Trautman Family Farm Artisanal Dairy Initiative
For Trautman Family Farm to add the last critical peice of our farm sustainability puzzle (100% farm produced income) through artisanal dairy: reap the rewards of our hard work to date: in remineralizing our soils, becoming certified organic and very capable farmers with a strong direct market following and marketing appeal.
Ours is by design a family farm, and it is our strongest desire to keep it that way, and to involve our children for now and the future in our operations, through strategic partnerships, such as cheesemakers, buttermakers and other dairy artisans, who appreciate excellent quality milk, from a farm with a great story. We will do our part: make excellent grassfed organic milk, along with learn from and interact with diary artisans to come up with excellent products -- both for the high end market, and with an eye for our local market, in an effort to revitalize our local farming community and make excellent food a reality for all people and not just the affluent.
Scott’s grandparents farmed in North Dakota, and he spent quality time there as a child, and not surprisingly has had a lifelong love of farming. In highschool, in very suburban Bettendorf Iowa, he ran an ad in the paper to work on a farm, found that job, and even rented ground and raised pigs with the farmer’s equipment & facilities, one of his first entrepenurial ventures.
With the realities of "getting into" farming, starting to farm at that time (mid 80’s!) would have been near impossible, so off to college and eventually a business degree, with then work with computers in a business setting. This work culminated in 10 years, from 1994 to 2004 as owner of Global Dialog Internet, a small company serving south central Wisconsin with Internet services; known for superior customer service and innovation. During this time the now Trautman family moved in 2002 to a farm outside of Stoughton, 40 acres square, with later additions of 30 acres (now in transition to organic) plus another 40 acres in rented land. Through “dangerous reading”, and frustration with the Internet work, the family moved the direction of farming, and in 2003 started towards organic certification, planted the whole farm to pastures, and started grazing steers, raised a few laying hens and broilers. The Internet business was sold in 2004, and has allowed us the ongoing capital to proceed with our farm plans.
Fortunately at that time, too, we embarked on an agressive soil reminerilization & fertility program, and through extensive effort and education, that effort today reaps fantastic rewords in quality and quantity forages. Those investments will continue to pay for many many years.
Each year since 2003, we have added new dimensions to our operation, testing the waters and starting small to minimize our expenditures in ill concieved directions. We know from the past four year's works - that our strengths are in grazing and marketing, and in the diversity of animal related products, such as chicken, eggs, pork & beef -- all with grass as a focus. Grassfed-Organic is "the place to be", and we are there. From our "toe in the water" start in 2003 -- with only 4 steers, 200 broilers & 30 hens -- to in 2006 finishing 44 steers, 600 broilers and 20 hogs, all of which sold off the farm, not at farmer's markets or wholesale. We always run out of product before our next harvest. New customers average 1-2 per week. Our ability to meet demand - not finding customers is our limitation. Especially with Scott's background in technology, we utilize the Internet extensively for marketing and efficiency. As we are in the "place to be" with our products, we capitalize on new technologies such as YouTube videos, blogging to spread the word.
Our limitation to sustainability at this time is either enough land (we estimate between 2-300 acres as a certified organic direct market farm), or with less (more is NOT available currently) with maximizing our production (working well) and income -- which is where dairy fits in, along with our other direct market farming efforts. It is also important for us to have both product and customer diversity; this provide us the most resilience in a quickly changing market and conditions.
We are adaptive, learn and adjust very quickly. Our biggest asset: Julie and Scott are one great team - working together on the farm. We make friends easily, through our sincere love of farming and people and social networking. Small companies -- and farms -- that are successful -- can adapt to changing conditions more easily than large companies/farms. Rather than smallness being a liability, smallness = nimbleness, adaptability. In fact we have strategically chosen our practices and markets that do not "scale up" to large farms well -- and organic grassfed dairy is one that large companies will not be able to effectively "be big" at -- it requires the skills and reactiveness of -- you guessed it -- a family farmer that really knows their animals and can't be put off on low skill employees or in technology.
Having a family focus -- changes the nature of our decisions, as we plan for a future including our children, instead of just on this year's crop & how many houselots would have to be sold to retire someday. The whole package together - the products, and the "green-ness" - is one that people are actively rooting for -- for our success, in contrast to the conventional wisdom that family farms are in decline and cannot succeed in today's market. We show that does not have to be the case - with our success.
