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It started with just two goats, as these things often do. A darling dam and daughter pair that seemed like a great deal and would give us a doe in milk for our family needs.
Quickly we discovered that Totem (mom) didn’t want any part of being milked, and we weren’t willing to pursue it with our feeble milking skills. But, I had caught goat fever. Soon, two more does joined us. Then a doeling to join Talisman (Totem’s baby). With more research I decided I simply couldn’t live without goats from Old Mountain Farm. And so on.
We stumbled through our first kidding season, overjoyed with bouncing baby goats, and finally got serious about milking. With a ghetto homemade milking stand, and a few milking lessons from my father-in-law who was raised on a dairy farm, we were off! At first, it was slow, and our forearms ached, but the milk made it well worth the effort. No more store bought milk came into the house, and we began our true love affair with raw goat’s milk and all of it’s awesome potential. Cheeses, pudding, caramel, butter, ice cream, you name it, we made it.
As our herd grew and our passion for our goats grew with it, we began thinking of ways to help offset all of the costs we were facing, from feed, to fencing to vet care and beyond. We shared milk with family and friends, but the laws in Maine forbid selling milk or dairy products without a license. Even bartering is prohibited, and giving it away is dicey at best. Talking with other goat folks, we heard that getting licensed was incredibly challenging, but as the need and desire to become licensed grew, I began to research just what it would take.
Licensing Requirements – Maine
My first step was to contact my local Agricultural Department. They then sent me a huge packet of information for what was required to become licensed. It was a lot to sort through and took me a while to wrap my head around what we would need to do. When I finally sifted down the information, the big pieces we needed to consider came down to these important points:
- The milking parlor must have sealed walls, floors and ceilings that were clean and easily sanitized. This includes the milking stand. No raw wood. Floor must be concrete or other “impervious” material. Ceiling must not allow for any debris to filter down into the milk. No pigs or chickens allowed in milking area.
- Milking- Approved sanitary practices for cleaning udder and teats. A teat dip is preferred.
- Milk machines have their own set of sanitization practices – I largely ignored this since we hand milk.
- Milk processing. This is the big one, and where a lot of people run into cost issues. In order to properly handle your milk, it must be processed in a location that does not open into your home or barn. There must be adequate refrigeration for milk with visible thermometers to check temperate (45F or below). A two bay sink is required for washing milk handling equipment. A third sink is required for hand washing. Must have hot and cold running water. All surfaces must be sealed, non porous, and easy to sanitize.
- Herd testing – For a raw milk license, TB testing is required by a licensed vet, with results sent directly to the state. Since Maine is a TB free state, this testing is not required if you are pasteurizing milk. Brucellosis testing is required for all dairy herds. All goats must have clear, legible tattoos so they can be recorded and reported to the state for testing results.
- Milk testing – milk is tested (free of charge) for Coliform bacteria, presence of antibiotics, Somatic Cell Count, and general bacterial presence
- Water testing – water is tested (free of charge) for e coli and Coliform bacteria
- Product label must be approved. Label must contain – name of farm, address of farm, product identified as “pasteurized” or “not pasteurized”, type of animal the product comes from, lot #, weight and ingredients list
Once again, there’s more to it, but these were the major points of note for us. There are a lot of other stipulations for cleanliness of animal living quarters, personal cleanliness and more. Also, please note that these are requirements for the state of Maine – please check with your local Ag office to see what the requirements are for your state.
When we felt we had a handle on what we needed to do, we made improvements where we could. The biggest stumbling block for us, as for many folks, was the milk handling area. We considered building an out building, but the plumbing considerations were daunting.
Luckily, we had folks who knew we were looking for a solution, and the head of our local farmers market contacted us to let us know a cheese maker was closing his operation, and had his cheese trailer for sale. This was an old camper that the gentleman had converted into a licensed milk handling facility. Brilliant. With a small loan from my in-laws, we bought the trailer and brought it home. It was ugly, but it was ours. We’d overcome a major hurdle and I was thrilled.
Next, we decided to have the local inspector come out and do a pre-inspection visit to see what we may have missed before we requested a full inspection. The inspector was great, and pointed out a few things we’d need to work on for licensing, but overall, it looked like we were in good shape. She took a water sample from the house and a milk sample to do some preliminary testing and make sure that was on track as well.
The biggest thing we needed to do for our final licensing inspection, was connecting the water lines in the milk trailer to the house. First, the connecting lines had to be replaced, as the previous owner apparently just sliced them free when he moved the trailer. No big deal.
Next, we had to put in a hot water line from our basement to join the cold water line running to the outside spigot. Here’s where things got tricky. In order to run that line, we had to go through the sill of the basement. Multiple expensive hole borers and bits snapped and were lost.
The kicker? Right in the middle of all of this, my husband was diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition. Most days, this made the use of power tools nearly impossible. Everything pretty much came to a halt. And stayed there.
After many months, we finally got back on track and got the water lines finished, and the other minor repairs. We called out the inspector for a visit. Everything looked great, and the inspector assured us we were good to go, and took a water sample from the milking trailer now that the lines were in.
And so we waited. In 48 hours, we got a call. Our water did not pass due to the presence of Coliform bacteria. We panicked. We shacked the lines with a bleach solution, ran the water for long periods, and hoped it was a fluke. But the water failed again. We had the water tested from the house again. Clean. Obviously the issue was in the plumbing in the trailer. So, we did the only thing we could think to do – replace all of the plumbing in the trailer, including the faucet fixtures. More time. More money.
And what if it didn’t work? What in the world were we going to do then? Scrap the trailer all together and start from scratch? The alternatives weren’t good. We waited for the test results. And finally – clean!! We were so relieved. Once that issue was out of our way, we were finally issued a Dairy Distributors license, and a Mobile Vending license so we could take our cheese on the road.
Once we got our license, I thought were finally ready to hit the ground running. Wrong! I went and met with our local small business development center and educated myself a bit more on running a business, and was once again overwhelmed.
I registered our farm as an LLC (more money, more time) for tax purposes and better liability protection. Done, right? Wrong!
Next I went to local farmer’s markets to try to get in on the end of the season. They were all thrilled to have us at their markets – just one little thing – insurance. That’s right, product liability insurance. All of the farmer’s markets required it. After inquiring with our home owner’s insurance carrier, they quoted us an amount we just couldn’t afford. Raw milk products apparently require a lot of coverage. So, instead I finished off the season bringing our cheese with us to the craft shows I was doing for my goat’s milk soaps.
And there’s always more. This year will be my first year filing taxes on our dairy as a business, and I’m nervous. I just renewed our Milk Distributor’s License, and I’m determined to get on the Farmer’s Market circuit this year.
Someday I’ll get this figured out. In the end, it’s all about getting the goat’s to pay for themselves while being able to offer awesome raw milk products to our local community. Over the winter months we will work on new cheeses and improving our offerings so they’re ready to tackle the upcoming year, and make all of this hard work worth it!