The case for herd sharing— What it and and why you should

By Katy Kassian
Katy Kassian
Katy Kassian
June 2, 2021 Updated: June 2, 2021

Hay! Have you “herd” about it????

Do you know where your next gallon of delicious, fresh milk is coming from? How about your next steak?

What is herd-sharing

Herd-sharing is a means of obtaining dairy products and meats on a regular basis. What exactly is a herd share? The really short answer is that when a person purchases a share in a cow, goat or sheep in return for milk on a regular basis, they are sharing in the herd to whatever percentage they bought in at. The critter owners are not selling milk directly, instead the share holder is getting the milk from their own cow (or goat), and in some instances herd sharing can also mean meat.

A herd-share is in two parts. The first part is a one-time ‘boarding fee’-usually for a very nominal amount. This is paid for the upkeep of your critter, veterinary costs, milking, building maintenance etc.. The second part is the regular monthly fee. For example, let’s say you buy one share of Bessie the Brown Eyed Girl for twenty five dollars. You then agree to an additional twenty-five dollar a month fee for your share. This would mean that after your initial boarding fee, depending on your specific arrangement, you would be receiving one gallon of Bessie’s milk each week for however long your contract is. Two shares would get you two gallons and so on. You should receive a bill of sale and a boarding contract to show you own an interest in Bessie the Brown Eyed Girl.

While many small farms with herd-sharing offer a start up bottle collection for your milk, be sure to double check in case you need to provide your own.

Herd sharing is not a new concept. In the United States there are records from 1627 indicating “Captain Miles Standish of Plymouth Colony purchased 1/6th share of a red cow.” -Wikipedia

In this last year we’ve really seen some changes in the food supply chain. A lot of empty store shelves. Many factories that process our meats and dairy understaffed. Great. Big. Changes. We went from being able to get anything we want at the drop of a pin, to not being able find anything in many locations. Farm to Fork and Back to the Land are no longer just a catch phrases. Where to find a steady, quality, affordable supply of dairy or meats is handy knowledge to have. Remember how hard it was to find dairy products eight months ago?

Epoch Times Photo
Buying milk directly from the farm is possible, when you own part of the cow! (Couleur/Pixabay)

So where DO you find someone with shares to sell? This can be a bit tricky. It’s not as though it’s just advertised in the want ads of the local papers. ASK. It is as simple as that. I have personally found that asking at farmers markets is the quickest way to find one near me. You can also ask in homesteading groups on Facebook, or call the County Extension Office where you are- they often have incredible resources and knowledge about who has what and where it is. Try Googling “herd share in Colorado” and see what comes up. Many small farms have websites listing herd-share and it pops right up. Another place to try is www.realmilk.com . You can check it state by state and see if there is a farm near you. Do not make the mistake of thinking herd-shares are just for folks that live in the country already!!!! You will be surprised at how many small farms and homesteads are right inside or at city limits. Herd-sharing is for everyone.

Benefits of herd-sharing for you and the farmer

What do YOU gain from a herd-share? Besides being sustainable and healthy, you get to enjoy fresh milk with none of the commitment of having to actually roll out of bed yourself and go milk before starting and ending your day! And with all that fresh milk, just think of the butter, cottage cheese, sour cream and cheese you can make.- Not to mention the creamiest chocolate milk ever! Quite a few of the farms also have the other dairy products already ready for you to to purchase, or may be included in your share depending on the agreement you made. In many cases you can also go visit your “share” in person. This is a fabulous bonus if you have small children.

I will not go into the merits of fresh, raw milk. That is for you to decide for yourself. www.rawmilk.com and www.draxe.com/nutrition/raw-milk/benefits both offer compelling arguments, statistics and information supporting it.

Epoch Times Photo
Grass fed cows produce sweeter milk (Cows6/Picspree)

A herd-share is not necessarily forever. It can be though, if you want it to be. Most contracts are on a yearly basis. If you decide in six months that this is not for you, 99% of the farmers will work to resell your remaining time on your share. You will however most likely lose your initial buy-in fee. This is rarely refundable as the farmer still has all the expense of keeping the critters. YOU are not on the hook for the entire lifespan of Bessie the Brown Eyed Girl.

When does a herd-share mean MEAT? This last year has seen a number of states that have chosen to modify or add laws that now include butcher beef, goat or sheep in the herd share category. This means you can buy a share of a beef and when it is old enough, the farm will butcher it and you will receive your share. LB324 was passed earlier this year in Nebraska, partially to help relieve the pressure on meat processors. Many of them are already booked out well into 2022!

Different states have different regulations concerning the sales of raw or fresh milk and dairy products. It does not fall under traditional cottage foods laws. A good resource is www.farmtoconsumer.org for interactive maps of all the states and the basics of their policies.

Ask around for leads to farms offering herd shares. Your local farmer will have all the information you may want on local laws.

Katy Kassian
Katy Kassian