Starting a Dairy

To establish a dairy in the State of Washington you will need to obtain a Grade A license from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) before selling milk to anyone. (Milk Producer’s Licensing Handbook). It’s best to consult with WSDA’s licensing department before and while you are actually constructing your milking parlor or processing facilities to ensure that your new dairy will meet their standards.

Know who or what your market is. Write a business plan before doing anything so that you know who your market is, that you have a buyer, and what kind of milk you will produce. Seek assistance from the Northwest Agricultural Business Center located in Mount Vernon or from the Snohomish County Washington State University (WSU) Extension office located in Everett. Also see WSU’s dairy site for a variety of topics.

After receiving a Grade A dairy license, you will need an approved Dairy Nutrient Management Plan (DNMP) within six months of receiving a Grade A dairy license. Dairy plans can be obtained from the Snohomish Conservation District (SCD). Dairy plans are approved by the board of SCD. Contact SCD as soon as you get your license to give the planner plenty of time to write your dairy plan. You will be required by WSDA to implement the approved dairy plan and have that certified by SCD within 12 months of receiving the approved dairy plan. Both the approved plan and the certified plan need to be registered with WSDA’s Dairy Nutrient Management department. Generally, WSDA’s nutrient management inspector will visit your farm every 18 months. This is entirely separate from the inspections of the dairy parlor or processing facilities.

Running a dairy of any size is a complex operation involving breeding, herd health and comfort, feeding and nutrition, production monitoring, sanitation, shelter, manure and nutrient management, silage and hay production, grazing and so on. It is too extensive of a topic to cover in brief. It’s best to work on a dairy to gain experience if you’re entirely new to dairy.