Cow-Share or Coop: How it Works

Cat's cow-share cowQuestion from Brenda: 


Can you tell me how the “shared” cow program works?


ESP Response

by Catherine Haug

(“My Cow” photo from Cat’s collection)

I belong to a raw-milk cow-share just south of Columbia Falls.  It works much like a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.

The farmer has 4 Jersey cows, which produce cream-rich milk.  He divides them into 1-gallon-per-week shares.  I own 1 share, which means I get 1 gallon every week, for which I paid an up-front fee (one-time) of $5.  If I ever drop out of the program (or forfeit ownership), I get my initial $5 investment back.

Each week I pay $5.50 when I pick up my milk.  That money is NOT for the milk, but rather for the care and maintenance of the cow. 

It works rather like a mutual fund, where each cow is one of the “companies” owned by the mutual fund.  When you buy a fund share, you own a little bit of each company in which the fund is invested.  You make regular payments (maintenance fees) for the maintenance of your share.  The milk is a “dividend” from your investment, paid when you pay your maintenance fee.

If you fail to pay your maintenance fee, you forfeit ownership and are no longer entitled to the dividend.  

Other Options

Now, some cow share programs require actual participation by the owners, in addition to the one-time fee, but then they pay less for their weekly dividend.  Such participation might include:
  • milking duty
  • feeding duty, or 
  • cleaning-the-barn duty.

If we organized a cow-share program, say using Bill Fischer’s farm and pasture, we might require the share owners to do some of the work. A few of the original investors would put up the up-front cash for the purchase of the cow(s).  Share members would take turns with milking, feeding and clean-up duty.  

We might also buy a pasteurizer for those who are leary of raw milk, but each member getting pasteurized milk would have to spend time on pasteurization duty.

Any profit made by the enterprise (after paying back the initial purchase-price of the cows), would be shared by the members on a share basis, perhaps every 2 years.

All such rules of operation would have to be decided upon before we began the operation, and then reviewed for needed changes after 6 months; a majority of share owners would have to agree on any changes.
I hope I answered your question.  The Real Milk website has more information on setting up a cow-share program. 

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