Micro-dairy is the latest phrase for any small-scale dairy operation, and more recently seems to be becoming increasingly popular within Alabama. A micro-dairy offers potential for families, couples and individuals interested in operating a small-scale commercial dairy. They are generally family operated and utilize dairy cows or goats (hence the name dairy).
The number of animals per farm can range from one to 100-plus. Start-up costs are relatively reasonable in comparison to many business ventures, relative being the key phrase. The other major consideration is becoming familiar with regulatory agencies, complying with their regulations and accommodating scheduled inspections by regulatory agencies.
All it requires is for you to have time, patience and adequate financial resources. In recent issues of AFC Cooperative Farming News, you may have read articles on micro-dairies located across the state.
So what has happened to all the dairies? Over the years, across the nation, there have been significant decreases in the number of commercial dairies, mostly due to increased regulations and practical economics.
Existing commercial dairies tend to sell raw milk to big dairy cooperatives which transport the milk thousands of miles for further processing into milk, cheese and ice cream. But things are beginning to change; people are becoming increasingly aware of their food sources and options, and are seeking locally produced foods.
So where are these micro-dairies? There are websites like: http://www.smalldairy.com/index.html, http://www.realmilk.com/ and countless others with information on small-scale and micro-dairies. All one has to do is a few simple Internet searches to find countless information. Visit http://www.southerncheese.com/index.html and you will be amazed to learn of the number of micro-dairies in the Southeast.
There are at least six or seven throughout Alabama, some of which are listed on the site, and many which are not. In Baldwin County there is Sweet Home Farm, just west of Anniston there is Wright Dairy, in Madison County there is 4 Maz Farm and in Limestone County there is Humble Heart Farms. Even Lauderdale County has a dairy owned by the Cornelius family, and this is just the short list.
Do opportunities still exist and where do you begin? Of course they do and it’s simple! The first thing to do is research; search the Internet, read articles, learn where the dairies are in your region (you may have to drive for a while) and make arrangements to visit with the owners.
An important resource is your local Extension office; their experts can help you learn more about what to expect and how to go about it in an efficient and practical manner. There are Extension experts like Boyd Brady, Wayne Robinson, Ilana Stover and several others. They can tell you how to order the Alabama Dairy Goat Handbook. Also, these professionals can direct you to experts at the Alabama Department of Public Health Inspection where you can learn more about requirements and regulations.
All you have to do is contact your local Extension office and ask how to contact one of these experts. It may not be for everyone; expect to encounter challenges and be aware of significant start-up costs, work lots of hours and be amazed at consumer demand once people learn what you have to offer. The more you learn, the more it will peak your interest.
Is it worth it all? As business starts to pick up and clientele repeatedly express their appreciation, you will begin to smile at the rewards. Not to mention the pride you will take in learning to produce a finished product and sampling your array of gourmet dairy products!
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.