By Laura Ginsburg of The Golden Yoke
This past month has been a big one for decision-making at The Golden Yoke. Unlike the other Bootstrap farmers, we are not currently milking any cows, do not have any facilities, and do not have any real equipment to speak of. And having just finished grad school, we do not have much cash on hand to put into these things. The next issue we have been tackling is that I (Laura) received a Fulbright and will be gone for most of 2014, the year we are planning on truly starting our dairy operation. So what does all of this mean for us?
We have a lot of awesome things working in our favor, which has factored into the decisions we are making. First, people are truly excited about what we are doing and want to offer their assistance. Sometimes this is an offer of going in on a heifer (Twister is half owned by one of our good friends) or guiding us through the business planning and financial forecasting process. Our neighbor has been instrumental in helping us understand our irrigation system and has recently cut and baled our hay. He and many others have offered to be part of the ice cream tasting team. Next, we live in an area where there used to be a lot of smaller dairies, so the possibility of finding a place with a parlor that we could rent is very real. When we moved onto the land we lease now, we were thinking we would build a barn and a parlor but now that just seems financially overwhelming and unwise. Third, we live in a beautiful location in a small, rural town that supports agriculture and local food. Saint Ignatius is very close to a huge summer tourist town and is on the way to Glacier National Park. Because we want to make ice cream and operate seasonally, this would be perfect because everybody likes an ice cream cone during the hot days of summer.
So equipment and capital…as far as money goes, we apply for free money at every chance we get. Connie just received a grant from the Red Ants Pants Foundation to attend ice cream school at Penn State this winter, which just happens to be the same school where Ben & Jerry got their start. We are saving every dollar we can to build up a farm account and we both hold full-time jobs. As people like to remind us, dairy is one of the most capital-intensive kinds of farming to get in to. Keeping in mind we will need to outfit a parlor with new equipment, we might need to build a barn, we want to process our own milk, and we are going to do the marketing, we fully expect to go into (possibly significant) debt to start our operation.
For equipment, right now what we have is quite basic: pick-up truck, fencing materials, and an ice cream making attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer. Since we don’t have any shelter for the cows we just put up what we are calling the “cow-bana,” a sunshade with the water tank, mineral block, and fly repellent that the cows can use during the heat of the day. We have ideas about what our ideal set-up would include once we get going. I would really like to use a hoop style barn with a bedded pack, a system that allows the cows to walk around freely and lets in a lot of natural light.
We want to eventually milk in a New Zealand style swing parlor, which is a herringbone set-up with only one set of milking machines that swing to either side. This kind of parlor has no walls, so it is very open, airy, and is cheaper to build. And for actual milking equipment, we would both like to use Nu-Pulse milkers that do not require a separate airline. I milked with these in Vermont, and the entire system is quieter, seems to be pretty easy on the cows, and requires less equipment. We are just starting to think about ice cream equipment and packaging, and are open to exploring alternative packaging models depending on customer demand.
Getting ready to write this post has forced Connie and I to really examine our financial and equipment needs. We end this post feeling much clearer about our goals for the next year and ready to take on the work it will entail.
Until next time, the girls of The Golden Yoke.