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Old 06-19-2011, 03:56 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Arfrom View Post
Thanks all, for the replies and thoughts. I should mention a couple more things - and see if this changes the perspective at all. I will not be entering the commodity milk game. I think it's a tough proposition anywhere, and so many things are stacked against its success, I wouldn't dream of entering it - if I even wanted to.

No, mine is an entirely different scenario. I envision no more than 15 head of cattle, heritage breed; Normande, Ayrshire, Tarentaise, are on the short list. Raw milk, to make artisanal cheese, under intensive, managed grazing. An open access to mountain pastures, or, in the alternative, a more intensive 20 acres in an alpine region - this is the goal. And all the cash flow comes from value-added, retail, cheese, and, should there be a demand for it, raw milk directly from the farm - nothing from wholesale milk, bulk shipped.

It may be impossible - to have access to the alpine land cheap enough to come in with lower capital; poor enough quality to be cheap, but with time, able to be developed into quality forage; with access to a retail demand, within 4 or so hours' radius. But this would be my hope.



Jazzlover, what of leasing those very lands, to keep the rich happy in their ag tax breaks, and I do the actual work? Not custom grazing, but leasing the land for milk and cheese production?
Your land requirements are much more than you think. Dryland graze in most mountain areas requires anywhere from 40 to 80 acres per cow-calf unit, and that does not count having to supplemental feed in the winter. Meadow hay or irrigated ground will sustain more cattle per acre, but those require intense management, especially of irrigation water--and the latter requires owning water rights of both adequate quantity and seniority to assure that the land can be irrigated for the whole season. Water rights are NOT "riparian" in Colorado--that is, the water rights do NOT run with the land. There is whole 'nother thread on the difficult water situation in Colorado--you'd better read it. In Colorado, for the size operation you're talking about, you'd better have a good-paying job in town (good luck finding that, these days) because you'll need it to support your farming "habit."

There is no such thing as "cheap" alpine or mountain land in Colorado--those days, sadly, are long gone. All of it commands a market premium far above its value for producing agriculture. If the land isn't selling at a premium, it is likely because it has severe soil, water, climate, or other limitations which severely inhibit its desirability for agriculture or for anything else. The whole "alpine" idea is pretty much non-feasible in Colorado. Unlike, say, Switzerland's alpine areas, where precipitation is often over 35"-50" annually, Colorado's highest precipitation areas are in its most rigorous high mountain areas where the growing season may be as short as 14-21 days, and those places usually get no more than around 20" or so of annual precipitation. Most of Colorado's "alpine" or mountain valleys are from 6,500-8,000 feet in elevation and most get less than 10"-12" of annual precipitation--some less than 8"--so irrigation is an absolute necessity. People look at the pretty pictures of Colorado and forget that most of the state qualifies as desert.
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Old 06-19-2011, 04:15 PM
 
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Jazzlover - thank you very much. I really appreciate your candor, and insight. It's a sad recognition that what one wants to do, out of a sincere commitment to an authentic life and tradition, often comes square up against the world as it is. I'm likely giving short shrift to the opportunity here, where I live - the Driftless Region of SW Wisconsin/SE MN - for some image that suits an alpine life, such as exists in the Savoie, that no longer exists anywhere in the States, if it ever did. CO came to mind, without knowing more, as the most likely candidate. MT, WY, too deserve a look, but I suspect much the same there.

Bloom where you are planted, I suppose. From a born and bred westerner (well, if CA can reasonably be called "western"), transplanted to NE and the MW, very much appreciated once again.
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Old 06-19-2011, 04:52 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arfrom View Post
Jazzlover - thank you very much. I really appreciate your candor, and insight. It's a sad recognition that what one wants to do, out of a sincere commitment to an authentic life and tradition, often comes square up against the world as it is. I'm likely giving short shrift to the opportunity here, where I live - the Driftless Region of SW Wisconsin/SE MN - for some image that suits an alpine life, such as exists in the Savoie, that no longer exists anywhere in the States, if it ever did. CO came to mind, without knowing more, as the most likely candidate. MT, WY, too deserve a look, but I suspect much the same there.

