for people who love the littlest dairy goats
After almost 5 years of planning and dreaming we finally got our goat cheese business up and running in 2011. The idea was planted in our heads after our honeymoon in France in October 2006 where we ate large amounts of cheese, much of it goat cheese, and realized that there was no local cheese production in our home province of Saskatchewan, Canada. It was a niche that we thought we could fill. We were still living in the city at the time so we started keeping an eye out for acreages or farms, assuming that it would be five or more years before we would be ready to move. Then early in 2008 we found a farm that was perfect for us. It has an older farmhouse on it that we continue to fix up (improving the heating/insulation as well as cosmetic upgrades) a variety of out-buildings, and lots of pasture. Lots and lots of pasture. There's also 100 acres that our neighbours are going to rent this year and seed to oats. It was just over the distance that most people would be willing to commute to the city, and the owners were getting divorced and leaving the province so it was priced very attractively. We bought it and made the move.
We didn't get our first goats for a year after that. I did lots of research on what I thought would best suit our needs and decided on Nigerian Dwarf Goats. Our first goats to arrive in March 2009 were Daisy and Duke, an unrelated doeling and buckling. Later in the summer we purchased 4 bred does and two more doelings. Even though we knew we'd need a large herd for our cheese-making neither my husband nor I had ever worked with goats before and we wanted to get used to smaller numbers. And if after working with them for a bit we were to decide that the whole idea was crazy then we'd just have a small herd of pet goats.
In February of 2009, shortly before we got the goats, I flew down to Utah to take a week-long cheese-making class at the Western Dairy Center at Utah State University. It was awesome. Not only did we learn about the cheese-making process and do hands-on cheese-making, but we learned about plant layout, sanitation requirements, and the different types of equipment necessary. This knowledge was invaluable when planning our business.
In November 2009 our daughter was born and I didn't go back to work after my maternity leave. This was the first of the big leaps into really starting the business.
We spent much of 2010 researching, planning, drafting up floor layouts and trying to understand regulations. Because there weren't any cheese producers in the province the Public Health Region who had to inspect us really had no idea what to do. They were supportive, but to be flat-out honest, I knew more than them about what we needed to be doing.
We broke ground for the foundation in August 2010. The walls of the building went up on October 16th, and the siding and roof were on about a week later. This gave my husband all winter to work on the interior. It was a nasty, cold winter so he wasn't able to do much in January & February, but got going again in March. I spent my time taking an online course on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP, a product safety plan for food processing facilities), and then writing the long and detailed HACCP plan.
Our hope was to be up and running by May 2011, and we ordered our cheese-making equipment in the fall of 2010, but there was delay after delay after delay, and it didn't arrive until August 2011. We got it set up over a couple of weeks, had our Public Health Inspection quite quickly after that.
Our first day at the Farmers' Market was August 20th, 2011. Our cheese was extremely well received. All we were offering was chevre, a soft fresh cheese, in three flavours: plain, chive, and herbes de provence. We were able to do our shelf-life testing and nutritional testing in the fall and got our cheese into two retail locations as well.
We gave out samples of our cheese at the market and it was so gratifying to hear peoples' responses, especially the people who claimed to hate goat cheese but were willing to give ours a try and ended up loving it.
We continued selling at the Farmers' Market up until the week before Christmas at which point the market closed for the winter and we dried off the does.
We milked 11 NDGs and 5 LaManchas. We needed the LaManchas to meet the volume requirements of our pasteurizer. This year we'll be milking 23 NDGs and, if the buck we put them in with was able to breed them, the 5 LaManchas. We found a used portable milking machine and milked two goats at a time into one bucket. The milker could run two buckets so we could milk four at a time in the future if we choose to.
Overall we're very happy we did this. We did run into some snags. We were frustrated with the length of time it took to get our equipment. We did know the Canadian supplier we ordered the equipment from was bringing it in from Europe, but we assumed that as they were a CANADIAN supplier that the equipment would be set up for Canadian electrical requirements but we assumed wrong. Not only was it not wired for our outlets, but it wasn't CSA certified (Canadian electrical safety standards). This gave us a huge unexpected bill as we had to bring an electrician out to the farm to fix it all.
I also didn't do my research properly when purchasing my goats and now have a dairy herd of varying quality. I'm constantly learning more about goat care and herd management. I make mistakes.
It's all stuff we can work through though.
In 2011 we made money but did not quite break even due to our late start and the unexpected electrician's bill. We're able to manage as my husband still works full-time. We do expect to turn a profit this year, although probably not a huge one. We'll get started earlier, have more quantity, and already have a customer base.
We're also hoping to start selling feta. It's a cheese that can be aged in brine in refrigerated conditions as we don't have an aging room. We'll also work more on our branding/logo as our labels currently just contain the most basic required information. This would also make our stall at the Farmers' Market look more professional.
If anyone would like to see a few pictures of our set-up you can find them at www.salayviewfarm.com