Dairy Initiative Plan ===============
"Make great milk and they will come"
First and most importantly -- make a great product for a willing market. And grassfed organic is that market, and the quality forages and management brings the quality product. It is our desire to be excellent dairymen -- but also know the world of the dairy artisan to better serve them. We are very quick and deep learners; it is not usual for the dairyman to get together with the artisan, but our desire is to break that detachment between the production of the milk and the product.
We anticipate partnering with one or more cheesemakers -- we bring the excellent milk. A possibility is to create an on-farm cheesemaking facility; with proximity to Madison & cheese facilities & bring in even "guest" cheesemakers, I'm confident we can find the right situation.
We would absolutely entertain a partnership where a cheesemaker puts a facility on our farm and makes the cheese. Surely there are budding cheesemakers looking for just this situation.
We anticipate that cheese made from our milk would be in the $10-20+ per pound retail range - high end. It would also be relatively scarce -- there will only be so much. Also some innovative marketing possibilities that I could discuss at another time to expand the market -- for example a cheese auction online on Ebay.
We anticipate -- with the whole package including milk, our farm, us in marketing support -- that we conservatively should earn $35 per 100wt fluid milk. I think it will be higher, but this is a reasonable starting point for discussion.
"Surround ourselves with excellence and success"
With the great products -- we will be of interest to those that can judge what is excellent, and do special things with that excellence. Artisanal cheesemakers such as the Willi Lehners of Bleu Mont Cheese, Uplands Cheese, Bob Wills -- and many more -- that know what excellence is and can help guide us, and we can take the responsibility and have the interest in their world -- and shape our work to best meet the artisan's needs -- all of them -- product and logistics and marketing as examples. As opposed to current situation with most dairy farms, which is "Will you please take my milk?". We can and will go far beyond that with initiative, enthusiasm and ideas.
"Quality is your best marketing: Customer service is right behind that"
We "get it" with customer service -- all too often those "artists" that are excellent, have a certain despise for the customer. We love people, we treat others as we wish to be treated. We know our customers beyond their interest in our products --- they truly become our friends --- and we work very hard to make it easy to work with us, which has meant great customer loyalty and a willingness for our customers to come to the farm rather than us having to spend valuable time at farmer's markets et al marketing our products.
"Our family farm is a marketing asset"
We would preserve our name -- Trautman Family Farm -- in the end product, because it would be to the artisanal dairy professional's interest to do so. We "clean up good" so to speak -- and are excellent ambassadors. A true family farm -- as we like to say -- we ARE that farm pictured on the side of the milk carton or on the cheese label. A happy family farm with happy animals.
Our newest marketing catchphrase says it, too --
"With every taste an invitation -- to see how very special our products are from Trautman Family Farm".
Come see us -- really -- and you will see content, clean animals, well thought out ideas throughout the farm. But -- you will see too -- that we are not an antiseptic planned "show farm" -- it is obvious that real work is done here by a real family, but certainly with a mind to visitors. That is a powerful marketing tool -- especially in the face of competition by large companies. No invitations to the farms there.
I won't spend much time discussing the general market for organic or grassfed: They are growing very quickly, and certain events (E Coli for example) even in the past year have only focused more interest. But it is important to note that organic and grassfed is a grassroots movement -- there is no marketing board supporting this, this grows from the people on up. I believe very strongly that we are at the cusp of a wave of change -- very similar to the Internet revolution we participated in starting in 1994.
We have found that our customer base includes a wide range of people, but the most exciting and fastest growing segment is the young educated families -- that have not had health crises that bring them to more natural foods, but by desire to start their families right with healthful food, but also in support of their beliefs about farming, the environment & social justice. These are families that could be customers for 40 plus years!
Some flexibility here as of yet. With a high fat & protein milk, fat up to 7% -- we are thinking towards
- Grassfed organic butter (very little in the market right now)
- Grassfed organic raw milk cheeses that preserves as much of the original milk qualities as possible
- generally, products that accent the unique and healthful qualities of grassfed milk
We are a very adaptive farm; and much of this comes from absorbing information from trade resources, other farmers and media. In so doing, we have identified practices that satisfy many areas -- marketing, family life & sustainability. Dairy is no different, and it is intended, but with option to adapt to the situation -- to implement the following practices in dairy, based on success of individuals in this area, New Zealand, and in general from those that question everything about what they do -- as we do.
