The idea of starting your very own dairy farm can be very appealing. From having the freshest cow’s milk virtually on tap and more time in the fresh countryside air, to turning a considerable profit, there are many different reasons why people are choosing to escape the grind of the 9-5 and start life as a dairy farmer.
However, unless you have extensive experience working in a farm, it is not a transition that should be taken lightly. Failing to understand many of the key aspects of farm ownership can spell disaster for your burgeoning business. To help you to be as prepared as you possibly can be, here is our guide to some of the key things you need to know before starting your own dairy farm.
Get your dairy farm business plan in place
If you want your dairy farm to be profitable, you will certainly need to know how you are going to make that happen. A business plan will identify the all of the critical factors of your farm and answer questions such as:
The amount of pasture you need
The resources that you have available
The number of cows you will need to milk to run the business successfully
Whether you will also produce crops or meat
What it will take to keep your animals healthy
What employees may be required and at what cost
What your running costs will be, and how much profit you will need to make to be able to draw a salary
Consider the type of cows that you want to milk
Not all cows have been created equal, and for the best production of high qualitymilk you will want to choose a breed that is capable of producing both large quantities of milk, and milk that is rich in butterfat and protein.
The vast majority of dairy farms in America choose Holstein cows, which are capable of producing milk that has an excellent constitution and is a good base for a wide variety of different milk-based products. However, other popular varieties include Jersey cows, Brown Swiss cows, and Ayrshire cows.
Create a cropping and feeding program
In order to produce the best quality milk, you will need to ensure that your cows receive the right nutrition. The nutritional requirements of cows vary depending on whether they are infants (calves), dry or lactating. We highly recommend that you consult with a bovine veterinarian or nutritionist to discuss the best diet that you can feed your animals so that they are as healthy and productive as they can be.
Consider the biological evolution of the farm
Any farm is dependent on reproduction, and for a dairy farm to be successful, you will need to ensure that your cows can live a healthy life, produce quality milk, and have calves that will become the next generation of the farm. This means that you will also need to have a plan in place for the biological evolution of the farm, including programs for herd health, reproduction and calf care. To help you get the best possible plans in place and give your farm the best chance of success, we strongly advise that you consult with reputable bovine veterinarians, genetics specialists and extension agents.
Look at the infrastructure your farm will need
Unless the farm you choose comes with the right infrastructure in place, you will need to make decisions about how you will house your cows (as there must be designated spaces where cows at different stages of the dairy process and reproductive cycle must be housed) and what design of milking parlor you are going to use. The herringbone design of milking parlor is the most popular in the United States, as it is the most efficient for large herds.
If the infrastructure you require isn’t already in place, you must also consider the cost implications of sourcing what you need.
Waste management on your farm
Dairy farms produce a great deal of manure. However, if this waste is managed properly, it could actually become an important resource – aside from applying it directly to crops, it could also be composted or anaerobically digested. While these options could make your farm more profitable, initial start-up costs will need to be factored in. However you decide to manage your cow’s waste, you will need to have a manure management program in place.
Be aware of the regulations you will need to comply with
There are a lot of rules and regulations that must be adhered to by any farm owner. These include stipulations regarding:
The construction of the barn
The water supply
The construction of the milking parlor
The construction of the milk house
Bulk milk tank specifications
Milk handling equipment
Animal health requirements
Milk handling and transportation
Criteria for unpasteurized milk
If you are in any doubt, check out the FDA dairy farm inspection report checklist, which can be found online.
These items represent just some of the things that you need to know before starting your own dairy farm. However, the best thing you can do before you start searching for the perfect location for your new venture, is to consult with an experienced agricultural professional. Call Jason DurJava, ALC today at 209-431-0400 to learn more.
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