Bloom where you are planted, I suppose. From a born and bred westerner (well, if CA can reasonably be called "western"), transplanted to NE and the MW, very much appreciated once again.
Though land speculation hasn't been quite as rampant in Wyoming and Montana as it has been in Colorado, those states will suffer from many of the same climatic and water limitations as does Colorado. There are a few areas in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming where there still exists some substantial dairying. That is a legacy of the early Mormon settlers there, and most of those operations remain in the families descended from those early Mormon settlers. The Cache Valley in Utah and the Star Valley in far western Wyoming are two examples. Both areas, sadly, are under substantial development pressure these days, though.

Truth is, you are in one of the most prime dairying areas in the United States right where you are--finding anything to match anything close to that someplace else will be extremely difficult. In my days of being in agribusiness, I traveled to some of the best ranching and farming areas all over the western 2/3's of the United States. While Colorado once enjoyed a pretty robust agricultural economy--with a diversity of products matched only by California--those days are sadly past in many areas of the state. I really do enjoy visiting states that still are agricultural "giants" that have not seen that industry wrecked by land development and other non-agricultural pressures. So, while a lot of people are visiting the tourist traps in Colorado, I take a trip every so often into the rural areas of the "farm country" states in the Great Plains and Midwest. Fun to see "real" people producing "real" wealth from the land--not growing suburbs and trophy houses on formerly productive farm and ranch lands.
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Old 06-19-2011, 06:08 PM
 
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Jazz, an area that I'm sure you know about in your travels is east central and southeastern New Mexico. On most of those lonely roads I've traveled in the Land Of Enchantment,a couple of those roads lead you to a fair amount of dairy farming going on there. It's not all desert at all, though a trip from Albuquerque to Roswell on I-40 and U.S. Hwy 285 (about 200 miles) might suggest otherwise. Other than the town of Ruidoso (beautiful area an hour west of Roswell), the area doesn't have any tourism to hang their hat on other than the UFO stuff going on after the 4th of July. There are quite a few dairy farms east of there on the south side of hwy. 380.

I worked on a 181 mile pipeline project in the early 80's and worked in that area of the state. I still have a couple friends who moved to that area when they retired.

Another part of New Mexico that has a substantial amount is Curry and Quay county, close to the Texas border. I know where the farming is out there, especially between Tucumcari and Clovis. A road map could show you a couple dozen state roads between the two towns, and there are quite a bit of farms out there. I like that part of New Mexico, particularly the Llano Estacado mesas that stretch along the Texas/New Mexico border and the Caprock area east of Roswell. It's a ways out there from the cities, but I really like that part of the state. New Mexico definitely is a sizable contributor in regards to dairy farming, not sure how they stack up against other states, might look that up later.

Last edited by DOUBLE H; 06-19-2011 at 07:14 PM..
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Old 06-19-2011, 08:02 PM
 
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Originally Posted by DOUBLE H View Post
Jazz, an area that I'm sure you know about in your travels is east central and southeastern New Mexico. On most of those lonely roads I've traveled in the Land Of Enchantment,a couple of those roads lead you to a fair amount of dairy farming going on there. It's not all desert at all, though a trip from Albuquerque to Roswell on I-40 and U.S. Hwy 285 (about 200 miles) might suggest otherwise. Other than the town of Ruidoso (beautiful area an hour west of Roswell), the area doesn't have any tourism to hang their hat on other than the UFO stuff going on after the 4th of July. There are quite a few dairy farms east of there on the south side of hwy. 380.

I worked on a 181 mile pipeline project in the early 80's and worked in that area of the state. I still have a couple friends who moved to that area when they retired.

Another part of New Mexico that has a substantial amount is Curry and Quay county, close to the Texas border. I know where the farming is out there, especially between Tucumcari and Clovis. A road map could show you a couple dozen state roads between the two towns, and there are quite a bit of farms out there. I like that part of New Mexico, particularly the Llano Estacado mesas that stretch along the Texas/New Mexico border and the Caprock area east of Roswell. It's a ways out there from the cities, but I really like that part of the state. New Mexico definitely is a sizable contributor in regards to dairy farming, not sure how they stack up against other states, might look that up later.
I was through Clovis and that area last year. Yes, there is some real farming there. This year is just a total disaster in that area, though, with the drought that is covering the whole region of Texas and eastern New Mexico. There are places that have gotten no more than traces of precipitation in the last 8 months! Of course, the Texas Panhandle has ongoing issues with the depleting of the Ogallala Acquifer. There is a lot of land going to back to dryland farming because the farmers simply can no longer afford the pumping costs to irrigate. What I did see was a jillion wind farms--no surprise there. I used to know guys who managed some of the huge feedlots in the Texas Panhandle--one I visited had over a quarter million head of cattle. My understanding is that a lot of those feedlots are now having to ship in a fair amount of their feed because of the decline in corn acreage in the Panhandle. One day--a lot sooner than most people think--we will be back to eating grass-fed beef--grain-fed beef will be just too expensive for people to afford.
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Old 06-19-2011, 08:08 PM
 