OAD (Once A Day) milking: First reaction by most dairyman: you're crazy. All the more reason to question it. It is being practiced very successfully in Wisconsin, and has the very important quality family life component to it; not "chained to milking" as much. Milk components are very high over 7% butterfat. NOT 50% less milk; 30% less milk, but put the whole equation together and result is a 10% decrease in net profit.
Calf on Cow: Works on so many levels, with the right situation, a Johne's free herd being very important, and a clean, grass environment another. Result is hugely healthier calves, larger and more productive; often they are starting to eat grass at 2 weeks old. Great for heifers and what will be beef steers: that will perform to their peak on grass, without need of grain and the associated health side-effects of feeding grain. This too is being done very effectively by "crazy people" throughout the state, and most dairyman -- for their own convenience needs -- and not the best interests of their animals -- will not even think any further about this. Another advantage to the small farm - it will not scale up to a 400 cow dairy.
100% Grassfed: We have found that customers desire 100% grassfed. They are open to being educated about using "small amounts of grain", but we find it a distracting conversation to have. With our superior quality forages -- and an understanding of the design of the cow -- quality forages are what produce the greatest quality of milk, and best health and longevity. Less milk? Yes. But more than made up in quality. CLA levels at their absolute highest. I am confident in the next few years research will find yet more reasons why grassfed is superior to any other feed system -- except for quantity of milk.
Seasonal: Which goes with 100% grassfed. The best health and milk quality situations are created in growing grass seasons. This too combines with our family focus and ability to "take a break" from milking in winter.
100% cow needs focused dairying: We believe strongly in the management philosophy that these cows are not here to do our bidding, but ours theirs. As a good manager does: How do we as managers provide the best impediment free environment to do their job? Vs. the arrogance of man and our need to bend things to fit our convenience. There truly is a difference in how you think of things if you take this attitude. For example:
Cows don't belong on concrete. Their hooves are not meant for it.
Cows don't want to be (covered) in their own manure; it causes stress
Cows digestive systems were not meant to process grain, and grain causes a great many health issues and definitely affects milk.
Cows want to eat fresh grass; there is no stored feed that can match it; it also happens to be the cheapest way to feed a cow.
A Family sized Dairy
That would end up being at most 50-60 cows; with our other products, we anticipate a number between 30-40, which would be a great number for us to know our animals very well, create a reasonable income & volume of milk to work with in a small-batch environment.
Our first year we anticipate starting with 10-20 cows; building to 30-40 within 2 years, with the likelihood of some aggressive culling to better meet our situation's best cow traits.
Jersey/Jersey cross are the best choice. Within Jersey, NOT the highest producers. The Amish in general seem to have the right goals: Easy Keepers. Surely there will be discovery and focusing on traits as time goes on. Focus on quality and adaptability to our situation.
2007: Learning, planning, product determination, milking facility building & staging. What a crazy busy year, but fun, too!
2008: Start to milk, work out the bugs, continue building the network; build excitement 2009: Start making value added product
2010: Start winning some awards & with our other mature business aspects, be cashflow positive
2011: Look out, here we come!
2007-January into February: Discovery & Business Plan, starting training such as "Production of Safe Dairy Foods" Feb 16,17. Mid February: Discovery session with DBIC with preliminary business plan. February into March: Continued immersion and networking. Find grants, consultants et al for business plan. Complete financial projections. Mid-March: Trip to New Zealand on a Babcock scholarship to research above dairy innovations, very popular already in New Zealand April: Finalizing business and implementation plan. May-July: Mostly farming, but chipping away at milking facilities & equipment plans August: Complete financing Finalize milking facilities & equipment plans, sign vendor contracts, look to November build (I suspect this could slip) Have found and purchased our cows Sept-Feb 2008: Being prepared for a whole lot of work and catchup; finish milking facility, loafing/bedding pack area Attend Beginning dairy farmer short course (late October start) Other training/seminars/continued education Mar-April 2008: Let's start milking cows
- where to ship milk year 1; quantity not huge
- assuring our cows are inline with our programs & we don't need major culling & purchase to adjust
- managing all the technical requirements
- staying financially disciplined
- balancing life and work
- all the things that will come up that we haven't even thought of yet
- A balancing of farm ventures in cattle both beef and dairy, hogs and chickens provides a resiliency, a balanced "ecosystem" and stimulating environment and a nice product mix. - A balance in dairy of give and take: Less milk, better quality, higher price, superior calves, excellent longevity & superior marketability. We will definitely discover the balance point. - We are not concerned about our ability to market our products; we already are to great success.
