on?

    Now that I own five cows :eek: I'm seriously thinking of going this route ... hubby and I are undecided as to whether to build on here, or buy land elsewhere and start from scratch.

    All suggestions are welcome and very much appreciated! :)
     
  2. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

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    How long have you been working at the dairy you work at? Keep working there and I suspect that your questions will be answered as you gain experience. It will also give you some income during the learning curve (when you make big mistakes that cost lots of money :))

    I think it is usually much cheaper to find existing facilities than building new. That might not be true of equipment, but it is for barns and fences.

    Jena
     

  3. Tom McLaughlin

    Tom McLaughlin Tom

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  4. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Jena, I've been working there just under a year, but it's a bigger operation, milking in a parlor, although you're right, I have learned a lot (basically, everything I know about the business, which still isn't much! :haha: ) and yes, I intend to keep working there.

    I have checked a bit into what the regs are here. I know I'll need to add a milkhouse and maybe an additional barn to house the cattle, if I convert what is presently my cowshed into stanchions for milking. This is basically part of a pole barn with a cement floor.

    I already have stanchions, Surge milkers sans the rubber, and a vacuum pump that needs a 1 hp motor to power it. I know I'll need a bulk tank, a big sink for washing up and a small inspector's sink (have that already) for the milkhouse.

    Someone told me that my well pump needs to be above-ground (they were required to switch their when they switched to being a Grade A dairy) but my husband says other farms around here have submersible pumps? :confused:

    My biggest fear about building here is that we don't have a lot of land to begin with, it's already crowded with outbuildings, trees that I don't want to cut down (i.e. fruit trees), garden, greenhouse, etc.!

    Eventually, if I wanted to grow the size of my operations, I'd be forced to start over elsewhere. So I don't know whether it would be better just to start from scratch ...

    There is 20 undeveloped acres for sale nearby that hubby and I have had our eyes on for over a year now. We would have to finance it, of course, as well as the buildings, and I don't know if I could stay as small as I'd to (at least to start out) while being able to pay the overhead.

    I suspect there also are some small dairies that are no longer in operation, and it might be possible to rent facilities (the farmer I work for is doing this, actually). Again, I don't know how big I'd have to be to cover the cost.

    Lots of decisions!
     
  5. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

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    Debt has it's time and place, but....

    going into heavy debt to start a business that you are new at is not a good idea. It's much easier to survive the learning curve on a small scale and without a large debt looming over you.

    Trust me...I know this one.

    Use what you have until the business forces you to expand...don't expand to force the business. You'll have a hard time catching up.

    Renting sounds like an excellent idea until your business forces you to buy.

    Jena
     
  6. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Thanks Jena! :)

    Hubby also is strongly in favor of keeping our operations here, and buying that other property for cropland, if at all!

    Realistically, I should probably get rid of some of my goats and sheep (which would free up the barn for calf pens) but ... I really like my goats and sheep!

    I want it all, damnit! WAHHHHH! :waa: :haha:
     
  7. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    Every time that I get it in my head that I want to start a new project; money making or otherwise I’m reminded of a story I once heard.

    It seems that there was this fellow in a New England community who just couldn’t hold a job, or couldn’t do a job without messing something up for his employer. Now, being it was New England where folks like to take care of their own, the town folk pulled together and put him to work polishing the town Revolutionary War cannon, they found him a room in the back of the hardware store, arranged for his meals at the town restaurant, and paid him a small amount of money each month as a salary to keep the cannon in good shape. He had a place to live, food to eat, work to do, and money in his pocket; they figured he’d be happy and out of everyone’s way.

    Well, as the months went by and he didn’t spend any of his salary, and then one day he bought a train ticket out of town. The good town folk figured they were shed of him and then a few days later when the train rolled into town, there he was and in the process of unloading a very large wooden crate from the train.

    The whole town gathered in to see what he had bought with his “hard earned” salary. As he began to pull the boards from the crate it became clear that he had bought a cannon of his own. The town selectmen asked what he intended to do with the cannon and he replied, “After seeing what it was worth to the town to have their cannon polished, I went and bought one of my own and intend to go into business for myself.”
     
  8. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Ohhhhhh Haggis! That's a cautionary tale, alright! :haha:

    Hmm, too bad I already have three cannon, err I mean cows, here! :haha:
     
  9. shakeytails in KY

    shakeytails in KY Well-Known Member

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    Willow, definitely check out grass-based seasonal dairying. Don't get hung up on conventional systems. If I were going to start out with a small herd, this is the way I'd go - grass and Jersey cattle. Low input is the name of the game! Why buy lots of tractors and equipment when the cows can do most of the harvesting for you? Electric polywire is a whole lot cheaper than hay equipment, corn planters, silage choppers, etc. If there wasn't already a parlor on the property, I'd go with a flat barn- basically tie stalls and a short pipeline- a parlor without a pit. Don't you live where the weather is relatively mild? If so, then your cows may not need much shelter, either. There are ways to get into dairying without getting in debt up to your ears. 20-30 cows and little debt would probably yield you a decent paycheck, not so sure ten is worth the effort. Another thing to check into is the milk hauler's stop charge and if they will even consider a very small dairy.
     