Location: Southeastern Colorado
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Well, since you asked, I guess it's time to revisit Branson, Colorado, at the southeastern end of Las Animas County. Last week, while I-25 was closed from Trinidad to Raton, we had about 15,000 vehicles come barreling through at 65 mph. Things are back to peaceful now, except, of course, for the wildland fire smoke and haze blanketing the area...


Seeking a rural, SE ranch town w/grasslands & mesas?
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Old 06-20-2011, 07:05 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jazzlover View Post
Though land speculation hasn't been quite as rampant in Wyoming and Montana as it has been in Colorado, those states will suffer from many of the same climatic and water limitations as does Colorado. There are a few areas in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming where there still exists some substantial dairying. That is a legacy of the early Mormon settlers there, and most of those operations remain in the families descended from those early Mormon settlers. The Cache Valley in Utah and the Star Valley in far western Wyoming are two examples. Both areas, sadly, are under substantial development pressure these days, though.

Truth is, you are in one of the most prime dairying areas in the United States right where you are--finding anything to match anything close to that someplace else will be extremely difficult. In my days of being in agribusiness, I traveled to some of the best ranching and farming areas all over the western 2/3's of the United States. While Colorado once enjoyed a pretty robust agricultural economy--with a diversity of products matched only by California--those days are sadly past in many areas of the state. I really do enjoy visiting states that still are agricultural "giants" that have not seen that industry wrecked by land development and other non-agricultural pressures. So, while a lot of people are visiting the tourist traps in Colorado, I take a trip every so often into the rural areas of the "farm country" states in the Great Plains and Midwest. Fun to see "real" people producing "real" wealth from the land--not growing suburbs and trophy houses on formerly productive farm and ranch lands.
Once again, thanks for the insight, jazzlover. And beyond, the taste of history you've shared.
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Old 06-20-2011, 08:31 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jazzlover View Post
I was through Clovis and that area last year. Yes, there is some real farming there. This year is just a total disaster in that area, though, with the drought that is covering the whole region of Texas and eastern New Mexico. There are places that have gotten no more than traces of precipitation in the last 8 months! Of course, the Texas Panhandle has ongoing issues with the depleting of the Ogallala Acquifer. There is a lot of land going to back to dryland farming because the farmers simply can no longer afford the pumping costs to irrigate. What I did see was a jillion wind farms--no surprise there. I used to know guys who managed some of the huge feedlots in the Texas Panhandle--one I visited had over a quarter million head of cattle. My understanding is that a lot of those feedlots are now having to ship in a fair amount of their feed because of the decline in corn acreage in the Panhandle. One day--a lot sooner than most people think--we will be back to eating grass-fed beef--grain-fed beef will be just too expensive for people to afford.

True words from a wise person. Some say Jazzlover is surly but in fact he knows more about Colorado and New Mexico and Wyoming on this forum than anyone else hands down.

Get mad if he calls it like it is but I'd call him the Oracle of the West.
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Old 06-21-2011, 02:04 PM
 
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If you want to investigate other areas in the west you might look at SE Idaho and south-central Idaho (south of Twin Falls), NE and SW Oregon, and NW, north-central and SW Washington.


Not sure how much or if any of these comments will be of interest or useful to you, but for what it might be worth:

I would imagine getting grazing rights on public land is tough for a start-up but if you really are fixed on alpine or near alpine grazing there might be a chance to find / win the right amount of grazing rights and maybe make it work on a budget. Probably challenging to gather the necessary information and demonstrate beforehand the resources do it and there would be substantial lead-time and work for a bid with no certain or immediate return. If you compete and win land away from a local there will be surely be other challenges to make it work and keep it.

