Friday, December 28, 2012

How much milk in cheese?

So I've been looking at dairy farm economics recently for a project that I'm considering, and one of the basic questions that I've been working on is how can you sell your milk.  It's perishable, and when produced, you can keep it for a week or two under refrigeration, but at some point you have to use it or sell it. 

One of the things that's popular on small farms is the raw-milk dairy.  The farm produces milk, processes it into cheese, and sells the cheese in a variety of ways.  

The information that i've gotten is that you typically get a pound of cheese from a gallon of milk.  It varies a little based on the breed producing the milk - some breeds have a higher solids content for their milk, some have higher fat, but on average this seems to be the internet consensus. 

So a grass fed cow, by NDHIA numbers in this area, produces about 40lbs of milk a day.  That translates into 4.7 gallons of milk (milk weighs 8.5lbs per gallon), which would in turn translate into 4lbs of cheese. 

If you were to sell the milk as fluid milk, and maintained your herd as organic, and were a member of an organic dairy cooperative, you'd get $23/cwt, ($23 per hundred pounds) of milk.  That would work out to be $2.09 a gallon.   Fluid milk prices can vary quite a bit; in recent memory they've run between $11/cwt and the current high of $23 a cwt. 

I'm going to guess that you'd need to wholesale your produced cheese at something like $6/lb to make a reasonable profit. 

Cheese might be a good secondary business to a grass fed dairy.  Sell the bulk of the milk to the coop, but reserve a portion of the production for your cheese.  This sort of setup would allow you to deal with varying production based on seasons, and give you ample supply if your cheese business grows. 


Brett -- grasspunk blog -- reminds me that I forgot to add in how much pork I could raise on the whey that's a byproduct from the cheese business.  You're right, Brett!


Hostetter said...

Your not going to go all
"Natures Harmony" on us are you..



Bruce King said...

Natures harmony isn't doing anything that's interesting, economically. He's milking 10 cows for a yield of 10 gallons a day, and putting up 60lbs a week of cheese. To do that he's got a million dollars invested. There's no way on earth that 60lbs of cheese a week pays back the interest on the interest on 1 million dollars.

I'm edging closer to Kurt Timmermeister's approach, as detailed in his book "growing a farmer" -- he also milks jerseys, a dozen of them, but he's getting 60 gallons a day, and all of that goes into the 500 cheese a week production.

Hostetter said...

I hope you know I was joking..

I read your blog because you do it right, and wish there were producers like you here in the southeast. I hope you find that farm, that is in the right place at the right price so you can continue growing.

I'll get the book. Any other recomendations?

Bruce King said...

I knew you were teasing, but it does bear discussion. Natures harmony has chosen a different path to farming and keeps talking about profits, but the results remind me of that joke about how to make a small fortune in farming, you know?

Start with a big one.

Timmermeister has taken a business-type approach to his farming from day one, starting with a market garden and progressing to his current dairy endeavor. Along the way he's made his share of mistakes, and he's done some stuff to raise money for his main venture -- his farm dinners, for instance -- but at this point he's got a stable, popular farm based business that is paying the bills, and he does it all on 12 acres. That's not a bad model for folks who are contemplating farming to follow.

Reccomendations, on farming in general, or cheese/dairy in particular? my reading has been tilted towards dairy recently, but most of its been online. I should probably write it up.

Hostetter said...


I have read many blogs but only follow a few. My favorite posts in any blog that I happen upon are the "this is what I have read and what I am reading type posts". If I find the blog interesting it's great to know where they got their information from that allowed them to become informed on a topic. I would love a post from you that detailed what you have read in the past that got you on this journey and what you have on the list comming up.