Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Buying over Spilled Milk

Continuing on with our farm plan for 2011, I must also continue to review the good and bad of 2010. Keep in mind, planning is being done from afar. Due to the wonders of my laptop I am writing this from my hotel room in Springfield. I am attending the Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism and Organic Conference, (AKA I-SAG) and after spending the day learning about farmers markets, (turns out they are markets composed mostly of farmers...who knew ?) I am all settled into my semi-deluxe $50 a night room. The completely deluxe $55 a night rooms were already grabbed up by the Mary Todd Lincoln Impersonators Convention.

Energized for an evening of work with my bag of Pepperidge Farm Cookies (Milano Double Chocolate of course) and a big bottle of Vitamin Water concocted by some guy named Glaceau, I am once again WRITING about our farm work while husband Keith is DOING the farm work. I have been gifted with 3 days off the farm and I am grateful. Keith has been gifted with three days sans me and he was downright giddy when I left him. Well , underneath the fake sad face he was giddy.

So lets start with the dairy, the backbone of our farm. It was our initila  venture back in 1995. For the first decade of the dairys existence we sold milk to Foremost and struggled to stay in the black.We stayed afloat with my nursing career income. What we lost in money we gained back in experience, the security of having at least one parent home full time and in education on how to market our beef products. Our dairys bottom line further improved when we began selling to more raw milk customers. Since April of 2010 our average monthly raw milk sales were $1500. Our milk sells for $4 a gallon and so math wizards,  that means we sell  375 gallons of milk each month to raw milk loving customers. I should know. I did the math three times. Before April 2010 we averaged $200/month or only 50 gallons a month sold directly to consumers who came to the farm with their own container.

This is without any written advertising. No print ads in the paper, no flyers in local businesses, no mention of raw milk on our business cards. Our attorney tells us Twitter, Facebook and my blog do not count as advertising since they are all free to use and considered personal. Imagine how raw milk sales could improve if we could only advertise. Any unsold milk is fed to our hogs in a cultured form full of healthy antibodies. In addition we have virtually no competition in the raw milk business. Of the few dairies around us, none of them are selling raw milk as they all sell to Foremost as we used to and are forbidden by the company to do so.

There are a handful of dairies in the Chicago area who sell raw milk but we don't consider that real competition as there are so many more customers looking for raw milk than there are dairies willing to sell it.

One of our calves listening very closely to our on site "Cow Whisperer"

So what are our raw milk related problems ? They are:

 1. Price. We need to raise ours as organic feed is escalating due to the increase in conventional feed
This will be good if we don't go too high, we don't want to lose customers. But if we keep it too
low our expenses will exceed our costs. In business terms that would be...bad.

2. Availability. Our hog business continues to grow. If we are advertising "milk fed pork" then they better be MILK FED. So we must be careful not to oversell our raw milk to people customers and possibly have too little milk for our porcine population.

  3. Herd size.  This issue refers to number 2 above in regards to milk production and in regards to
 pasture availability. We only have 50 acres total to work with. We own 10 we rent 40.  If we increase the hogs, we'll need more milk, which will require more cows which will need more pasture. Can we rent more from our landlord ?  How will that cost fit into our budget ? And if so how long until that land is ready for organic certification ? And who do you think will do THAT paperwork ?   Hmmmmmmm.?

So those are our primary dairy related issues. By no means is this an all inclusive list but it does hit the major issues. Our problem list grows longer each day, but I promise our opportunity list will be longer. if I ever get finished with the problem list.


  1. I've been paying $10 a gallon for raw goat milk and Kalona Supernatural VAT pasteurized non-homogenized is fetching between $7.50-9.00 a gallon. Kalona also supplies HyVee's organic store-brand milk. Even UHP Organic Valley is $9 a gallon.

    If only you weren't so far away, I'd come down and get your "bargain" milk.

    p.s., love your blog, been lurking for a few months now.

  2. Looks like the raw milk law may come up for a vote again here in Wisconsin. Disappointed when the health policy folks convinced Gov. Doyle to veto the previous bill last year.

    But what I really want to say is that I just LOVE that picture of the calf. I laugh every time I see it and I'd like to get down at eye level with it myself.

  3. Mmmmm... Milano double chocolate... my fave.

    Your customers are lucky. I can't get raw milk in my state.

  4. We aren't allowed to sell raw milk here in PA, I don't think...$4 sounds great compared to what we get per cwt! How many cows do you milk?