Not sure if you already have the skills for the every day, most every hour herd management responsibilities. If not yet or not fully yet, wonder if you might be able to find somebody willing to add your stock to their operation to some degree, maybe at least the basic tending of animals outside of milking time and shared use of their milking, storage and other facilities for a mutually acceptable fee. Just a spur of the moment idea to put out there for reaction and possible refinement. Perhaps as a way to get started on the land and working with the animals and ramping up that personal tending and your own capital resources over time. No partnership should be entered into lightly of course. The right partner and the right terms and the right legal agreements and person to person understanding would take good eyes, ears, voice, etc. to find and develop. A deal gone sour in any of a number of ways could be a very major crisis.

Being within 1- 1/2 hours of Seattle, Spokane, Eugene, Medford or Boise would have advantages for trying to move product and hopefully in a cost effective manner. Being 2-3 hours out from them (or even SLC or another medium or large city) might still work if you have the right marketing skills, succeed in getting a foothold and work to expand it and have a willingness and financial ability to engage in the extra travel.

I heard a radio interview of a guy with a small artisan cheese operation on Bainbridge Island Washington a month or two back (might have been on a NPR show, you might be able to find it if interested and you have already heard it or heard enough other such stories). He was a few years into it and sounded like he was at least getting by for now but they didn't talk about profit much or in very clear terms. I guess that it was / is his dream work. He sounded settled into the daily routine of milking and everything before and after it. He also sounded like he enjoyed showcasing his work & lifestyle to friends and others directly and, if I recall correctly, thru writing. Maybe there is more or easier money in that. (I've seen and heard of a number of other back to the land ventures that tapped writing / education / farm experience / food events / lodging ventures as supplements or even the main income source.)

If you take on the land and animals and the production from start to finish all yourself one needs to be sure you want the whole experience all the time for a long time and not just most of the time, for a relatively short time. There are the most creative / enjoyable parts of the work and lots of satisfaction that can come from the final product but there will probably be lots of parts that are not as easy to enjoy or repeatitively do unless you really have the right big-picture attitude.

One can consider or at least might be able to organize your enterprise to just do part of the operation and obviously that affects profit potential but it could be a long-term compromise in order to have some schedule flexibility. Maybe you can get help in some fashion, if not right way, maybe in the future.

Good luck with your research & planning.

There is a lot of academic and Ag Extension literature out there that can be found and read and Professors and Ag Extension staff who you can try to consult with directly to some degree. I hope you are tapping that heavily or plan to.

Last edited by NW Crow; 06-21-2011 at 03:26 PM..
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Old 06-21-2011, 02:28 PM
 
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Thank you very much, NW Crow. I hadn't thought of the NW, as I had thought land access was completely out of the realm of possibility. Though I love your corner of the country - brother in WA, lots of fond memories of time spent there, and contacts and friends from the Willamette Valley.

One thing that has come to mind is BLM grazing, with even an entirely portable creamery; a few makers out of CA, and back east, are doing similar things, so it's at least a model of the doable.

It's very helpful, what you've written, and very much appreciated. Yes, I am having to weigh my absolute desire to work with the animals directly - for the simple love of it, and for the intimate knowledge of the milk - with the reality I'm now 50, and have some physical limitations I didn't have, at one time. That, and artisanal cheesemaking of the highest possible quality is the first, and last, thing that drives everything else. So I'm still weighing options, some of which you've aptly raised.

Not a story of a Bainbridge Island farmer, but I did enjoy a similar one, Kurt Timmermeister's story - "Growing a Farmer," detailing his decision to leave behind life as a restauranteur and farm, full time, on limited acreage on Vashon Island. If you've not read it, I found it to be a really nice read. Candid, entirely, without romance, on the farming life; richly written, in my opinion. He milks, and makes and markets his cheeses.

Thank you again. You've given some nice food for thought.

Edit: NW Crow, looks like Port Madison Goat Farm and Dairy might be the people you were referring to? Moving on to many articles from there, on NW dairying and cheesemaking, so thank you for the heads up there as well. My wife was honored as a National Fellowship winner, to the International Pinot Noir Celebration, years ago; ever since, we've talked, but almost as quickly dismissed, any hope of being able to make a life out there.

Very helpful, your post, and once again, very much appreciated.

Last edited by Arfrom; 06-21-2011 at 02:45 PM..
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