Starting a Dairy, aka Spending All My Life's Savings
While Seana and Dave’s main focus right now is the creamery, my main focus is growing my dairy flock and buying milking equipment. Ultimately I want to have a couple hundred ewes, so I’m going to buy 50 more ewe lambs this May. I also need to buy stanchions, milk buckets and maybe an industrial refrigerator…but more on that later. It’s hard to find quality dairy ewes and I’ve found it especially difficult since I’m trying to keep my flock CL-free. While not life threatening, CL causes large, bulging abscesses that show up continuously throughout the animals’ life. It’s impossible to get rid of once the bacteria are introduced to your farm. Dairy sheep aren’t common in our country and come from a small pool of genetics, which means CL runs pretty rampant in the U.S. The only CL-free dairy flock I know of happens to be 15 minutes away from me, so I actually consider myself very lucky in my pursuit of new ewes. I won’t mention how much I’m paying for the animals out of respect for the seller, but I will say I need to take out a hefty loan from my local American Ag Credit branch. Here are things I tell myself to make this step less scary: Every entrepreneurial venture requires an investment! It’s a necessary risk! It’s only money! I’m 25…I have the rest of my life to pay this off!
Of course, I’ve carefully run the numbers and created spreadsheets and figure I’ll reach my break-even point within a couple years, so it’s not a completely outrageous purchase. I’m following my dreams so I do expect to make sacrifices, but I also want to look....long, carefully and thoughtfully…before I leap.
I’m also in the market for a set of six sheep stanchions to go inside the dairy parlor. The best ones I’ve found online sell for about $2,000. Bucket milkers that milk two ewes at a time run about $1900 each. They’ll attach to the existing vacuum and pulsation lines existing in the parlor, though the pressure and frequency will have to be adjusted. 50 lb Milk cans are $150 each, and I think I’ll buy six of them. The industrial refrigerator I’ll need for storing milk cans are about $1500. I recently learned its possible I can install a small bulk tank, which would eliminate the need for the refrigerator. The potential tank belongs to another sheep dairy in the area, who bought it before learning the electrical output in their barn couldn’t support it. I would much prefer this option and hope it works out! The creamery is so, so very close to being done. A couple days ago we moved the 1500lb cheese vat into the creamery, which was exciting but nerve racking. The tractor bucket we loaded it into had a weight capacity of only 900lbs! My dad and Dave strapped it in tight, and drove very slowly. Opening the crate was like opening a really big, expensive Christmas gift.
There are a few things that need to be finished up, like connecting electrical wiring and hot water to the vat, and hooking up the light fixtures. And I’m sure there will be some time spent troubleshooting equipment. But Dave and Seana are working really hard! It’s 9:30pm right now and I can see the lights in the barn are still on. I can’t wait to see what the creamery looks like tomorrow!