Small dairy, great business
Oct 03, 2008
By Catherine Merlo
In August 2007, Elena and Mike Gonser opened a small retail store near Everson, Wash., to market their dairy’s milk production. They did $32 in business the first day.
Last month, the farm store leaped to an astonishing $598 a day in retail business.
Perhaps even more impressive, Elena calculates she averaged $122/cwt. for the milk she sold last Saturday at the local farmer’s market. That’s based on selling half-gallon jugs at $2.50 each.
With just 72 milking cows and nine employees, the
Gonsers are producing, processing, marketing and distributing their own milk. They’re producing 600 to 700 gallons of milk each day and selling it all into the local market. And they’re gaining more customers all the time.
|Washington dairy producers Mike and Elena Gonser have made their "go-local" dream work.
Elena Gonser shared the details of her dairy and retail operation during a Virtual Farm Tour here at World Dairy Expo today. Page & Pedersen International sponsored the session.
Three years after the couple decided to downsize their herd size and focus on a quality-oriented, local product, the operation is thriving in its niche market.
“The future looks rosy,” Gonser said. “We’re happy with what we’re finding and with our customer support.”
The dairy, known as Breckenridge Farms, markets milk, cream, half-and-half and butter under the Dairy Best label. Its customers include 10-12 local stores and restaurants, 20 espresso stands, the farm store and a local farmers’ market.
It’s the taste and freshness of the products that Breckenridge Farms produces that has captured its customers, Gonser said. The dairy uses a slow vat pasteurization process that helps preserve the milk’s flavor.
“Our milk gets from cow to shelf in less than three hours,” she said.
|A Dairy Best delivery truck sits outside the Gonsers' farm store. (Photo by Elena Gonser.)
Cow comfort is a primary focus on the dairy. The Holstein herd is fed a total mix ration (TMR) that includes only top-quality commodities. Not an organic operation, the dairy has a rolling herd average of 30,800 pounds. Butterfat level averages 1,320 pounds per cow per year.
“Some of our cows are breaking 200 pounds [of production] a day,” Gonser said.
The Gonsers made the decision to downsize from a 200-cow herd and focus on the local market in 2005. They wanted to do away with transportation hassles and the middlemen who collected a big chunk of their profits. “Our milk is delicious, and it was being made into powder and selling for $10 a hundredweight,” Gonser said.
The couple’s go-local dream became reality when they completed their own processing plant in July 2007. The next step was opening the farm store.
It took nine permits, $5,000 and a lawyer to complete the store last year. They added a drive-up window, which has spurred business. They’ve expanded well beyond chocolate into a variety of milk flavorings, including Hazelnut Mocha and Golden Raspberry. The store’s average daily sales translate into a return of $42/cwt.
But it may be the type of consumers in Whatcom County that really helps. “We’ve got locavores coming out of our ears in this area,” Gonser says. “Our customers have made this business.”
The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy their food from local markets.
Adds Gonser: “Any local farmer can become a direct distributor. You can keep producing quality milk. You get the profit and you lower your carbon footprint.”
The session marked the fifth time Page and Pedersen (www.pagepdedesen.net) has sponsored a Virtual Farm Tour. The Massacusetts-based company makes a product called LactiCheck™ Milk Analyzer, which the Gonsers use in their operations to analyze their milk composition.