Barb and Kerry Buchmayer, Purdin, MO, start their mornings pretty much like other dairy farmers do: They milk and care for their cows.
But as owners of a certified organic dairy, the rest of their daily to-do lists are a lesson in complex multi-tasking. They negotiate with distributors. They manage part-time employees. They deal with equipment in need of repair.
"It certainly has been educational," she said. "Our background was in milk production, but we were clueless when it came to processing and marketing our milk. We figured we would sell all our organic milk in 10 stores, in Columbia, instead of the 45 stores we are in now."
But with determination and a solid foundation of experience in the dairy business, the Buchmayers are making their endeavor a success. They had about 50 years of combined dairy experience when they moved to Missouri, from New York state in 1996, and now they milk about 50 cows a day.
As a certified organic dairy--one of two in Missouri--they feed their cattle only organic hay, pasture and grain, and they don't use hormones or antibiotics.
They process and bottle the milk in their on-farm facility, which they designed. The building contains a milking parlor, processing and bottling facility and cooler.
The facility is a big key to their business, she said. The Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award program helped them build it.
The 24 by 170 foot building houses stainless steel equipment that shines like new--though most of it is about 50 years old. By today's standards, the Buchmayers process a small quantity of milk, so the smaller equipment they needed was impossible to find new.
"We put an ad in a farm paper and got the homogenizer, separator and pasteurizer from someone," she said. "Then, we got the labeler from someone else and the filler from someone else."
With the processing facility built and equipment in place, the Buchmayers faced a host of other challenges: Finding markets for their milk, transporting it and deciding whether to hire part-time help.
The business can be exhausting, Barb Buchmayer said.
"It is not to be entered into lightly," she said. "Even with a lot of experience, a network of friends in the business, good equipment and other assets, it still is a lot of work."
It is a lot of work, and a lot of worry, too. "Sometimes, we feel kind of isolated," she said. "When you are doing something like this and you have a problem, it is not like you can just call up your neighbor and ask what is working for them."
But consumers seem to be happy with their products, she said. Sometimes, they go out of their way to call and say so.
"Someone will call and say, 'We just had to tell you how much we like your milk,'" she said. In a demanding business, comments like that can make all the difference in the world.
"It is nice to know people appreciate it," she said.