Going twice: $1500 to give the happiest dairy company in New Zealand a new lease of life.
On Thursday, Glen Herud announced on Facebook that his Happy Cow Milk Company was closing down, citing unsustainable costs. The company, based at Ohoka, north of Christchurch, had specialised in environmentally-friendly production – milking cows in the paddock to reduce the effluent burden and allowing calves to stay with their mothers for up to 15 weeks.
He didn’t count on the overwhelming response. Hundreds of people replied, lamenting Happy Cow’s closure or pleading for it to stay open.
“I thought I’d get about 10 of our most loyal supporters sending me a note and life would go on,” Herud wrote in reply on Friday.
“But I’ve been overwhelmed by your responses. I really didn’t realise you cared this much about our milk and our cows. I was literally shedding tears in the cafe while I read your comments.”
Many of the supporters suggested crowdfunding to bankroll a new version of the company, so Herud came up with a plan: 60 people could buy [and name] a cow for between $1500 and $1800 each to pay for a new herd. If that happened, he estimated he would need about another $300,000 to set up a more efficient version of the business. All investors could be shareholders in the new company.
“We’d love people to be able to buy a cow and have their own cow, “Herud told Stuff.
“Just get regular updates on what’s happening with their cow. Maybe classrooms could have their own cow and use it as a learning experience.”
It was just an idea, but Herud was optimistic it could work. There were other factors, though, that would need to fall into line first.
“The biggest thing that’s going to hold us back is trying to find a farmer who would farm the Happy Cow Milk way,” Herud said.
Happy Cow Milk’s calves are left with their mother for up to 15 weeks.
“They’d have to farm sustainably using our sustainable systems and all our calves have to stay with their mothers. That’s the deal-breaker for most dairy farmers.
“I’ve always wanted to partner with a farmer and say, ‘This is what the customers want, can you farm that way?’ and I’ve never been able to find anyone to do it so that’s why I did it myself and I really didn’t have the resources to do it myself.
“If we can find a farmer then I think we’ve got a goer.”
Other changes would be necessary too, Herud said, particularly finding a contract processor. Production and distribution costs weighed heavily on the old business model.
“Our priority is to farm inefficiently, I suppose, which means that our cows get a better life and our environmental impact is much lower. For us to be more inefficient on farm we need to be as efficient as Fonterra on the processing side of things so that we can still price our product in an affordable range.”
Contractor options were limited in the South Island, Herud said, so he was open to working with a North Island farmer based near a processing facility.