By Laura Ginsburg of The Golden Yoke
Hi! My name is Laura Ginsburg. Connie and I are starting to build our dairy, the Golden Yoke. We are the first new dairy in Montana in over two decades. Not only will we be the first new dairy in many years, we will be the only grass-based, seasonal dairy in the state.
I am currently in my last semester of graduate school at the University of Montana, where I am in the Environmental Studies program. I am writing my thesis on the effects of supply management on Montana’s dairy farmers and work as a research assistant for a local agriculture non-profit. Connie works full-time at a growers’ cooperative, and has a degree in dairy science from Virginia Tech.
We are driven by our passion for dairy farming and our love of cows. I fell in love with dairy farming while studying abroad in New Zealand, and do not have an agricultural background. Connie grew up on what she likes to call “Old MacDonald’s Farm” in rural southwest Virginia, where her family raised tobacco and had a market garden. She has worked on dairies across the United States, as a herdsman for a 4,000-cow Horizon dairy in Idaho to the only employee on a 35-cow organic dairy in Vermont. The majority of my dairy experience was in Vermont, where I relief milked for multiple farmers and helped with pasture management.
The decision to be grass-based and seasonal has raised a lot of eyebrows out here, where all dairies are confinement systems. We believe in the restorative power of grazing for the land and for the health of the cows, and saw outstanding results for both at a dairy we worked at in Vermont. Because of our jobs, school commitments, and being young farmers, our plan is to start slowly. Over the past two months we have been matched through a land link program to 40 acres in the Mission Mountains (St. Ignatius, MT) and have purchased our first two heifers.
We only want to milk around 20 cows, and are open to the idea of taking several years to scale up to that size. We are also exploring the idea of milking sheep, which would make us another anomaly in the state. Neither of us has much experience with sheep though, so this will be a more in-depth learning process which will include farm visits to neighboring states. Our friends and the local community are very excited about supporting and visiting our farm, and we are also going to be utilizing creative financing to fund our initial start-up costs. The whole process of watching our dream come into reality is exhilarating and sobering, and we look forward to sharing it with others who have the same dream as us.