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Happy dairying

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Glen was educated at Lincoln and even contemplated taking over his parents’ Southland dairy unit at one stage. However, the more he experienced the pressures of modern dairying, the more convinced he became that there had to be another way – one that delivered happier lives for cows, and for farmers.

Back in 2014, he embarked on a four-year mission to found the Happy Cow Milk company, one he was determined to make a difference with, providing sustainably produced milk in glass bottles from farm systems that left the calf on their mothers.

The hurdles he met and overcame were immense. They included challenges as bizarre as being unable to source recyclable glass bottles in a country awash with bottled products of every other sort, to constructing an approved portable farm dairy that could be taken into the paddock to milk the mums whilst their calves were around.

It was a tough path he had chosen; struggling to scale up and maintain an affordable product within the premium end of the milk market was no easy feat.

“Getting the scale was tough, it was like there was work for three but only enough money for two, and we had to shut down in 2018.”

However, what came next proved his idea was sound, it was just the mechanics of the business model that needed a revisit.

He declared defeat on Facebook, only to have hundreds of messages of support within hours of doing so, including crowdfunding suggestions.

Glen says that’s when his “fatal flaw” emerged, his relentless optimism, and Happy Cow Milk 2.0 was born.

Within eight hours he had crowdsourced $400,000, ultimately raising $1.0 million for a completely revamped business model that would give him the scale, and farmers the option to pursue a new approach to dairying.

“We needed to reinvent our distribution. Now so much of what we do is helping farmers who want to run a Happy Cow system get their regulations and systems in place. When you run it all yourself like I did, it’s easy to fall behind in your paperwork, then you get audited, and you get pulled up on it and it all gets on top of you.”

Happy Cow Milk 2.0 has Glen supplying the technology and regulatory systems to farmers signing onto the system, taking his hard-earned lessons, and making the pathway easier for them.

It also includes providing participating farmers with the kit and software they need to process the milk to the right standard for retail to customers, including the pasteurisation plant.

Farmers put the milk into pasteurising kegs, delivering them to milk retailers which could include cafes, schools, or home delivery milkmen.

His new version has eliminated the tricky business of packaging, with customers bringing their own bottles to farmers, and the tanks capable of being monitored for temperature and quantity for real-time tracking.

“We are really trying to remove the barriers for people trying to sell their milk locally, and that includes the headaches.”

He is kicking off the project in small steps, with north Waikato farmer Chris Falconer being the first farmer supplier from his Waeranga property.

Chris milks 320 cows but is selling a small portion of his milk under the Happy Cow logo, with the bulk of production otherwise heading to Synlait.

One of his first bulk customers is Saint Paul’s Collegiate in Hamilton, a school with a strong agri-business focus, and students with an interest in innovative approaches to farming.

Glen has also had interest from a US beef farmer keen to run cows, and longer term is planning to have 37 farmers both here and abroad using the system.

“We are working on it being viable for a small herd of about 30 cows, it should be possible to generate a profit of about $80,000 from a one-person business.”

He sees significant potential in the new business model opening up a land use option to smaller landowners wanting to supply their local community with sustainably produced milk.

For established farmers who already have a farm dairy, the integration of Happy Cow’s calf-on system is relatively easy, and they have the ability to scale up from their conventional farm system as they see fit.

“Taking out 10 percent of your herd makes it a good business move that can triple your per-litre milk value.”

With the new model Glen also aims to be in a better position to help oversee milk flows, identifying where holes in supply may open up due to suppliers ceasing milking over winter, for example.

“We can help bring in other farmers to pick up the surplus, or to fill in the gap.”

The coming few months bring another (and hopefully final) funding round for Happy Cow, while Glen is also hoping to establish a company farm in Canterbury with an industry partner.

After his initial defeat, Glen says he feels fortunate to be able to pick up the pieces and re-invent Happy Cow.

“So many people wanted to buy our milk, and for us, we really wanted to make a difference. As farmers come under pressure to lower their environmental impact, we see ourselves as a solution to help with that.”

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