Dairy Progress - t minus 4 months

The past few months may have seemed quiet on progress on the dairy - early fall is still full throttle on our farm. We still had chickens on the ground through mid October, and several processing dates on weekends, with turkey processing and our annual fall Open House and turkey pickup day on this Saturday and Sunday, respectively.


So that said, I don't have any ground shaking progress, but several small developments that have moved us forward pretty dramatically. We are steadily making progress, not only physically on construction, but on the procedures and agency interactions.


Construction

The walls have closed in! We have walls and doors closing in the milking parlor, milkroom and cheeseroom. I am currently sealing, insulating and putting the OSB paneling on the inside walls. After that is completed, we'll head to QC Supply to pick up the PE wall panels, so that the rooms are washable and moisture-proof.



I went with the PE paneling over the FRP panels that a lot of dairies use because the price point was similar, and the PE panels are a bit thicker, so they are screwed, not glued to the walls. This hopefully will get rid of some of the mold issues that I have heard about with the FRP panels.


I still haven't decided on ceiling - I could do the smooth PE panels, corrugated PE panels, or just plain old white painted steel roofing/siding panels. The corrugated or steel panels have a little more stiffness to them, and so they *should* hold up a little better and not sag.


The floor epoxy was identified by a friendly dairywoman from Canada on a Facebook group - she told us about a floor epoxy by Benjamin Moore that is made for fish plants so it can handle the acid from whey, and has held up incredibly well in her dairy. The best part is that it's tintable in any color! I picked a super-cool light blue/green, so I'm excited about putting that in once the walls and ceilings are complete.


Interior walls and ceilings are the next inspection point in our licensing process - the inspector wants to look everything over before we start doing the plumbing and electrical.


Procedures & Logs

I've built a ton of procedures and logs over the past 2 months. A dairy is like a forensic lab - if it isn't written down, it never happened. So this part, I'm super comfortable with! I started writing the procedures and logs just to keep myself busy while waiting to work on the construction side of the dairy, but I'm SO glad that I got started so early! Everything is in Google Drive, so they're easy to modify and adjust as I get going.


Here's what I've gotten done so far: Milking Procedures (hand and machine), Milk Cooling Procedure, Milking Parlor and Milkroom Cleaning procedures, Pest Control Plan, Cheeseroom maintenance, Allergen Control Plan, Environmental Monitoring Plan, and animal medication and withholding logs.


I've built signs for the milking vestibule and cheeseroom doors, the cheese makesheet, abnormal milk and CMT test logs, temp recorder verification logs, temperature logs, sale and milk lot logs, maintenance logs for each room, and even a drain cleaning log!


Lastly, I finally finished reading the Grade A PMO for the THIRD time. I learned more from it each time I went through it - though daunting, I took small bites every day and made it through. It was really useful to guide my protocol and log development. For my next step, I just downloaded ALL of the Virginia Grade A and Mfg grade milk legislation, compiled it into one big PDF and ordered it to be spiral-bound so that I can pore through that one too. After that, it'll be on to the American Cheese Society's Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers.


Regulatory

We are managing the wastewater from the dairy by collecting it in a greywater tank, and spreading it on the fields. That said, there are no human or animal wastes in this water - just water, whatever milk rinses out of containers, and small amounts of detergent, acid rinse, and bleach from the sinks and drains from the parlor, milkroom and cheeseroom. When I met with the Dairy Inspector and told him that, he told me that I needed a letter from a regulatory agency regarding our plan.


I started with our local NCRS office, but they didn't get back to me, so I went to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) office. They gave me some guidance and I submitted our plan. They then invited us to come to the DEQ office, and I'll tell you, even though I've been doing this kind of stuff for my lab for years, I was definitely nervous about that meeting!


When the first words that came out of his mouth were that I had nothing to worry about, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief! He had a few more suggestions to refine my plan, but after that, I had my letter. Apparently we don't produce enough wastewater to be regulated by DEQ, so they issued what is called a 'Comfort letter', which said that we do not need a permit as long as we follow the plan as written and log our wastewater application on the land.


Once I had the 'Comfort letter', my next stop was the Health Department. For better or worse, with the decline of dairies in our area and around the country, our county health department had no idea what to do with me and asked for some time to check with other administrators in the state. I received 2 separate emails a few hours later - one telling me that the County has no need to regulate the wastewater as long as I follow the plan approved by DEQ, and the second email said that since I am opening a manufacturing grade dairy, the Health Department has no requirements for me, and best of luck in my new venture! So there we go - all of the angst for several months about how that would go and it was over in a few hours.


So that's where we are! I feel REALLY good about the regulatory hurdles being completed, and my paperwork getting in order. I'm starting to feel a little anxiety about the construction part, but we will be finished with poultry raising after this weekend, so with a lot more free time coming up, I think we're still ok for our timeline of a late February/early March final inspection.


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