If dairy farming is to remain part of Vermont’s agricultural future it must adjust to changing market realities and practice sustainable environmental management. 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). One thousand micro dairy farms throughout the Vermont landscape could each produce 6,000 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 would generate $42 million in gross sales for the state.
Approximately half of this revenue would go toward 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 complement farmstead success — such as produce, meat, poultry, composting, cheese production, and so forth.
In regards to Vermont’s need to protect the environment, micro dairy farming does not involve significant levels of noise, pollution, or manure run-off. In addition, cows that are grass-fed, pasture-raised, and stress-free, have longer, more productive lives. The average life span of a commercial dairy cow is 4.5 years, with only 2.5 productive years. A humanely cared for cow on a micro dairy farm with proper access to sunlight, fresh air, and real grass that is not being stressed for maximum milk production can live and produce milk up to three times longer 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 with 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.
Raw milk sales are legal in Vermont, and 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.
Since March of 2008, the Bob-White System of low-impact pasteurization (BWS LIP) has been in use at the company’s farmstead dairy research facility. It will soon be available at the Bob-White System’s store, located on the town green in South Royalton. The pasteurizer gently pumps cold milk through its heat exchanger at a gallon per minute, where it is heated to 163 degrees and held at that temperature for 20 seconds. The milk is then rapidly cooled back down as it flows into a small bulk tank, where it is further cooled and stored.
The system DOES technically meet the requirements for true pasteurization, but the milk is not homogenized, separated or standardized, which safeguards more of the milk’s nutritional value and cream content, as well as its farm fresh flavor.
Such a system does an excellent job of eliminating harmful bacteria in raw milk, regardless of the bacteria levels, and has absolutely no impact on the milk’s flavor. In addition, the texture of the cream and the ability to utilize the milk for yogurt, butter and other dairy products is unaltered.
In June of 2010, we sent samples of our milk, both raw and pasteurized (from the same batch), to the highly accredited food lab ABC Research Corp. in Gainesville, Florida for full nutritional analysis. The lab tested each sample for over 50 individual nutrients. The only statistically relevant nutrient changes in our pasteurized sample (we actually saw slight
increases in vitamins D and C) were lactic acid organisms and vitamin B-12. Lactic acid organisms help with human digestion. Pasteurization did cause a loss of this nutrient in our samples but it was not eliminated. The loss of vitamin B-12 was approximately 50 percent, but it still can supply 40 percent of a person’s daily recommended allowance.
It is time for milk to fully join the local-food renaissance and we think Bob-White Systems – the inventors and manufacturers of small-scale pasteurizers for farm-direct milk pasteurization and affordable micro dairy equipment – have an answer for helping achieve that. We are working around the clock to try to bring on-the-farm pasteurization solutions to market. Let’s keep Vermont’s working landscape working!