Finding the sweet spot for value-added meat and dairy
Cindy Krepky has worn a lot of hats – teacher, tour guide, chef, butcher and milkmaid. She began farming in Carnation, WA, at Dog Mountain Farm in 1999, where her family and team successfully implemented a poultry and rabbit processing facility, a Grade A raw goat milk dairy and a commercial kitchen for value-added food items.
They also operated a bed and breakfast, summer camps for kids, a CSA program, a seasonal farm-to-table dinner program and educational programming. In May 2021, they bought a 10-acre forested property near Jacksonville, OR, to start their second farm, Dormouse, with their daughter. It’s a much smaller operation, without a commercial kitchen, but they’re taking advantage of their state’s cottage food laws and farm exemptions to produce value-added products.
Krepky spoke about her experiences during her presentation, “Finding the Sweet Spot for Value-Added Meat and Dairy,” during the recent Thriving Farmer Value-Added Summit.
“I started farming at 45 years old. I am an entrepreneur at heart,” she said. Why tackle value-added products? There were lots of reasons she listed: farm-to-consumer demand, supply chain issues (for both consumers and farmers), a lack of processing facilities, it can be more humane for animals and the people processing them and, notably, better quality products. Compare a chicken processed in an industrial facility to one processed on the farm, and you really tell the difference in look and flavor, Krepky said. There’s also minimized environmental impact and increased profits for your farm – if you’re doing it right.
“If you’re just now starting to look into this, spend a lot of time doing what I call soul searching,” she said. “Is this something you can make a commitment to as an individual, as a farm? It’s a financial investment and it’s typically a long-term investment.”
She recommended doing in-depth market research first, looking at other producers in the area, demand for the product, how will you get it to market. Research the regulations and insurance options. Take inventory of your farm resources (buildings and equipment). If it makes sense from there, create a business plan – join a farmer co-op or consider other business models. And always think creatively for solutions to roadblocks that may pop up.
“Do your homework and create the business plan – that helps with financing,” Krepky said. “And it’s never too early to begin working with your regulators. The size of your operation and the type of value-added product will dictate regulatory and facility requirements.”
On her farm, Krepky processes chickens and rabbits. She said generally, poultry regulations are common across the U.S. but be sure to check your state’s rules. Take into account zoning and whether you’ll have a permanent or mobile facility (the latter of which she said is minimally expensive and an easy way to get into chicken processing, requiring a scalder, plucker, cooling tank and evisceration table). If you’re processing rabbits, you’ll need to add some sort of abattoir, but that’s something you can share with other farmers. You’ll also need a plan for waste disposal/composting.
As for milk, she said your source of milk can be pretty much anything – cow, goat, sheep, yak, whatever you’re interested in doing. The size of your herd matters, though. If it’s very small, you can sometimes sell milk directly from your farm. Remember, though, that all milk needs to be tested and herd health is something to consider too.
Insurance and facilities are financial considerations for milk products. The products can include fluid milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir or ice cream. “What can you do and what makes sense for your farm?” Krepky asked. A small operation, she brought in old shipping containers and transformed them into her milk processing plant and milking parlor.
She highly recommended looking into USDA Value Added Producer Grants for funding if you want to go into value-added production. Krepky also noted two strong resources for first-timers: extension.psu.edu/thinking-of-starting-a-value-added-dairy-foods-business and smallfarms.cornell.edu/guide/guide-to-farming/business-plans.
by Courtney Llewellyn
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