Dairy herd share FAQ

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Carol milking Maya.
EcoReality Co-op has established a dairy herd share operation, by which, individuals can purchase a portion of a managed herd of dairy goats (on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada), along with the associated infrastructure used in managing and operating the dairy herd.

As of October 2011, we are not accepting new dairy share holders, but we expect to do so after spring kidding. Read the following and submit an application to be on our waiting list!


Quick Sign-up

For those who don't want the boring details... but please find some time to read below at a later date!

  1. Review and understand the current dairy herd share fees.
  2. (optional) Check out our dairy production statistics.
  3. Fill out a dairy herd share application.
  4. We will then either put you on a wait list if the agister determines that the herd shares are fully subscribed, or send you an invoice for your shares, which must be paid before your herd share becomes active.
  5. We will then have you sign a dairy herd share agreement, and we will give you a card that must be presented when you pick up your milk.
  6. Come pick up your milk!

Why have dairy herd shares?

Throughout Canada, it is illegal to "distribute raw milk" to people other than the owner of the animal giving the milk. Thus, raw milk cannot be sold in stores, nor even given away.

However, you are allowed to drink the raw milk of an animal you own, and thus the concept of herd sharing arose, in which a number of individuals pool their resources in order to collectively own dairy animals that they might not otherwise be able to keep and properly maintain.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our Freedom of association, or the right to collectively do whatever is legal for us to do individually. Thus, it is legal to join in the shared ownership of a resource in order to share that resource. This has been upheld by the Ontario Supreme Court, and is currently working its way through the BC court system. The brave dairy farmer who self-trained in law and served as his own solicitor in the Ontario Supreme Court decision, Michael Schmidt, is now leading the challenge in BC.

How does it work at EcoReality?

We have established a class of investment shares under the BC Cooperative Associations Act, Class D Investment Shares (let's just call them "dairy shares" in this document), which are solely devoted to the funding of dairy operations at EcoReality.

An individual purchases dairy shares, and is then legally able to receive raw milk from the dairy animals that EcoReality Co-op maintains.

The general members of EcoReality Co-op have elected an agister, who is responsible for maintaining the dairy herd on behalf of dairy shareholders. The agister has authority to make day-to-day decisions about the health, well-being, and productivity of EcoReality's goat herd.

Subscribing to a certain number of dairy shares allows an individual to receive a certain portion of the output of raw goat milk and other dairy products from the EcoReality dairy operation.

When an individual "receives" a portion of the output from the dairy operation, they will pay an additional fee, which directly pays for the labour and other operational costs that the co-op incurs in providing dairy products. In consultation with EcoReality's finance steward and other involved parties, the agister sets the fees associated with dairy products from the herd.

How much will it cost?

The agister is responsible for setting a dairy share subscription level in keeping with the actual capital value of the EcoReality dairy herd and associated infrastructure. In other words, your dairy share investment reflects, as well as can be determined, the actual value of the animals and equipment.

This means you are not guaranteed a certain amount of milk, rather, you are entitled to a certain share of the total milk produced, proportional to the total value of the dairy operation.

The agister is required to follow this priority when making decisions:

  1. Maintain the health and well-being of the EcoReality site and greater ecosystem,
  2. treat the dairy herd animals in a manner that gives them long, happy lives,
  3. produce a mix of dairy products as desired by the dairy share owners, and
  4. consider long-term herd health ahead of milk productivity.

So the amount of milk a dairy share holder may receive will vary with number of animals in lactation and their stage of lactation, health of the EcoReality land and pasture areas, weather, and other considerations.

The EcoReality agister has established the following share costs:

  • $10 (ten shares): Taster: one who desires significantly less than one litre of milk per week,
  • $50 (fifty shares) per litre per week (nominal) in other cases.
  • See dairy herd share fees for fee updates, or for fees for other dairy products.

This cost is an estimate, based upon $2,400 for eight Nubian dairy goats, and $400 for associated infrastructure, for a total of $2,800. Half the goats can be expected to be in production at any given time, and each will nominally produce two litres per day, for a total capital cost of $350 per litre per day, or $50 per litre per week.