  10. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Thanks Shakey! :)

    Nope, I'm in Michigan, and it's colder than a titch's wit here in January! ;)

    We don't have much in the way of pasture, but we have a kind neighbor who trades us hay in exchange for help in putting his up. My husband also makes repairs to his equipment in exchange for hay.

    I do like the idea of less intensive feeding, even if it means less output ... I believe it is kinder to the cows all the way around. I think those high-nutrient diets burn them out too quick, and the increased acidity of the manure and urine rots their feet. :(

    My girls get good grass hay, and a bucket of 16% protein grain at milking time. (The drawback to this program is that as soon as they see me, they start bellering, thinking it's milking/feeding time! :eek: )

    I do love my Jersey, and I'm even thinking of breeding my Holsteins to Jersey bulls!

    If I keep my operation small, I don't think I'll need a pit ... we just bought a manure spreader, I know that's how some of the small Amish dairies eliminate "emissions"!

    Right now all the manure goes right back into my gardens, and I'm sure my neighbors would let me spread their fields, too. (The neighbor with the hay was getting spraying manure from the pig farm up the road before it closed up. Boy did that make some beautiful hay!)

    I think I'd be able to get the milk hauler to pick up; we live in dairy country with numerous farms in the area (a big one just a mile up the road). There also is a small homestead nearby where the folks have been milking about a dozen cows for more than 20 years. I am trying to work up the courage to go talk to them and get some pointers! :)
     
  11. shakeytails in KY

    shakeytails in KY Well-Known Member

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    A lot of the research of the seasonal stuff comes out of Wisconsin- they have an extensive list of Cooperative Extension bulletins, including subjects like starting a small scale dairy. They have an excellent one called "Pastures for Profit" that is worth the 3 bucks of so that it costs. Check out Michigan's C.E. as well and also Cornell University Publications. All are cold states and you might dig up some interesting info.
     
  12. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    Get a subscription to Stockman Grass Farmer magazine. It usually has an article or two on small-scale dairying. 800-748-0908. Listen to Shakeytails.

    Ken Scharabok
     
  13. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Believe me, if I had pasture, I'd go that route! In fact, one of the advantages to buying that other piece of land would be the fact I'd have a 20-acre hayfield to divvy up however. :)

    Thanks for the suggestion about the Extension, come to think of it I believe our county office (or it could be the next county over) has a dairy specialist on board. (There are dozens of dairies in our area.) Maybe I can get the dude out to our place to give me some advice!

    Keep the suggestions coming; I am pasting them into a Wordpad document so I can save them on my computer long after this thread ends up on page 47! :)
     
  14. MARYDVM

    MARYDVM Well-Known Member

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    A cautionary note about renting another farm. In practice, I never saw an operation that was well run when it was not located where the farmer's home was. There are so many things that need constant checking on - cows calving, milk fever, mastitis, power outages, frozen pipes.... There's a lot of enthusiasm at first, but it's hard to keep following up on all the little things that need doing when it keeps you away from home at all hours.
     
  15. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    That's a good point, Mary! The farmer I work for now is renting ... I have seen ways in which it is detrimental ... I could never go home at night and leave a cow in labor, not knowing whether she made it thru OK or not. :(

    And in the winter, we lose a lot of calves born at night when it's cold ... so many mornings I'd come in and end up wrapping them in my flannel shirts and burying them in straw to try to warm them up! Sometimes they pulled through, but it's certainly not the way to get them off to a good start ...

    Also, I like having my girls around ... except the drawback to only giving them grain at milking time is whenever they see me out in the yard, they start bellering at me! (The sheep do the same thing!) Eat Eat Eat ... there isn't a skinny critter on this place! :haha:
     
  16. Sandhills

    Sandhills Well-Known Member

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    You may want to talk to the state dairy inspector and get suggestions on how to bring your barn up to standard since he would be the one who has to approve it before you can sell your milk.
    Also, don't be afraid to talk to the homestead folks. I'm sure they have a lot of wisdom to pass on to you.
     
  17. shakeytails in KY

    shakeytails in KY Well-Known Member

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    Another way to go, if you don't have much land, is to establish a "hay and grain" herd. I knew of one farm where they only had maybe 10 acres and a about 60 cows(can't remember). It was a tie stall barn and about the only equipment they had was a tractor and spreader. All feed was purchased, no silage- just hay and grain. On this particular farm the cows never saw the light of day, there was no turnout at all :( . Does the place you work do DHI testing? You might talk to the DHI dude and mention your ideas. He may be able to direct you to different types of small-scale dairy operations in your area and give you his thoughts on production vs feeding systems.
     
  18. coso

    coso Well-Known Member Supporter

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    10 acres with 60 milk cows on it your going to have a big stinky mud hole !!!!!!!!
     
  19. shakeytails in KY

    shakeytails in KY Well-Known Member

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    Umm, coso....It's a total confinement herd, as in- they were never out of the barn. No big stinky mud hole, in fact, you couldn't tell by looking that it was a dairy farm.
     
  20. coso

    coso Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Gotcha, Shakey tail. When you posted that I thought it almost had to be a confinement type operation. Sorry if I came off snippy. edit Reread the post above "It is a total confinement operation" Sorry my Bad !