by Rachel Carter
Vermont’s agricultural future as it pertains to dairy farming depends upon its ability to adjust to changing market realities and practice sustainable environmental management practices. Micro dairy farming offers one viable solution to producing farm fresh milk for local markets. Milk sold directly from the farm can limit production to match demand while, at the same time, allow micro dairy farmers to capture the full value of their milk.
An average micro dairy farm of four pasture grazing and relaxed cows can easily produce 20 gallons of milk a day – enough to supply 60 average families (or 180 people within a typical Vermont neighborhood community). 1000 micro dairy farms located throughout the Vermont landscape would each produce 6000 gallons of local milk per year for the communities where the cows actually live. Farmers selling milk directly from their farms at $7 per gallon will generate $42,000,000 in gross sales for the state. Approximately half of this revenue would go towards production costs while the other half could make an estimated $20,000 annual income. Managing a four cow micro dairy farm does not provide a full time income; however, it is also not a full time job. The amount of time required averages 16 hours per week which creates the opportunity for a micro dairy farmer to explore other products that compliment farmstead success such as produce, meat, poultry, composting, cheese production, and so forth.
In regards to Vermont’s environmental future, micro dairy farming does not involve significant levels of noise, pollution, or manure run-off. In addition, cows can be grass-fed, pasture-raised, and stress free which can result in longer, more productive lives. The average life span of a commercial dairy cow is 4.5 years, with only 2.5 being productive years. A humanely cared for cow on a micro dairy farm with proper access to sunlight, fresh air, and real grass and not being stressed for maximum milk production can live and produce milk up to three times more than a commercial cow.
Micro dairy farming is not the only solution in Vermont’s dairy industry future, but it is one that should not be ignored. If commercial dairy farmers who ship milk to wholesale markets are being paid approximately $1.67 per gallon of milk (compared to the suggested $7) and production costs can routinely run $1.90 per gallon, commercial dairy farmers can and do lose $.23 or more per gallon which is just bad for business! If, however, a micro dairy farmer can sell milk at $7, turning a profit of $3.60 per gallon as a part time job, the time is afforded to explore diversification on the farm or other means of developing income such as running a CSA.
While raw milk is currently viable in Vermont, micro dairy farmers should have the option to offer their customers the choice of raw and on-the-farm pasteurized milk. This would, without question, expand the potential market for farm fresh milk and increase the role of micro dairy farming in the Vermont agriculture renaissance. Rooted in the growing concern of where and how food is produced, the strengths in the buy local movement, our strong farmers markets, and farm-to-plate initiatives are programs and organizations such as Sterling College’s Sustainable Agricultural Program, Hardwick’s Center for an Agricultural Economy, Rural Vermont, and the Vermont Fresh Network.
It is time for local milk to fully join the renaissance and Vermont company, Bob-White Systems – the inventors and manufacturers of small-scale pasteurizers for farm direct milk pasteurization and affordable micro dairy equipment – are working around the clock to try to bring on-the-farm pasteurization solutions to market. Let’s keep Vermont’s working landscape a working one!
Rachel Carter owns Rachel Carter PR in Charlotte, Vermont and is the Marketing Director of Bob-White Systems in South Royalton, Vermont.