Operating a micro-creamery is an option for those looking for niche farming opportunities. Creameries operated by small farms offer a valuable second income stream and are always a popular booth at the farmers market. You can start a micro-creamery with as little as four cows or ten goats.
In fact, your creamery can utilize a small herd of cows, sheep, goats, water buffalo or even camels. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on goats. Water buffalo and camels are not very practical for the average homestead in North America. Because goats require less space and care than cattle, and produce double the amount of milk as sheep, they are the focus of this article. However, much of the information can be applied to other dairy animals.
Before you build, market, or milk, you need to decide what your creamery is going to offer. The best way to do this is with a homestead business plan. Start with your desired end result and work your way backward to figure out where you need to begin, and the logical steps you will need to take to grow. Once you decide what your end result will look like, you can research the legal requirements you will have to meet.
Know the Laws for Dairy in Your State
It is important to understand the legal requirements regarding dairy and dairy products are not merely suggestions. It is imperative that you adhere to the laws of your state. Because each state is different, it is difficult to find all you need to know online. The best way to make sure you are in compliance is to make an appointment at your local USDA office or farm bureau. The people who work in those offices are there to support small producers and are always very excited when they are able to help a small farm succeed in a new farming venture.
Have in mind a list of questions to ask your ag department at your appointment. First, ask if your state allows the sale of raw milk. Currently, thirty-two states allow raw milk sales, but they differ in the way in which you can sell the milk. That is your second question: How can you sell your milk? Some states allow you to sell raw milk directly from the farm, at farmers markets and through a CSA or by delivery. Some farmers offer a goat-share program, where customers purchase a “share” of the herd and receive raw milk in return.
You also need to find out what type of container you are permitted to sell the milk in and what the labeling requirements are.
Getting Licensed as a Grade A Dairy
Getting licensed as a Grade A dairy requires even stricter adherence to state and federal legal requirements. There are building codes and equipment standards, as well as paperwork and fees that must be filed correctly and paid in a timely manner. Inspectors will need access to your facility for both scheduled and unannounced inspections. Your local Department of Agriculture is an invaluable resource when you are navigating the licensing regulations. Before meeting with them to discuss the steps you need to take become familiar with the minimum standards and regulations by downloading a copy of Grade A Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.
Bringing Home Your Dairy Goats
Once you believe you can adhere to your legal obligations, it is time to think about purchasing your dairy animals. Goats are friendly creatures to have on the homestead and are a good choice for homesteaders with children. As long as they are handled regularly, they remain gentle and relatively easy to train to come when you call. Contrary to popular belief, they will not eat tin cans, yard art, or clothes hanging on the line, but they are curious and they do need an enclosed area. The best fencing for goats is a portable, electrified woven-wire. Because the fencing is portable, you are able to save time and money with rotational grazing on pasture.
Other than adequate fencing, goats—like every other grazing animal—need fresh air, sunlight, adequate forage, fresh water and shelter from the elements. Goats are a herd animal, so you need more than one. One person can manage, milk, and make cheese from ten goats, leaving enough time for all of the other responsibilities of running a homestead.
There are four things to consider when you are contemplating the type of shelter you will provide your herd. First, the shelter needs to be adequately ventilated. Proper ventilation will decrease the smell, flies, and illnesses that occur in a tightly closed area. Goats are not fussy about their housing. They mainly need a structure that will allow them a place to come in out of the rain or snow.
The second thing their shelter should provide is a bedded area that is dry and clean. The deep-bedding system works well and is easily composted when you muck the bedded area. If you smell ammonia when you walk into their shelter, you need to add more bedding. A dry, clean area also cuts down on certain illnesses, including mastitis for lactating does.
Third, make sure your feeders and waterers are located in an area that is easy for you to service and does not allow for the possibility of contamination from animal wastes.
Finally, the shelter should be arranged with your needs in mind. An efficient arrangement will minimize the amount of labor and time you will expend caring for your herd and keeping the facility clean.
Your milking area should be separate from the stable area. You can milk the goats at ground level, but it is much more efficient and easier on you if you build a milking platform that is 15-18” higher than the ground.
Ensuring High-Quality Milk Production
Of course, does do not lactate until they have had kids. That makes your breeding program an integral part of developing a successful micro-creamery. Although does are able to breed as early as five months of age, it is best for the health of the doe and the lifelong milk- and meat-production of the herd, if you manage young does, to breed around seven months of age. Goats have a gestation period of approximately five months, so you should stagger pregnancies over as wide a time span as possible in order to have a year-round supply of milk.
The success of kidding greatly affects the amount and quality of the milk produced. To learn more about preparing for kidding season, see Goat Kidding Season — It’s No Joke.
Allow the does to nurse their kids on demand for three weeks. After the third week, milk the does in the morning and allow the kids to nurse the remaining of the day. At six weeks, milk the does twice a day. Kids should be completely weaned at eight weeks and the does will continue to produce milk as long as you maintain a milking schedule. To maintain high milk-production does need quality forages and supplemental grain at a rate of one pound feed per 3 pounds of milk. The dietary energy provided by supplemental grains positively affects the yield, while the protein and fiber found in forages positively affect the quality of the milk.
Milking Your Goats
Thoroughly clean your hands, the milking area, and milking equipment before milking. Prepare your goats before each milking with the dip, strip, and wipe technique to prevent high bacteria counts in your milk. This begins with a teat dip, followed by squirting the initial stream of milk into a strip cup, and then wiping the udder to make sure it is clean. Check the strip cup for any clumping, curdling, or off-smelling milk.
The milk must be chilled to 50 degrees Fahrenheit immediately upon milking. The best way to do this is to pour the milk in a sterile container and place that container into a container of ice-water in the refrigerator. Bacteria present in the milk multiplies rapidly unless chilled, so this step is extremely important for your creamery.
Not Ready to Start a Micro-Creamery?
If you are interested in working with dairy goats, but are not sure you want to start a full-fledged creamery at this point, there are other products you can make with goat milk that are under no legal vendor requirements. These include soaps, lotions, caramel preserves, and candies. (Learn how to make milk soap here.)
If you are searching for ways to diversify your homestead and add to your bottom line, all while contributing to your local, sustainable food system, a micro-creamery might be for you.