After two years of indepth planning and construction, we now have a Dexter dairy! Although there may be few Dexter dairies in the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand, we are not aware of any at this time in the United States or Canada. Our hope is that Dexter cattle will be a solution for those who are interested in alternative ways to dairy, as we begin to trend back to local family-run operations and away from large corporate factory farming. People look for fresh wholesome milk products, and the local small-scale dairy can provide for these needs.
My dream is for residential neighborhoods to be designed as a cluster around small dairy/beef and produce operations. These central family farms, animal welfare approved, would supply fresh food to the local area. Isn’t that a wonderful plan for our a new America?
Dexter cattle have a lot of work power! We think it is time for them to show off a bit. Our dairy has grown out of a passion for “the little Irish mountain cow,” and love for their rich, high butterfat milk. One Dexter cow can keep a family in milk for a good part of the year, two Dexter cows will give you milk all year round and then some milk to make cheese, kefir or yogurt with, and to share with your friends and neighbors. Three to five or more Dexters are enough to start a small dairy business!
After working with our N.Y. State Agriculture and Markets on rules and regulations for building a dairy, we received our legal producer status in November 2006. It has been a long haul! There is a very big learning curve to upstart a dairy for those of us with no previous experience. Each step of the way we consulted with the inspectors concerning our building plans. It is better to get it right the first time than to have to go back and do it again. We did not have a previous dairy building on our property so we had to start from scratch, from designing the ditching and waste control, to placement of the milk parlor, milk cool room, holding area for the cows, and the cheese making room. Once built, getting to know the correct sanitation procedures has been the biggest challenge.
We originally started hand-milking one cow. Now there are five and soon we will milk six Dexters. We use an old Surge milking machine and bucket milker, and we also milk by hand when needed. Our plan is to milk a maximum of six cows. We purchased a 1940’s Surge milking machine and assembled the unit from new and used parts we acquired from retired dairies in the area. The equipment we needed for the milk cooling room and the cheese room took an entire year to assemble because many of the things needed were just not readily available. With the help of some small dairy equipment dealers and finding items on eBay, we managed to put it all together under close scrutiny of the inspectors. We use a refrigerator for a bulk tank but that may have to be upgraded soon. In order to get our milk cooled down to 45 degrees within two hours, we currently put it in the freezer, and then move it down to the frig when it achieves the 45 degrees.
We have two very old jacketed steam kettles that we use for warming the milk to start the kefir culture. The kettles have been converted to hot water. We were very blessed to have ingenious plumbers, who designed a system even though they had no clue as to how to go about it when they started. But they were inspired to plumb a tiny cheese factory, something they had never done before. And are we thankful!! We started out aging our cheese in refrigerators, but have graduated to a cheese cave! Our 1870 field stone basement has been converted to a cool damp place where our cheese can thrive. After lots of renovation, removing wires, pipes, electrical boxes, and pointing up old walls, we hired a cabinet maker to build us a beautiful shelving system. The structure is made of larch wood, and the shelves are poplar wood. We use an air conditioner to cool the room that is controlled with a gizmo called a Coolbot, a very handy control device that brings the room temperature down more than what an air conditioner can do alone.
Here in pictures is our dairy from start to finish!