Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Getting into the numbers of it all...

This week I have been researching the equipment requirements for processing milk (straining, cooling, pasteurizing, cooling again, and the bottling) and it is such a crazy process.  There are very, very few farms in the country doing what we're trying to do, and the two that I've called are small conventional (confined cows) dairies that are selling semi-locally.  Not exactly what we're looking for but still got some valuable information from them.  Both bought their land - which is great if you were gifted a fat sum of money but when you're starting from scratch can really put you in a bind fast - and also spent around $250,000 on setup.  Wow.  Mind you this is conventional dairy stuff, grass-fed, pastured dairy means a lower overhead (big time) than a semi-confined dairy.  The cows will be harvesting their own feed, and we won't be feeding silage or much grain so these things will also keep our overhead lower.  There is quite a bit of information out there on "mob-grazing" and it's management, but nearly none for the growing area that we're in.  Alberta is as close as the information gets, so we're in for some hit-and-miss in our operation I think.

The second issue that we're talking about it the breed.  We'd like to keep our cows with our calves for most of the time (why bottle feed when the cows can just feed them?) and  rotate them on a high energy pasture mix....but, we are unsure of the milk production from a milking shorthorn if she is only on grass.  Now, once the grass mix comes up and is in full production her milk quality will be excellent, but how much will there be? We are reading as much as possible on this but really there comes a point when you have to just DO it to get an answer.  I guess this is just the way it goes when there are no reference farms in the area you live in.  We have been talking about adding a Jersey or two anyways so that we can produce more value-added products like butter, yogurt and soft cheeses so this may just be something that we're going to have to fumble around with.  Now, as another source of income, we will be selling milking shorthorn heifers that are raised & handled with the intent that they will be sold as family cows.  We believe that if people could get a gallon or two a day instead of six gallons or more a day, then there would be a lot more people with their own cows.  So, we're going to give it a shot, see what the market's like.

The Range Management Specialist at NRCS has worked up the numbers on how much land we would need to support the operation we have in mind, and its "94 pivot-irrigated acres."  We will have to plant the pasture with a pasture mix because odds are it will be in wheat or alfalfa production, but the NRCS will cost-share with us because we are striving for a sustainable, organic operation.  Pretty sweet.

Now, throughout all of this, I am thinking about how much the kids and I will be outdoors and am very excited but just a touch apprehensive lol.  I'll be moving the animals once a day (cows, pigs, goats/sheep maybe, and chickens) and milking twice a day.  Then processing the milk etc, feeding the family, doing all of the things required to run a house...because Rick will be working.  I'm going to have to be in good shape and on a pretty tightly managed schedule I'm thinking.  Otherwise it'll all be chaos!  We'll deal with that when we get there, but you can believe that I'm planning ahead now.

Milking is going well though, and Opal is growing like a weed; and getting snottier every day.  Halter breaking will start soon with her!  I am just completely smitten with going out in the early mornings to milk - it is always breathtaking out, even though it is usually chilly.  I am so glad that we have chosen to make this a part of our lives.

Opal @ 2 wks old


Tammie said...

good for you, erin! i can hardly wait until you are open for business!

Erin said...

Thank you Tammie! I can hardly wait either! lol There is so much to do though to get there!!