It’s not unusual for goat milk customers of Rachel Hecker’s Blue Moon Dairy, Wasilla, Alaska, to pick up their milk after midnight. After all it’s still light and that’s the time Hecker is out milking her goats during the summer. It’s also not unusual for her customers to inquire about the goats they partially “own” on her farm; they have a vested interest. It’s illegal to purchase raw milk to drink in Alaska, but according to state laws, a person owning an animal may drink raw milk from that animal. Hecker is able to provide her customers with the delicious and beneficial goat milk they desire, by selling them partial shares to the goats in her herd.
Blue Moon Dairy near Wasilla, Alaska has many top quality dairy goats on the list available to ‘shareholders’ who can pay to own part of a goat and then pick up milk on an as needed basis. This is Piddlin Acres Moonshine, ADGA Grand Champion and Best Udder Nigerian Dwarf at the Alaska State Fair, August, 2007.
At Blue Moon Dairy, and under the laws of the state of Alaska, a goat share is a partial ownership in the farm’s goat herd. That partial ownership allows non-farmers to drink raw milk from the herd. Dairy goat farmers that participate in goat share projects are aware that they do so at the mercy of state and federal laws that are often hostile or confusing. Even in states where goat shares are specifically allowed by law, state inspectors are known to harass farmers. An Indiana dairy that provides perfectly legal goat shares to perfectly happy shareholders would only share information about their “goat shares” program anonymously because state inspectors were already harassing and threatening the owner of the dairy.
“Keeping on good terms with my state and federal inspectors is important,” Rachel Hecker said. “I don’t have either the time or the money to challenge them.”
That said, both Hecker and the Indiana dairy have sold all the goat shares their herd size allows. Customers desperately want to buy raw goat milk for health benefits, laws or no laws, and selling goat shares seems to be the best way to compromise an otherwise impossible situation.
“In Alaska you can drink milk from a goat you own,” Hecker said. “By owning a share in a goat, you have a fresh supply of your own goat milk to drink.”
At Blue Moon Dairy a customer who is interested in obtaining raw goat milk can purchase a goat share for a one-time cost of $65. When they do that they sign a contract with the dairy.
“I don’t put my contract on my website,” Hecker said. “I want people to come out and see the farm and the goats before they sign the contract.”
Though their herd is now made up of mainly Toggenburgs and Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats, Rachel Hecker and children Kelsey and David, got their start in the dairy goat business with a much-loved Alpine doe.
Many goat share contracts also specify that the buyer will also pay a monthly husbandry, or maintenance, fee for the care of their share. At Blue Moon Dairy Hecker has taken a different approach.
“I found that I was spending a lot of time keeping records and trying to collect monthly fees,” she said. “I don’t want to be a collection agent. That’s no fun.”
Hecker solved that problem by charging the husbandry fee when people come to retrieve their milk. The husbandry fee to retrieve a gallon of milk from their own goat share at Blue Moon Dairy is currently $6 per gallon.
If the idea of husbandry fees and retrieving milk is hard to understand keep in mind that Alaskan law does not allow Hecker to sell raw goat milk. She can drink raw milk from her goats. Her shareholders can drink the milk from the goat that they own, but that Blue Moon Dairy boards and milks for them.
Hecker said she put a lot of thought into what a fair husbandry charge should be. The $6 charge is essentially what her experience has taught her the market in her area will bear. “There is a fine line between what people will pay and what will send them back to the grocery store to get their milk,” she said.
The Blue Moon contract promises to buy back a share if a shareholder chooses to sell it back. Since Hecker started the goat share project in 2003, only one share holder has chosen to sell their share back to the farm.
The contract also guarantees a gallon of milk per week. At the same time Hecker attempts to educate shareholders about the seasonality of lactation. She is tailoring her breeding program to enhance year-round production by crossing her Toggenburgs with Nigerians. Nevertheless, summertime is peak milk production time in the Land of the Midnight Sun. When shareholders arrive during midnight milking they are able to retrieve more than a gallon of milk. If there is surplus they often make goat milk ice cream. Alaskans do love their ice cream, Hecker said.
“Unofficial research shows that Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than any other people in the country,” Hecker said.
Summer doesn’t last forever, however, and surplus milk is a rarity in the winter. Hecker has learned that when there is little or no sunshine, as in an Alaskan winter, retrievals fall off and people who don’t retrieve tend not to pay monthly husbandry fees. It was largely for that reason that Blue Moon Dairy turned to charging when the milk is retrieved, rather than requiring monthly shares payments.
The Indiana goat dairy mentioned anonymously however, does charge a $40 monthly maintenance fee. That fee is due whether a shareholder retrieves their weekly gallon or not. If the shareholder picks up a gallon each week that works out to around $8.75 per gallon. The farm charges an initial fee of $35 to purchase a share.
BryaroseFarms D’s Mackenzie shows the beautiful rear udder and productive attributes that have made her and many of her offspring valued members of the Blue Moon Dairy goat herd in Alaska.
The Indiana dairy is very specific about what a share consists of. The following is taken directly from their contract:
“It is agreed and understood by Buyer that Buyer’s interest in the Herd is a limited interest shared with others of co-ownership in the Herd and that the interest purchased by Buyer does not convey or vest in Buyer sole ownership of the Herd or of any particular Goat in the Herd. It is further agreed and understood that the specific Goats in the Herd may change over time as Goats die or as Seller adds to or deletes from the Herd in his sole and absolute discretion; however, Seller shall not be obligated to add to the Herd to replace a Goat that dies, but may do so at Seller’s discretion.”
The Indiana dairy also tells shareholders that they are entitled to one gallon per week. The contract gives the farmer a loophole if there is not that much milk available.
According to their goat share contract: The Buyer shall be entitled to receive on a weekly basis a proportional share of the milk produced by the Herd so long as Buyer is not delinquent in Buyer’s payment of monthly fees. The amount of milk to be received by Buyer shall be determined by multiplying Buyer’s interest in the herd by the amount of milk produced.”
Though there are legal headaches involved, both the Alaskan and Indiana goat share sellers work to educate their shareholders, and the general public, about dairying and the healthful benefits of goat milk. They both encourage their shareholders to interact and learn about their goats. And both have found their services in much demand, with all shares available, sold out.
To learn more about goat shares and Rachel Hecker’s Blue Moon Dairy goats in Alaska, visit her web site at http://bluemoondairy.tripod.com.