Wednesday, May 13, 2015

So You Want To Set Up Your Own Small Scale Milk Business? This Is What You Really Need To Know.

Well, it appears that there are lots of people in New Zealand (and the world) who want to either set up their own milk business or want to go mobile milking.

My goal is to set up a streamlined system that will allow others to start their own small scale dairy business. 

My inbox is full of people asking me questions about how to set up their own milk business. I would spend 45 minutes to an hour replying to these emails from complete strangers. I did it because I want to promote small scale dairy & I want others to do well.

But of all these emails I've replied to, less than 10% of these people actually reply back to me. I think it is just good manners to at least flick a quick response back to me saying "Thanks Glen". 

So I'm reluctant to devote much time to tyre kickers. I'm more than willing to help people who are serious about setting up a micro dairy. Any enquiries I get from now on will be directed to this blog post.

The equipment is the easy part

Lots of people are asking questions about the mobile cowshed or the pasteuriser or various equipment questions. But in many respects the equipment is the least of the issues that need to be faced.

To build a mobile cowshed you simply need to talk to an engineer and your local milking machine guy and you'll be able to get something made up.

The mobile milking equipment simply allows people to get into the milk production business at a lower cost. 

People still need to have willing customers, provide customer service, match supply to demand and generally be better than their competition. All the while dealing with the regulations and the significant ongoing regulatory compliance.

The real issue you worry about is Too much work for too little money

Small business is hard

Small businesses have a terrible success rate. Studies from around the world all seem to show a pretty bleak picture.
"8 out of 10 new businesses fail within the first three years"
"80 percent of new businesses fail within the first five years"
"53 percent of small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) fail within the first three years"

Is it really worth it?

I recently spoke to a cheese maker who was shutting down their business. They had an award winning product that was stocked in major supermarkets. But when all things were considered, it was just too much work for too little money. 

I think many of the business failures we see in the statistics amount to the owners saying to themselves "for the amount of effort and stress I'm going through. The money is just not good enough. I may as well just get a job" 

Anyone can start a business, the hard part is creating a business that provides a healthy margin and does not require the owner to be over worked.

You need to overcome the following issues


Any business that processes milk (or meat), comes under a whole extra range of food safety regulations. It's not like starting a cafe where the local council inspector does your audit once in a while.

These extra requirements are particularly difficult for small dairy producers. The story of Biddy is a classic example. MPI have to ensure she meets all the regulations. I support MPI's position, but at the same time the burden is huge on a business her size. I spend more time doing paper work than I do actually milking my cows. 
Don't underestimate the time it takes to be compliant. If you don't do it properly you will get smashed at your regular audits. 

Time off

Many small businesses are dependant on the owner. The owner has all the knowledge. The thing I have noticed with small food producers is that the operators find it very hard to take time off. The purpose of being in your own business is to have more options and a better lifestyle. When you are processing milk you can't just hire a relief milker, you need fully trained and competent people. How does a one man band justify the training expenses of someone who will only milk a few weeks a year. Don't forget, there is paperwork that needs to be done for new staff & this will be audited.

Time efficient operations

When you are small scale, you can't afford to be messing around all day. You will be amazed at how quickly your day disappears. 

Before you know it it's 4:00pm and all you've done is milk & feed 10 cows, pasteurise the milk and deliver it. 

This is when you work out the $/per hour and you realise you may as well just get a job!

You need a system that is automated and designed with time efficiency in mind. The problem is, if you're going to build your own system (like I have) you won't know what is going to take up all the time until you've built it. 

Even if you are awesome and you designed the perfect processing room/trailer/cowshed you need to be aware that nothing works as it should straight away. That gas hot water system won't keep working as they said it would, the pump they sold you will turn out to be inadequate 2 months into milking etc etc.

The hidden costs

Add $20,000 to your budget for unknown costs. You will need it.

Example 1
I've spent $3,500 on milk testing to determine where a bug was coming from. We found the source of the the bug, but no one can explain how that bug was making its way into the milk. It seemed like this bug was defying physics. The result was I modified my pasteuriser at a cost of $3,500. There's $7K of unbudgeted costs that you would never have anticipated.

