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I Need Help! Working Herdshares

As I'm sure you might have seen on social media, we became a licensed manufacturing grade dairy last week, on May 11, 2020! Having been a licensed dairy for a whole 9 days, I already have lots of exciting (and maybe not exciting) things to talk about with you. I am working on a four part blog series on how we got our dairy built and licensed, and how the first weeks have gone, but I thought this post was timely and maybe more needed by some of you as we are in the spring craziness of births and milking and everything that goes with baby animals, lactation initiation, etc.

So on to getting help on that farm! We all need help here and there - schedules are busy, we have kids that need attention and time, places to go, other jobs to do. So I thought I'd tell you a little bit about how I got some help on the farm through a working herdshare. In my particular situation, I was wanting someone to relief milk for me when I go on vacation and to the big work conference every February. Up until last year, I didn't have any goat people nearby that I could count on to help, and while I have students who fight over farmsitting for me while I'm away, I wanted someone dedicated to the goats and who I would feel confident about leaving in their hands.

I was looking for someone who might be interested in trading milk for labor, similar to working CSA agreements at vegetable farms. I just had to find the right person, who lived nearby, to see if my plan would work.

I found Ruth at a Beginning Farmer's class that our local extension agent was running. We started talking, and she indicated that she was interested in goat milk, and would love to visit the farm. When she visited the farm, we walked around talking about management of all of the animals, and she had a taste of our raw milk and loved it. She asked about pricing of the herdshares and I gave it to her, but said that I was also looking for a working herdshare member who would receive milk on reduced board in exchange for being a relief milker. She liked it.

The agreement that we came to was put into a modified herdshare contract. Instead of the standard $40/month for weekly milk, Ruth would pay $5/month, and in exchange, milk with me once a month, and for me (unassisted) for 10 days per calendar year. The contract stated that I had to give 30 days advance notice for use of one or more days, but otherwise the 10 days were unrestricted. The once a month milkings with me was important for me to get to know her, and for her to become familiar with the milking process and the animals. The real gem for me was 10 days that I didn't have to milk, and I planned them out like gold.

This arrangement worked really well for both of us for 2 years, until her personal circumstances made it impossible for her to continue. Most of the milkings went smoothly, though we had one doe develop mastitis while I was gone (likely not her fault) once, and a baby eat rhodedendron (she lived) another time. It was amazing for me to be able to go away with confidence that the milkings were happening with the quality that I require. As I didn't want to risk other herdshare members' health on potential mistakes in her milking, I always told Ruth that she could have all of the milk when she milked for me. She still talks fondly of getting to know each doe, and delivering a few babies with me, and we continue to be very good friends from the bond we created milking once a month.

Now with goats being smaller animals, someone who is comfortable with dogs is probably going to be ok with dealing with them. That said, cows are a little riskier in terms of potential injury, and so in a cow herdshare program, you might consider requiring that your working member have bovine experience (which might make them a little harder to find). If you can find someone who thinks trading some labor for weekly milk is a deal, then you've got yourself a couple of mornings off!

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