The Following Article was written for this Saturdays Issue (3/17/12) of The Renegade Farmer
For those followers who already know our story I apologize for this "rerun"
For new followers to my blog ...read on and THANKS for coming aboard!
13 years ago when my husband and I started our Grade A Dairy, folks gave us funny looks. We had not come from dairy families. We had not inherited our dairy. Statistically, licensed dairy farms had decreased from 131,509 in 1992 to 87,527 in 1999* the year we began. We had strong knowledge of what it means to run a dairy (my husband had worked for other dairy farmers for over a decade) and yet, we still bought a farm, built a barn, and filled it with cows.
Because it was my husbands dream that's why. He always wanted to own his own dairy farm and run it his way. So, we did. Each of our cows were given a name, all of them had distinct personalities and my husband enjoyed being his own boss. Some days it went well, but over time our dairy farm turned sour. We liked what we did but hated the low pay dairy farmers often received for the 24/7 commitment. Since milk prices were set by beurocratic folks out of touch with real farmers, our milk checks were often far below our milk expenses.
More and more small dairy farms around us began closing their doors. Dairy cows were slaughtered for the families freezer or bought up by the Megafarms. From 1999 to 2009 licensed US Dairies decreased by ANOTHER 32, 595 farms.* We considered the same course.
Frustrated, we explored organic certification. It was a good fit with our beliefs about holistic, non-chemical and humane care of our herd, and 10 years into our lives as conventional dairy farmers, we transitioned. Organic certification further improved the health of our cows and our land but unfortunately made no difference in our milk checks. We were a small farm in an area of very few dairy farms and NO other organic dairy farms. The organic milk companies felt we were too small to mess with, not worth the gas needed to pick up our milk.
And still all around us and in our own state of Illinois, more dairy farms bit the dust. But instead of following the trend we came up with something virtually un-"herd" of in the dairy world, the removal of Mr. Middle Man. Two years ago we started selling our milk ONLY to individuals who came to our farm, jug in hand. We showed them how to get the milk from our tanks and then we charged them FOUR times the amount the conventional milk company had been paying us. We weren't being greedy, we were just getting our income caught up with our expenses for the first time in years.
Our customers were happy because our charge for a gallon of milk was still HALF what they were paying for organic milk in the store. Plus, the raw, 100% grass fed milk they bought from us was less than 24 hrs in the tank, more often only out of the cow 6-8 hours before it ended up in their own refrigerators. We had enough money to pay our bills and our customers had found a place to buy the product they wanted for far less than they had been paying for milk sitting on the shelves for days and days.
Were we geniuses ? Rocker Scientists ? No. If we were we would have come up with this solution much earlier. We're just a couple of farmers who, when they found themselves with their backs up against the wall...took their small dairy business in their own hands.
Our cows, and nearly 100 raw milk customers a month, are glad we did.
* as reported in Hoard's Dairyman March 10, 2012 www.hoards.com