Example 2
The stainless steel fittings used in the milking plant do not comply with the milk processing standards for the milk processing area. I only found that out during my inspection. Thats another $2,500.

I could go on and on. 

Glen's grand plan

My goal has never changed. It's been to create a dairy business that our best young New Zealanders want to be involved in and more importantly, can afford to be involved in.

There are three issues that I care about:
  1. Attracting our best young people to agribusiness
  2. Moving New Zealand agriculture up the value chain
  3. Truly sustainable dairy farming
Shortly I will officially launch my milk brand, Nature Matters Milk Company.

My vision is to set up a financially viable, environmentally sustainable, small scale dairy business that can be replicated throughout New Zealand by others.

My vision is to have a network of great people all around New Zealand supplying their local community with real, sustainable milk.

This is a network of people who understand, eco dairy farming, who understand processing and food safety, who also live and breathe customer service and understand marketing and how to build a branded business.

But there are many obstacles that need to crossed before this can happen. 

The most obvious obstacle is that, I don't even really know how to create a "financially viable, environmentally sustainable, small scale dairy business" as I described above. 

But I'm pretty sure I'll know in about 6 months time. 

We must join together

It makes no sense to have lots of individual farmers all operating and administering their own 20,000 word Risk Management Programmes, while competing against each other and working themselves into the ground. 

We need join together.

Fonterra farmers don't have to worry about dealing with MPI, because Fonterra have people to do that. Fonterra create the systems and procedures that the farmers need to follow.

I'm currently creating the systems and procedures and developing the equipment that will enable other small scale dairy farmers to comply with all the regulations, while also getting the daily tasks done quickly, efficiently and profitably. Doing it profitably is the hard bit.

For small scale farming to be viable we need to:

  • reduce the regulatory burden on individual farmers
  • co-ordinate fluctuating supply with fluctuating demand (don't underestimate this, it relates to profitability!)
  • ensure operators can get some time off

A network of micro dairy farmers

The idea is to create a network in which small scale farmers can "plug into".

I believe a network of savvy young (or young at heart) farmers, can secure at least 5% of the New Zealand milk market.

I'll detail some rough numbers to give you an indication of how big the market is.

5% of the NZ fresh milk market equates to about 20.25 million litres of milk per year. If we assume that a cow will produce around 3,000 litres (low estimate, equivalent to 270 kgms) in a year. Then we would require 6,750 cows to be in milk at any one time. Which is the equivalent of around 8 Canterbury dairy farms.

If we assume that a viable business requires 30 cows (not proven yet) then we would need
225 farmers. Maybe 50 cows will end up being an economic unit, in that case 135 farmers will be able to meet 5% of New Zealand's milk needs.

How can 30-50 cows be an economic unit?

The model I'm proposing is that the micro farmer is also the processor and the retailer, so they receive the total retail amount for their milk.

Below is a very rough and ready spreadsheet with some ballpark figures & estimates.

I still have no idea what the actual numbers are going to be.

My assumptions are conservative.

Production per cow is low, most dairy cows will be producing well over 400 kgms. I've assumed an eco cow in a dryland environment is much lower.

Revenue is also low, when you consider organic milk retails for $3.65/litre. Anchor blue top supermarket milk retails for $2.45. 

I've budgeted farm expenses at double that of the NZ dairy industry. I'm not sure what they will actually end up at. Staffing numbers will have a big impact on the final number. Remember there are no economies of scale in a small scale business.

Owner's drawings at $100,000. I want to attract our best young people, these people have options and the ability to earn good money elsewhere. For small scale eco farming to spread it has to be financially attractive. 

I want to stress these are rough estimates, experience has shown me that you never make as much money as you think you will. 

The reason for outlining these numbers is I want to show that it's entirely possible to farm sustainably on a small scale and still make a good living.

So If you're interested in being a small scale eco dairy farmer, then watch this space. 

Feel free to post a comment below or you can email me at glen dot herud at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

We're In Business! Mobile Milking Approved & The Milk Is Flowing

Two weeks ago The Ministry For Primary Industries approved my Risk Management Programme!

