By Dot Hempler, Owner/Operator; Triple “H” Ranch, Goat Dairy & Farm Store (presented at Caprine Outing 2002)
Starting a goat dairy is something that many goat hobbyists consider. It seems like the logical thing to do when you have productive animals and no outlet for all that wonderful milk they produce. For some of us, it is the right route to take. Keep in mind, it is not a glorious nor easy route.
First, ask yourself, do I have the emotional, physical, and financial ability to consider doing this? I suggest you tour as many goat dairies as possible and consider employment at a dairy. Talk to people who are successful at what you want to do. This will give you a better idea of the demands that your goat dairy will make of you. Look at how farmers have built their milkhouses and cheese plants. Write down your plans and both short and long-term goals. Do a 2-3 year financial prospectus on paper. Try to guesstimate what your income and expenses will be. Putting things on paper makes it clearer to see if this dream can become a reality. Another financial consideration is that of marketing. Do you have the means to market your product? Geographic location is important. Having a product is a small part, having the means to market it is crucial. It takes an enormous amount of planning, research, money, and physical labor to start a successful and profitable dairy business. Keep in mind, it will not be an overnight success. Some of us have spent years becoming successful.
If you decide to take the plunge, I would suggest you follow some or all of these steps. Contact your state Dept. of Agriculture and Markets and request a copy of the regulations for dairy plants. A field inspector may come to your farm and give you some suggestions and advice also. The inspectors are there to guide you and can be a great resource. They can also be quite intimidating and sometimes difficult. For that reason (from my experience) it is very wise to empower yourself with knowledge and be strong enough to stand up for what you know. Everything you construct, do, and market, will have requirements to meet. When you get the regulations manual, read it front to back again and again. Some of it is difficult to interpret. Your ability to interpret the manual and be able to stand up for that interpretation will be a powerful tool.
Take a good look at your herd, your assets and your financial state. Do you want to use your life savings or take a business loan to start your dairy? Traditional financial institutions are sometimes reluctant to finance dairy operations. Check into small business loan groups (often run by small towns who want new innovative businesses) or Farm Credit Financial Institutions.
Buying a herd or expanding your own is fairly easy. Finding small, affordable equipment can be very frustrating and sometimes almost impossible. Many cheese-makers, myself included, were unable to locate the necessary equipment. By shopping around for components and enlisting the help of a steel fabricator, small cheese vats and other equipment can come to life. Despite getting inexpensive components, my 40-gallon cheese vat ultimately cost $5,000.00. But, a new one would have cost 2-3 times that. Finding a milking system and headstalls can be difficult too. Check with your inspector. Sometimes they will allow you to use portable milking systems (such as those sold through Heogger’s Supply).
Talk to contractors, plumbers, electricians, and friends to get service quotes and ideas. Finding reliable and affordable craftsmen can be difficult. Contractors don’t often have a clue about dairies and regulations. Your job will be to interpret and ensure that they work according to the specifications. Most of these “experts” will cost you $30-$40 an hour, and it will undoubtedly take many hours!
Do you have potable water or will you need to have a well dug? Water too has to meet requirements, as does your well. You will also need an approved septic system. The average well and septic system can cost about $10,000.00.
Do you have a “customer friendly” and “liability free” barnyard? Do you have enough parking space for customers? Most cheese-makers do market products on and off farm, so you can expect that you will have farm-visitors and customers. Check with an insurance company regarding adequate liability coverage and product liability. This protects you if someone gets hurt or claims that your product made them sick. Search around because many companies do not offer product liability. If you plan to market off the farm, (and most likely you will out of necessity) look into potential customers (i.e. restaurants, farm stands, gourmet shops, small retail stores, and CSAs). Check with local regulatory agencies regarding any necessary vendors permits. Check with your local zoning board. Some towns won’t allow dairies or farm stands in certain zoned areas. Do some research into obtaining your own cheese plant supplies (containers, lids, boxes, labels, etc.) all of these items will need approval by the Dept. of Ag and Markets.
This may all seem quite overwhelming, but it is possible with the right amount of ingenuity and determination!
My own experience was that most things took much longer to complete than expected, contractors have no regard for deadlines, and everything costs more than anticipated.
I’ve included a listing of goat dairies, some important resources, and phone numbers for those who are brave enough to enter the world of “GOAT DAIRY” !!
I hope this is helpful and I look forward to seeing more goat dairies in operation.
28 Fish and Game Road
Husdon, NY 12534
Packaging for Products:***
Milk Container Supplier
Milk Container Lids
Plastic Packaging Corp.
Graier’s Discount Labels
***Note: These businesses may be defunct/contact info out of date.