This example is subject to change, based upon the number of animals kept, number of animals in lactation, cost of feed, and many other factors. The agister will strive to keep the number of outstanding shares commensurate with the value of the herd and infrastructure.

What if I don't use my weekly share of milk?

Because milk has a limited shelf-life, your share is on a "use it or lose it" basis. If you do not pick up the amount specified by the number of shares you've subscribed, the agister may allow other herd shareholders to take it, or may turn it into cheese or other preserved dairy product.

On the other hand, if you want more than your weekly share for some reason, give the agister as much notice as possible, and we will try to accommodate your needs. If you find you regularly need more than your weekly share, you should subscribe to more dairy shares, if they are available.

What if you cannot supply me with my weekly share of milk?

Milk production will vary considerably, and herd share amounts are based upon average milk production over a two-year lactation cycle. Sometimes there will be plenty of milk; at other times, there may be very little, or even none at all for periods of up to 90 days or so. The agister will strive to stagger breedings to keep a steady supply of milk, but this might not always be possible.

As a bona-fide part-owner of a herd of milk goats, you should be prepared to "take the good with the bad" over time. We expect to have a waiting list, so keep in mind that you can always "cash out" your share with 90 days notice if you feel you are not receiving good value for your investment.

What if I want out?

Dairy shares are redeemable with a 90-day written notice. Let us know in writing that you want some or all of your shares redeemed, and 90 days later, you'll get the full amount of your dairy shares back, less any outstanding debt, including any charges for milk bottles, etc.

Please note that as of the date you request redemption, you are no longer a dairy shareholder, and cannot receive dairy products while waiting 90 days for your money back.

What about liability?

EcoReality Co-op has commercial farm liability insurance, but it is ultimately up to the individual to determine the risks associated with owning a share of a dairy herd and consuming raw dairy products. Canada's stance is that raw milk is a "hazardous food substance," and that it can cause many ailments, possibly leading to serious injury or death.

As part of your dairy share agreement, you will be required to acknowledge that you understand Canada considers raw milk a significant health risk, and that you accept the risk and bear all responsibility for that risk.

How do I know it is safe?

All milking and dairy product handling is performed under the supervision of a Canada Food Safe certified person. All people handling the dairy products also consume those products, and they don't want to make themselves sick!

Currently, we use hand-milking in our documented milking procedure, which is actually more clean and sensitive to the animal than machine milking. We are intimately involved with the animal, and are quickly alerted to problems such as subclinical mastitis.

The animals are generally within sight of someone for most of the day, so we keep close tabs on their health and well-being, and thus the safety of the final product.

You are free to come examine the health and well-being of your herd, but we ask that you make an appointment at our convenience, so your visit does not impact your fellow dairy share holders.

Can you supply dairy products to Victoria or Vancouver?

We are not currently planning routine supply to Victoria or Vancouver.

However, if you are willing to help organize things on your end for ten litres, we can meet you on foot at Swartz Bay with our portable refrigerator. You will have to be on-time, as we will need to get on the next ferry home. You will also need a pre-chilled cooler capable of holding ten litres.

By prior arrangement, we may be able to meet you on foot at Fulford Harbour for smaller quantities, in time for you to take the next ferry back to Swartz Bay.

Can you ship milk to me at [some far away place]

Sorry, due to the uncertainties of shipping time and environment, we will not ship milk. All milk must be personally received by a herd shareholder.

Okay, I want in. What's the next step?

  1. Review and understand the current dairy herd share fees.
  2. (optional) Check out our dairy production statistics.
  3. Fill out a dairy herd share application.
  4. We will then either put you on a wait list if the agister determines that the herd shares are fully subscribed, or send you an invoice for your shares, which must be paid before your herd share becomes active.
  5. We will then have you sign a dairy herd share agreement, and we will give you a card that must be presented when you pick up your milk.
  6. Come pick up your milk!

I have a question that isn't on this list!

Send us your question, and we'll add it to this list!

See our listing on the Salt Spring Exchange.

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