Being a Good “Share” Member means Courtesy.
A lot of the mistakes share members make are never intended to be mistakes at all.
I have spent years talking to those who have operated Herd Share programs outside of West Virginia, trying to learn what makes not only a good herdshares program, but what type of buyer do you want to target in your sales of the shares.
One thing to remember, even at what breaks down to $6 to $10 per gallon milk through the share program the farm may make back, there is no way Farmers really profit when the time they spend is factored in. Farmers love what they do, they see no way around a life without growing, producing and working with livestock or with the land. But we should not take advantage.
Frequent Complaints from Farmers, sometimes leading to the farmer deciding offering shares isn’t something he/she can even offer, sadly:
Share buyers who come to pick up their share but linger, making much-needed work impossible to finish
We ALL love to talk about farming, goats, cows and homesteading, but when you come to pick up a share, remember how many others have to do the same. Imagine if they all stood around and talked to the farmer every single time for even 15 minutes? How would that farmer, who is already stretched thin with farm, family and often off the farm work, ever get anything done?
Think of this pick up as you would a typical shopping trip, you stop in to pick up and pay for your share in a very timely manner.
Share Buyers who are never on time or drop in at unscheduled times without notice
Remember that you are arriving at someone’s home for a business transaction. You need to try to arrive at your scheduled pick up time. This is the farmer’s home. They have other appointments, and so if you miss your scheduled time, do not unfairly expect to be able to arrive late or another day to pick up. We all know things come up, and so make sure that, as a general rule, you are on time for your scheduled pick up, so that when true instances arise making a pick up impossible, the farmer knows this is an exception, not a rule.
Share Buyers who bring visitors to your farm, arrive and wander around when you aren’t home or allow their children or friends with children to come along and give themselves farm tours even when the farmer is home
I think this is a hard one for most people. Kids, family and friends enjoy livestock. They enjoy seeing the farming process, but as farmers, this is something that we can rarely accommodate. We have already went over the time constraints, but beyond that, this is a huge bio-security issue and liability issue. Few farmers are going to be carrying the correct coverage to allow these types of visits, and when livestock is around, especially large male breeding animals that many curious children do not realize are dangerous, this is honestly too much to expect of a farmer to offer. When you pick your herd share farm, you should expect to be allowed, as an adult, to see the animals, the areas they are kept and the milking process, but this should not entail family, friends or children running at large. It should also not be expected upon each visit, and while if asked whether you can bring friends, other children or family to visit the farmer’s ground, few farmers actually say, “No,” do keep in mind, it is the number one complaint I hear from former or current share farmers. It has made a few I have spoken to stop offering them.
Share members who do not pick up their share, but then expect to pick up double the next week or later in the week
Remember, this is a contract where you co-own a small percentage of the herd in question. Your share of the milk produced comes on a certain day of the week. If you fail to pick that share up, it was still produced. Should you decide to not pick the milk up, the farmer has still gone through the process to produce the milk, spent the time and you truly should expect to still cover your share, whether you pick it up or not, as that was your share of milk for that week, regardless. Raw Milk has a shorter keep time than pasteurized. Goat’s milk tends to keep 5-7 days. Cows milk 7-10 days. If you are typically on time, farmers will allow you to reschedule, but you need to be aware you want to pick up the freshest milk possible in order to be sure you have a reasonable keep time. It would be a liability to the farmer to give you the share of milk from your day if you have wait more than a couple of days, and normally, storage runs out quick on a dairy farm. Do not expect milk to be held past you pick up date without arrangements made ahead of time. Further, when you do not pick your share up on time but decide 5 days later, you would like to have the milk, that may be a day others are due to pick up their milk, come on time and have the first option.
Share Members expect the farmers to give the milk away, relay financial hard times or other stories to make the farmer feel guilty for selling the shares at typical price
This is really not a nice way to treat the small farmer. No small farmer is making much profit. Most have to work full time jobs off the farm to support their families. Herd Shares are a way to allow a farmer to operate less in the red, more in the black, but this is certainly no get rich quick scheme. Milk costs about $3 to produce without factoring in time, medical treatment when needed, fence, land taxes, building materials, milking equipment and so forth. It takes about 1 hour a day to milk one cow, clean up and strain the milk, at minimum. Please understand that if a farmer asks $6 a share for that milk, which returns one gallon of milk to a herd member, he is hardly making anything, as is. A quality product is worth a reasonable price. If a farmer is open to bartering for items or services he or she needs, that is one thing. But please never guilt a farmer into taking less when he cannot really afford to do so.
Share members who have not done their research
All foods carry risk. ALL. Raw milk has benefits. It has risks. They are certainly not anything similar to the propaganda pushed by Big AG or the Government, but there is some degree of risk. Educate yourself. Understand that this is a personal choice for your family, and go into the herdshare program with this in mind. Also, your handling after you pick the milk up is PART of the safety process. You can mishandle the milk in the same way you can mishandle the storage of raw meats, etc.