It's a huge achievement & it means that mobile milking & more specifically mobile milk processing is possible in New Zealand.

This now opens up a huge range of possibilities for us to develop some pretty radical and truly sustainable dairy farming systems.

I made my first delivery on the 10th February to our first and only customer C1 Espresso in Christchurch.

I first approached C1 over a year ago & told them that I was setting up a sustainable milk company that supplies real milk which has not being homogenised or standardised. 

Sam, the owner said to me that they have their own coffee plantation in Samoa & they grow the fruit for their juices on the plantation as well. But he was not able to find a suitable whole milk supplier.

I think we've solved that issue.

The plan now is to iron out any issues and slowly increase our supply.

My first 7 cows will be drying off shortly and we'll give them a 3 month break over the winter. Assuming the bull has done his job, these cows will calve again in August.

I'm about to buy 7-10 autumn calving cows. These cows will calve in April & May and will provide the milk through the winter and the spring period.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Interview on Radio New Zealands Country Life Programme

mobile milking system

I featured on Radio New Zealand Nationals Country Life programme on the weekend. You can hear it here if you have 20 minutes spare.

I spoke about sustainable dairy, the mobile milking system, dryland dairy farming & why I think our dairy industry needs to move away from commodities and into branded product.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Is Raw Milk Safe? Some Pasteurisation Facts. Why I Won't Sell Raw Milk & What To Look For In A Raw Milk Supplier

Tragically a child in Australia has died as a result of drinking contaminated raw milk. 

So the raw milk vs pasteurised milk debate begins again. The comments on this article from June this year show the diverse opinions.

I grew up drinking raw milk from the vat. We looked long and hard at selling raw milk. We looked at the issues and decided that raw milk was not for us. I'll explain why.

Is raw milk safe or not? 

The quick answer is, it can be safe, but it can turn bad very quickly.

First up, what is pasteurisation?

We boil contaminated water to kill bugs. Pasteurisation is simply heating the milk up to kill any bad bugs that may be present. 

It's not just milk that we pasteurise either, most freshly squeezed orange juice is pasteurised, just as egg products are too. We don't seem to have debates about those products.

The pasteurisation process is a combination of temperature and holding time. For example you can heat milk to 60 degrees and hold it there for 30 minutes (called batch or low temp long time) or you could heat it to 72 degrees and hold it there for 15 seconds (called high temp short time HTST).

I've chosen a batch system where we heat the milk to 65.1 degrees and hold it there for 10 minutes.

Does pasteurisation affect the milk?

Yes & no.
Pasteurisation does not change the nutritional value of the milk such as fat, protein content etc. 
But it does affect other aspects of the milk. The heat treatment process kills any "bad bugs" that are in the milk & it also kills any so called "good bugs" that are in the milk too.

To check that milk has been pasteurised. We conduct a test called the Alkaline Phosphatase test. This test is looking for the Alkaline Phosphatase enzyme. If milk is properly pasteurised, then alkaline phosphatase is inactivated. If it is detected then the milk has not been pasteurised.

This indicates that the heat treatment is affecting some aspects of the milk. 

Does it matter? 

There seems to be very little or no scientific evidence showing any benefit to drinking raw milk. But raw milk proponents will give examples of a friend or a family member who had an ailment that disappeared after swapping to raw milk. There's even books about how raw milk can cure autism. It hasn't made one bit of difference with my autistic son!

Either way both opinions will continue to exist.

I couldn't see any real evidence other than some anecdotal evidence that raw milk is better for you and that the pasteurisation process adversely affects the milk.

People are confused about what happens to milk

What I did discover in my customer & market research, was that the public don't understand what pasteurisation, homogenisation and standardisation is.

People try raw milk and they think "wow" that tastes so different to the supermarket milk. They conclude that it must be because it is raw milk. 

The fact is, you can take milk from the same batch, pasteurise half of it & conduct a taste test. The pasteurised milk will have exactly the same amount of cream on top and taste exactly the same as the raw milk. 

People can't tell the difference.

What people can tell the difference of, is if the milk has been homogenised & standardised. It's those two processes that alter the look, texture & taste of the milk.

