I have gotten a lot of questions about what are herdshares since originally writing this post in October of 2020, so I want to address some of them and go into a little more depth for everyone. When I originally wrote this, I think I treaded lightly on certain aspects, as to not step on the toes of the current industry or come across in a certain way. I wanted to give a good description of what herdshares were but also make sure I didn’t push someone one way or another. That’s all good and fun, but it makes it difficult for people to understand the differences between what we are doing and what you can purchase in the store. I have, in a sense, grown out of that tiptoe stage and like to educate people on how we are different and why you want to learn about it. Ready to dive in with me? Let’s do this!
A herdshare is a contractual arrangement between a farmer and an owner of livestock – the shareholder or member – through which the shareholder can obtain raw milk, meat, offal, and other profits of the livestock proportionate to the shareholder’s interest in the herd. A herdshare enables consumers to obtain raw (unpasteurized) milk in a jurisdiction that may otherwise prohibit the sale of raw milk.
What does that really mean? It means that the government agencies cannot regulate raw milk sales, so they have made it illegal (or tried) in most of the United States. (Each state has different rules and regulations, so please check your state by going to Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and viewing the map.) With these regulations, farmers and consumers have come up with creative ways to bypass them to be able to offer/consume these products. In my opinion, if someone wants to go to a farm and buy a product from that farmer, there should be no regulation on that. Why can’t we as consumers decide what food we want to consume? Why can’t farmers offer these choices to their communities without having to jump through tons of hoops and contracts?
If you checked out the map on Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, you probably noticed that Ohio falls in the category of herdshares are legal. What does that mean exactly? That means we cannot ‘sell’ raw milk for human consumption, BUT we can consume raw milk from a cow we own. In order for consumers who do not live on the farm to consume raw milk, they need to own a cow or a part of a herd. This is essentially what a herdshare is. A consumer ‘buys’ a part of a cow or herd (herdshare), and they ‘pay’ the farmer to take care of their cow or herd share and in return get raw milk or a raw dairy product from that animal.
There is a contract that goes along with this transaction, so both parties are aware of their roles. The farmer ‘sells’ the consumer however many herdshares they are interested in, and in return, the consumer gets products each week. This transaction can look very different for each farm especially farms in different states. The farmer is responsible for caring for the herd of animals (housing, feed, milking, care, and any unexpected bills), and in return, the consumer pays a monthly boarding fee for this care. Included in this monthly boarding fee are products from the animals for the consumer to pick up each week. These products can be a wide range of things such as milk, butter, buttermilk, cream, cheese, yogurt, and so on.
Depending on the products the consumer is wanting each week depends on the number of herdshares they will need to buy and how much their monthly boarding fee is going to be. More products or a large volume of products equals more work on the farmer hence a larger monthly boarding fee. I will do my best to explain the different fees below.
When buying into a herdshare, your herdshare fee is a one-time fee that is refunded if you ever want to sell your herdshare back. This is your cost of buying a ‘part’ of the cow or herd and is collected when you sign the contract. Each herdshare has not only a monetary value but a product value as well. For example, let’s say one herdshare has a monetary value of $50 and a product value of 1 gallon of milk. If you would like to pick up 1 gallon of milk each week, you would purchase one herdshare at $50. If you need 2 gallons of milk each week, you would buy two herdshares for a total of $100, and so on. Again this is your one-time fee that is refunded if you want to sell your herdshare back to the farmer.
Once you have bought into the herd, you would pay your monthly boarding fee. This fee would include your cost to take care of the animal(s) and to receive products back in return. Let’s stay on the topic of milk. If you bought one share, that would equal your 1 gallon of milk a week. So you would then pay your monthly boarding fee of around $30 (remember these are all examples, and each farm’s fees will vary), and in return, you would get 4-5 gallons of milk that month depending on how the weeks fall. If you bought two or three shares, you would get 2 or 3 gallons of milk a week and pay more for your boarding ($60-$90). Depending on the farm depends on what products you could receive each week. Please contact us for a list of our current available dairy products on our herdshare program.
Currently, our herdshare program only involves raw dairy products. This is not for meat, eggs, or vegetables, although our current herdshare members get first access to these products at regular price once they become available. This is one of the many perks that go along with being a member.
Have I answered the question of What Are Herdshares? If you are looking for more information or have questions, please feel free to reach out to us. I am currently working on more resources for you that you will soon be able to find below. I cannot wait to dive deeper into the raw milk movement and help you get back to your roots of knowing your farmer.
Not from Ohio? Check to see if your state allows the sale of raw milk or if you need to find a herdshare here.
Interested in buying a herdshare with us? Contact Megan here.