- We desire to stay "family" -- which is not to say we won't be a part of strategic partnerships; hopefully we will with other family farms in the area for the future. This unit necessarily will remain and flourish as a family farm, and not grow to a ....not family farm, which would erode the credibility of what we're doing. "don't get greedy"; think within the family, think to the future.
- The "best of the best" focus has both costs and rewards. We believe the rewards far outweigh the costs, especially in the social and market conditions of 2007
- By doing "all the right things" -- we are aiming to win awards and spread our message beyond our farm. We can only legitimately do that with success of our own farm
- There surely will be trials, and it will take work and discipline for it to be successful, but with our skills, situation, and the tremendous amount of help available to us, an excellent shot at success
- Our current financial situation is reasonable (this said by someone who tends to the conservative and dislikes debt), we will surely have some tight times for at least 2007 and 2008, if not longer, but we are best motivated by adversity. We will need loans to fully implement our vision, but again we have a great team working with us to clearly evaluate the business proposition.
- We have a realistic expectation of the time and energy and sacrifice this will take. As our whole family will necessary be involved -- we get our "quality time" in work time.
- We embrace that activity is not accomplishment; that we will have the discipline, and create the situations to think our actions through, and not back ourselves into corners.
- For all the confidence we show here -- we know humility -- and are open to change, and not afraid to say "I'm sorry" and "I was wrong". We are committed to being open minded and flexible.
- We understand that for all the great planning one does -- that things will come up, things will change, there will be unexpected changes. And we would say that this sure makes life interesting, and indeed that we are at our best when we have to make the best of things. Stuff happens; we deal with it.
- We are optimistic people, and we waste no time or energy being critical of others, we focus ourselves on "what can we do in our own small way to change the world for the positive?"
Indeed the most radical and revolutionary thing we can do is to succeed.
- a strong entrepreneurial and business background
- problem solving and technical background that allows quick adoption of new ideas; a hunger for learning
- excellent communication abilities with strong networking for a solid marketing focus
- passionate love of farming and to share our enthusiasm and knowledge with others
- a relatively short time farming: no bad habits or preconceived limitations to overcome
- a super family team that works together efficiently and effectively and in respect of each other’s strengths
- the incredible resources at hand in Wisconsin to help people like us succeed
- proximity to Madison: for customers, resources & artisans
- excellent reputation and momentum through our current product offerings; excellent customer service focus
- ability to sell all our products without leaving the farm through strategic marketing and excellent quality products that make it worthwhile for people to come here for them.
- reasonable capitalization and access to funds for expansion.
- the hard work of organic certification and soil fertility at the home farm are done; quality simply will not be an issue.
- lots of help from the many many friends we’ve made along the way.
- access to some of the finest minds anywhere in soils and forage and dairy nutrition (my Midwestern BioAg network)
- the discipline of the organic way: solving farm problems instead of masking symptoms & taking the long view
- understand the hard work ahead and what we're getting into. We love our work!
- inexperience in dairy, but have quickly learned and adapted and will be using this year before we start strategically to gain experience and expertise.
- ability to expand land-wise; countered by “heavy thinking” to maximize income per acre, with available expansion, “icing on the cake”. Long term lobbying efforts for new lands have been made.
- (short term) shipping milk 1st year somewhere as we work through the kinks
- managing the myriad of details in
logistics issues of getting milk to a processing facility from a single farm or
assembling a processing facility here and finding the right dairy artisan partner and
complying with health and safety regulations
- managing our time to add this venture to an already fairly full schedule
- even with a year off start date, so very much to do and learn
- managing our cash-flow in 2007,8 until we come fully "online" with dairy income in 2009
- managing innovative dairy practices with a limited support network with those new practices
- a maddening amount of administrivia in support of farm dairy production?