There is a perception that you can only get full cream milk, straight from the cow, just like the old days. If it is raw milk. People think the pasteurisation process is what removes the cream or "waters it down". 

I couldn't see any rock solid reason to sell raw milk. But I could see potential risks to selling raw milk.

How to ensure raw milk is safe

The food scientists will say that you simply cannot ensure that raw milk is safe. I think thats being a bit over the top. 

After all I spent my whole childhood and teen years drinking milk from the cowshed vat. I also did a fair bit of milking and I remember accidentally dropping the teat cups into a fresh wet cow pat every once and a while and watching as the cups sucked it straight into the milk line. I survived.

Simply put, raw milk can be safe if it is produced to high standards and consumed in short order.

There are a number of people who produce and sell raw milk properly. They are registered with the ministry for primary industries and have testing regimes & procedures in place.

What makes raw milk unsafe? 

The same things that could make pasteurised milk unsafe. The obvious issues are big bad bugs like, Salmonella, E.coli, B. cereus, Listeria & Staph Aureus. Pasteurisation will kill or deplete these bugs if they are present.

If any of these organisms are found in raw or pasteurised milk, you would have to ask serious questions about the practices of the operator.

The other things to consider are Coliform levels (fecal bacteria) , Aerobic plate counts (bacteria) & somatic cell count (measure of mastitis or infection in the udder).

The people who sell raw milk properly have Coliform, APC & SCC levels well below that of the average dairy farmer. 

If raw milk is produced to high hygiene standards & has very low bacteria levels in it & it is kept at below 4 degrees C, then it will likely be safe. 

Problems arise when the temperature is elevated above 4 degrees. Bacteria reproduce when it gets warm. If a bottle is left on the bench at room temperature, the bacteria can rapidly reproduce. Its possible that a bad bug is present, but in such low levels that it is not a problem. But it could reproduce to levels that then become a problem.

This applies to pasteurised milk too, but the difference is pasteurised milk will have lower bacteria levels in it and the bad bugs are heat sensitive and will have been killed. So any bacteria that are multiplying will not be harmful. 

One of the reasons the New Zealand regulations only allow raw milk to be sold from the farm gate, is that transport from the farm and storage at a separate location, increase the risk that the milk is not kept chilled and it also extends the time in which the milk will be consumed.
Long supply chains and raw milk are not an ideal mix.

What to look for in a raw milk supplier

If you want to buy raw milk in New Zealand then there are a number of farmers doing it. You want to buy milk from someone who has impeccable hygiene in the cowshed & healthy cows.

The things to look for are:

  • First of all look for their approval certificate from MPI. If they don't have one it means their systems have not been approved by MPI. They are breaking the law. Don't buy.

  • How tidy and clean are the surroundings? Is there rubbish laying around? Is the cowshed clean, are the railings clean, has the yard been hosed clean, are the teat cups clean?

  • Ask to see the old milk filters. The milk filter catches any foreign matter. If its green, that shows that cow poos on the cows teats have mixed with the milk. In my experience most commercial dairies will have green milk filters at the end of milking.

  • Does the farmer have a large herd that supplies a milk company like Fonterra or is 100% of the milk going to be sold to the public as raw milk? This is important because if a farmer is milking 400 cows and simply diverts some of the milk to sell to the public. It is unlikely that they are following the required hygiene requirements for safe raw milk. They won't be washing & disinfecting the teats of all 400 cows.

  • Ask about their milk testing regime, what are the bacteria levels that they aim for? 

My Conclusion

People love real milk that has not been heavily processed. Milk that has been standardised & homogenised is very different from real milk.

Many people jump on the raw milk bandwagon simply because they like the taste of real milk. Most of these people will be quite happy to drink real milk that has been pasteurised.

I don't think there is any advantage in drinking raw milk over "real milk" that has only been pasteurised.

To me any advantage (if any) of raw milk is outweighed by the risks.

I'm happy for people to drink raw milk if they want to, as people should be free to do as they please. 
For this reason I support the current regulations that allow people to buy it from the farm gate. This allows people who really believe in raw milk to access it. But they have to be really keen to drive to the farm and collect it.

