how many can you accomodate and how do they find your farm?
Before we even talk about pricing and profitability, we need to set a baseline of how many herdshare members that your program can accommodate. This MUST be based on how much milk you can realistically produce, not how much money you need to make. We'll adjust the price of the shares later, based on the number that you come up with today.
We then need a way to get the word out, so that you can have a waiting list before you even bottle the first jar of milk. Fortunately, whether we are talking about cow, sheep or goat milk, demand is high for raw milk and the benefits that it can provide. Your customers will find you, I have NO doubt!
How many members can I take?
First of all, do you plan on milking through the winter, or will you take a break? While taking a seasonal break may be essential for you, it may turn off your prospective members to know that they will have to continue to pay board while not receiving milk. This is important because if you choose to milk through the year, as I do 2 of every 3 years, you'll need to strategically breed so that you have cows/does coming into milk as you are drying others off.
Secondly, consider your average milk volumes in peak times (i.e. spring) and trough (fall and winter). For example, while I may average 1 gallon/day/goat in spring and summer, it's probably more like 1/2 gallon/day/goat in winter. How many shares can I fulfill in all seasons without having anxiety and disappointing my members in the low times? Make sure that you include enough milk for you and your family throughout the year. My husband grumbles when I tell him that milk is tight and he has to have a bagel instead of his cereal while he watches me bottle 7 half gallons for customers - it's not a great way to start the morning!
Thirdly, anticipate and build a cushion into your milk supply for lactation 'failure'. This could include everything from a miscarriage (thus no milk) to death, or temporary reductions in milk like when you're feeding bottle babies, a cow/doe develops mastitis, or is under medication or dewormer withdrawal times. These things happen to EVERY producer, and so you must plan for them! While customers are forgiving to an extent for extenuating circumstances, if they happen frequently because you chose to make your milk margins too tight, they'll lose their patience and go elsewhere.
I usually allow for one permanent lactation failure per 10 does, and as previously discussed, I sell half of the average production of shares to be able to provide sufficient milk year-round. For cows, it may be a similar number, but if you just have 2-3 cows, perhaps plan with one less animal than you have, so that if things go sideways, you have sufficient milk to meet your obligations. If everything goes right this year, and you have excess milk, great! You can make cheese or soap, or you can cull/sell your least productive animal.
How will my herdshare members find me?
Build your website. There are lots of great free resources out there on building an effective website. We use Wix, and I've created a free guide that walks you through everything from design to storefronts and SEO.
List in any local websites available to you. Here in Virginia, there is a Virginia Grown website that takes farm listings. We get a good bit of traffic from it. Additionally, while I haven't used Craigslist or local Facebook groups, those could certainly be areas that you could list your milk shares in.
List in general farm listings. These are the source of the bulk of our referrals, beyond those that organically derive from Google searches.
Ask other farmers, natural groceries and herb stores about partnerships and advertisements on their boards. Can you deliver milk to their store or drop site, and create synergy between the two of you?
Do you have questions about your situation? Contact me and I'll be happy to talk to you about your farm and milking practices.
Download our free guide here, and consider joining Herdshare School, where we walk you through all of the steps to starting a herdshare program, and you’ll join a community of other farmers doing the same.