I'm happy for the public health system to treat you if you get sick too. After all the tax payer funds the treatment of people doing silly things on motocross bikes etc.

But I do have a problem with people feeding it to their young children. They are not able to fight off an infection as well as an adult.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

New Zealand's Food Safety Regulations Are Not Just About Food Safety, But Also International Trade & Politics

New Zealand's food safety regulations are not simply about food safety. It's also about international trade & politics.

Once I understood that, the regulations & procedures around dairy products begins to make sense to me.

I'm going to be quite charitable to the regulators in this post.

Biddys Story

Last night Seven Sharp did a follow up story on Biddy and her micro cheese making business. You can view the 7 minute video here.

Biddys story is, she milks 3 cows and makes the milk into cheese. She has won international awards etc etc. 5 years ago she was featured on Country Calendar. This alerted the authorities to her small operation and she was required to meet the dairy regulations.

Biddys story has popped up in the media on and off for the last five years. The current situation is she makes $33,000 per year from her cheese and she is required to have her risk management programme audited every year, which cost $4,500.

my last blog postI outlined the reason it costs $4,500 to get a verifier to audit her every year. Basically there are only 2 companies in New Zealand who conduct these auditing services and there is not enough auditors. So people like Biddy and my self have to pay for the airfares & rental cars to get an auditor to visit. We also have to pay them $90/hour while they are travelling & well over $130/hour while they are on site or writing their report.

So Biddys getting away quite lightly at only $4,500!

Regulations are set to protect our international trade

After hearing a story like Biddys, the general response goes something like this "This is ridiculous, a little old lady with three cows has to go through all the same paperwork and inspections that a big processor does. Why doesn't the local council food inspectors do the inspections?" 

This sounds logical, after all if you wanted to bake apple pies & sell them. You can set up in your garage and the council inspector can sign off your premises. 

But New Zealand doesn't make its money from apple pies, it makes it's money from milk.

Our overseas markets are quite happy to find a reason to stop our dairy exports. One example is Fonterra's DCD scandal. Sri Lanka were quick to blacklist Fonterra products & Chinese officials were all over MPI looking for a detailed risk assessment. 

We can find other food safety scares that have affected New Zealand dairy producers. There was Fonterra's clostridium botulinum scandal and before that they had the melamine infant formulas scandal too.  

All three of these scandals cost NZ producers greatly.

But hang on a minute, these "cock ups" were by Fonterra, New Zealands largest producer not the Biddy's of the world.

I can't actually find an example of a small scale producer causing the NZ dairy industry to suffer.

Either way, officials from the European Union, China & the US etc scrutinise our food safety systems and look for areas of weakness or potential weakness. Often its not food safety at the forefront of their mind, but rather international trade as their focus. 

It would appear that, they use our system as a type of tariff or at least a way to leverage more bargaining power.

So poor old MPI has to juggle the political & trade requirements while also trying to make the system simple for Biddy and I.

As a result, our trading partners demand a robust system with checks and balances. The problem is those checks and balances cost money.

In my last post, I proposed that we should get rid of the private verifiers and make verification the role of MPI. The problem with that scenario is MPI then set the standards, evaluates businesses risk management programmes and also conducts the auditing of those businesses.

It could be argued that this system would lack any independent checks.

Who knows what goes on in the Wellington office of MPI. We don't know what the Chinese or the europeans demand of them.

But what I do know, is that whenever I talk to anybody from Eurofins, AsureQuality or MPI the conversion very quickly turns away from the practical hygiene issues and onto the requirements of the a certain standard or regulation. 

It's these regulations that have been audited by our trading partners & found to be acceptable. 

MPI are worried that if, a small producer stuffs up & causes a food safety breach, the risk is that the standards & regulations that make up our food safety system may look to have failed. Therefore opening us up for more scrutiny from other countries who may be looking for any reason to halt our exports.

Much of the battle I am having with the Ministry for Primary Industries is not about actual food safety, but more about everybody covering their backs. 

More on that later

Monday, November 17, 2014

Is Our Food Safety System as Strong as We Think. Private Sector vs Public Sector

Is our food safety system as robust as we think it is? And are we better served by the public or private sector?

Last week I blogged about my issues getting the mobile cowshed evaluated by inspectors.

The way the food safety system works, is the government agency via The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) set the food standards. When a company sets up a food business, the verification services are provided by the private sector.

In New Zealand we have AsureQuality, which is a state owned enterprise, but it operates as a for profit business. There seems to be only two other providers, Eurofins & SGS in NZ who can offer dairy evaluation services.

The problem I have struck is there are not enough staff within these three businesses to evaluate and verify my business.

Lack of food safety specialists

I've spoken to quite a few people in MPI, AsureQuality & Eurofins over the last few months. They all say that the demand for their services have boomed in the last 2 years. 

The Fonterra botulism issue has absorbed a lot of manpower, but there is also a large number of new dairy businesses starting or expanding. 

There are a number of large dairy processors expanding, like Fonterra's Edendale & Darfield plants. But there is also a number of new factories (many backed by Chinese money) popping up across the country.

There is also a boom in the numbers of small producers like myself setting up.

As an aside; I found it interesting that there are only 3 people in New Zealand who can assess dairy heat treatment facilities. The same person who assesses massive milk powder plants is also the guy who assesses my 300 litre/day pasteuriser.

All these things combined have meant that the demand for their services has increased dramatically.

Why not just employ more people?

They are trying to, the problem is these roles are quite specialised, they can't just put an ad in the paper.

I've noticed almost all of the people I have dealt with, from food safety consultants, evaluators and assessors all seem to be over 50 years old. These people have been in the industry for over 30 years. Many are on the verge of retirement.

Where are the young people?

It seems they don't stick around. 

One person commented 
"we used to employ graduates, but they all seemed to leave after 1-1.5 years. The problem is it takes us 2 years to train a graduate to the point where they can operate unsupervised."
I haven't received my bill yet for my pasteuriser inspection, but I believe the hourly rate that I pay for the time the inspector is travelling is $90/hour. While they are inspecting and writing the report, the hourly rate is over $130.

Upon hearing the rates they charge, I thought there must be some serious money to be made in dairy verification.

Yes there is, but at the same time no there isn't.

It appears that for some companies, dairy verification services are just too hard to provide. I've come across at least one company that no longer does dairy evaluation because their evaluator left and its just too hard to replace them.

Private sector vs public sector

This has got me thinking, is New Zealand's food safety system best served by the private sector?

My reason for asking this is. 

A private company needs to make a profit. If a company employs a verifier and spends considerable resources training them, they want to be sure there's enough work for them so the new employee can pay for themselves. 

It appears to me that these companies take a "wait and see" approach before committing to employing more staff. This make perfect sense to any business person.

Meanwhile, the countries food businesses are being held up by a bottleneck in the form of insufficient number of inspectors & other services.

What about the public sector? 

Well, MPI is able to conduct evaluations, but
 "we don't want to be seen to be competing with the private sector". 
Before MPI will step in they need to be sure that none of the private sector providers are able to provide the services.

In my case, MPI have said they will step in & evaluate my RMP because the private sector businesses are unable to do it.

I wonder how larger export businesses are faring? I'm sure I'm not the only one battling these sorts of delays?

Efficiency vs Resilience

This has got me thinking. We always hear about companies and departments focusing on efficiency. But maybe it's in the best interests of the country to have some inefficient departments. 

The more efficient you become the less resilient you are. An efficient department is one where the minimum number of people are meeting the required standards. But as soon as something unexpected happens like botulism. You find yourself stretched and it takes time to catch up.

It appears to me that the combination of Fonterra's botulism scare and the ever increasing demands of our export partners is stretching our food safety system. I have no hard facts to prove this, but my little experience with the food safety system makes me wonder if our system is really as strong as we think it is.

Maybe its best to have MPI overstaffed a bit, with the experienced staff investing in training the next generation of food safety professionals. Even if they can't justify bringing these new staff on at the moment.

The payback may be in 10 years time.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mobile Milking System, Bureaucrats & Regulations

When I decided to actually build the mobile cowshed & process my own milk, I knew that the regulatory requirements would be the hardest part.

New Zealand trades on our food safety reputation. We need to protect that reputation. I'm aware that even small scale producers have the potential to put our whole reputation at risk too.

With this in mind, I delved into all the regulations that a mobile cowshed would have to meet. 

The regulations for the farm dairy side of things are in a document named NZCP1.

People wanting to process milk will also need to know all the requirements of DCP1, DCP2, DCP3 & DCP4. 

There is also the "Heat Treatment Code of Practice" & the "Operational Guideline: Dairy Heat Treatment" documents that need to be followed.

After wading through those documents, I had almost lost the will to live. But I somehow managed to get through the "Operational Guideline: Dairy HACCP plans" & "Operational Guideline: Dairy Processing Premises" as well.

An important point is, if someone wanted to use a mobile cowshed to supply a dairy company, they would only need to comply with NZCP1. 

Over the last 2 years I've tried to design a mobile system which I think will meet all these requirements. 

I met with a number of people in AsureQuality & I had an experienced food safety consultant look over my plans. This was to ensure that what I had planned to build will meet the regulations.

But you never really know how it will go until you actually try. So I just had to bite the bullet & do it.

Risk Management Programmes
Anyone wanting to milk cows need to operate under a risk management programme (RMP) that is registered with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI). For example, all Fonterra farmers operate under Fonterra's RMP. Fonterra outline these requirements in their suppliers handbook. 

As I am my own dairy company I need to have my own RMP for the farm dairy & an RMP for milk processing.

MPI provide template RMP's on their website. The templates are essentially a "fill in the boxes" document.

I submitted my template RMP's to the Ministry of Primary Industries and waited.

Eventually the Ministry of Primary Industries responded to my risk management programme application with the following:

"Construction of yard and races – photos show gates directly onto the paddock.  The requirement is for a concrete or similar impervious yard, and the mobile milking trailer would need to be sited on a concrete pad."
"Our opinion is that a mobile milking unit such as you propose are likely to not meet the requirements.  Some modifications to your unit may be required such as having it permanently located or alternatively re-locatable to pre-approved sites where suitable facilities such as a concrete pad,........."
 A concrete pad, kind of defeats the purpose of the mobile system.

If we take a look at the requirements of NZCP1.
NZCP1 6.1 Floors, Yard Surfaces and Races  
All the floors of a farm dairy (i.e. in the milking, milk receiving, and milk storage areas, yards and associated storerooms and offices) must be made of concrete or a similar impervious material. These floors and yards must be uniformly graded, be able to be readily cleaned after every milking, and have a fall to allow drainage to approved outlet points.
The intent of "impervious material" floors, "readily cleaned" & "have a fall to allow drainage" is to ensure that effluent and waste water is not flooding all over the place & causing a smelly health & environmental hazard.

I have designed the system to ensure that all effluent, waste water & wash water is contained within the cowshed and drained to a single point where it is spread with a sprinkler. 

But we obviously don't have a concrete holding yard, which the code requires.

Instead of a concrete holding yard I am proposing an alternative method of ensuring waiting cows do not create an environmental & health risk.

Basicly I milk a small herd of cows and we move after every milking. So the cows are not waiting in the same area day after day and making a mess. We also ensure that the cows waiting to be milked do not wait more than 30 minutes. We also ensure the cows wait on new grass, this way they graze happily while they wait.

These measures combined ensure very little effluent is produced & we will meet the intentions of the regulations.

I'm confident that the mobile system will meet the requirements, it just a matter of getting it through the official channels & that is what is taking the time.

MPI have said:
"For alternatives to be considered a RMP would need to be developed specific to the nature of operations and these must be evaluated by an MPI recognised dairy evaluator then submitted to MPI for registration"
It's important to note the difference between an evaluator, verifier & an assessor. I have already had the cowshed approved by an dairy assessor, these are the same people who conduct dairy shed inspections on dairy farms. But I need an evaluator who seems to be the next level up from an assessor.

The problem is getting a "dairy evaluator" to inspect my cowshed & RMP. There simply is not enough people to conduct the work. Everyone in this field is flat out busy. I can't even get these guys to answer emails or return phone calls.
These evaluators are the same people who inspect the major dairy companies & I suppose I'm at the bottom of the pecking order.

Anyway, I had anticipated MPI may respond with the requirement for a specific RMP.

So I had spent the previous 4 months writing a custom RMP (consisting of over 7,000 words) that would cover both the farm dairy & the milk processing operations.

I would have submitted my custom RMP immediately, but I'm waiting for an approved evaluator to inspect the system & a verifier to inspect my pasteuriser.

Meanwhile, I'm milking my cows and spending money and going broke very quickly!

I can't sell my milk until MPI approve my RMP.

I can see a scenario where I submit everything again to MPI and they take their 20 days to respond, where by they ask a few further questions and then promptly close for Christmas!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Testing The Mobile Cowshed

It's been a busy month testing out the mobile cowshed. I took this video about a month ago & I have only now found the time to put it up. I've been getting a few requests for a video.

It's just a quick look at how the system works. I'm still in the testing phase & we are ironing out all the little issues. 

At the moment I'm only milking 8 cows & the neighbours are taking the milk to feed to their calves.
I can't start selling our milk until I have been approved by the ministry of primary industries. That journey is turning out to be a bit of a drama, but I'll write about that another day.

The cows were still a little bit jittery when I took the video. The buggers wouldn't walk on, but they have calmed down quite a bit over the last month.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

We're Mobile Milking!

I've been milking for 3 weeks now and it's been a hectic 3 weeks. I've finally got a moment for a quick update.
I'm really happy with how the cowshed is operating. The second hand milking plant runs really well, the cows are walking on to the cowshed happily & I've learned how to manoeuvre the cowshed through gateways and up and down hills, while keeping both gateways & the cowshed in one piece.
Mobile Milking

It's funny how over the last year I have thought about how to design various parts of the cowshed & pondered every little detail. Yet it only took 10 minutes of the first milking for me realise I had made mistakes with the layout of equipment etc.

I'll be honest, the first milking did not go to plan. I have bought 7 Heifer cows. They had just calved and they have never being milked before let alone on a mobile trailer with no yards to contain them.

I wised up for the second milking & came prepared with some gates, that I set up as a makeshift yard. 

I managed to get the cows on to the platform & milk them. Although they didn't always face the right way.

Mobile Milking

The cows are now used to the cowshed and the system. Cows love routine, so I've kept everything the same. 
I turn up at 9am every morning, the cowshed is always in the next days break of grass. I run a portable electric fence around the cows to stop them tearing around the paddock. After milking they always exit the cowshed onto a new break of grass with a bin full of meal.

When I arrive the cows are usually waiting for me at the entrance of the cowshed. I've done away with the gates that I used as temporary yards now & I just use portable electric fences at the entrance.

Mobile Milking Parlour

I'm not able to sell any of milk at the moment as I haven't got my food safety paperwork sorted yet (thats a long & painful story).

I'm just putting the finishing touches on the processing room & the pasteuriser over the next week or so & hopefully we will be selling milk in the not too distant future.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Grow Movie- A Great Documentary Which Outlines Young Urbanites Turning To Farming

I watched the Grow Movie the other night. 

It's a documentary that tells the story of how young urban people are being attracted to farming.

The movie follows a few young farmers in the US state of Georgia. We learn how they found themselves farming & why they love it.

Most of the people were highly educated with degrees in finance, engineering & soil science etc, but they have chosen the small scale rural lifestyle.

The documentary focuses on, what we in New Zealand we would call "market gardeners". 

GROW! Movie Trailer (2:09) from Anthony-Masterson on Vimeo.

Two things stood out for me:

Most of these people started with no knowledge of growing vegetables or farming. Most had no money or land. But they started working with a farmer and in some cases simply agreed to work in exchange for accommodation and knowledge. One thing led to another and they now run their own farming businesses.

I found it interesting how one person explained that he got into farming because of his ideological beliefs. He said he now had to balance his ideology with the need to run a viable business.

I found that interesting considering, there are many people in New Zealand giving farmers plenty of advice (including me). It's one thing to talk about how you should farm & another thing to actually do it and stay viable.