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Finding A Profit Niche

Family targets its own milk market

January 30, 2003 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Brian Confer
  George Shetler and Father Rollin Shetler (background)

George and Sally Shetler of Kalkaska have a unique farm (only 40 cows) and a specialty farm product (grass-fed, all-natural milk). Nobody cared, however, until the Shetlers found their way out of the mass market.
Since the 1980s, the Shetlers have fed Trixie, Neeta, Eva, and the rest of the herd only fresh grass and homegrown hay free of the costly, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that most farms use. George and Sally switched to all-natural production because they think it makes sense for their finances, for the earth, and for their family’s health.

But consumers had no idea until the family pursued a big dream, put months into market research, and found an open-minded lender. The result: The Shetler Family Dairy’s “From Moo to You” bottling and direct-delivery business.

Now, rather than give up on farming, George and Sally’s two oldest sons have come home from nonfarm jobs to help build the business and a family farming future.

“Our goal was to have something here for the grandkids,” George says.

The Shetlers knew they couldn’t do that in the mass market, where dairy farms are going into heavy debt and risking environmental catastrophe with mega operations that survive only on high-volume sales. They knew they had to pull their high-value milk out of the mass market and put it into a specialty niche.

By bottling the grass-fed milk themselves, the Shetlers can put their name on it and separate it from the typical supermarket jug, which comes from big processing plants where milk from all kinds of dairies mixes together.

Their local market of independent grocery stores from Petoskey to Traverse City now is rewarding the Shetlers with impressive sales and further profit potential. The family business broke even on expenses in its first 12 months bottling only half the herd’s milk.

The Shetlers are meeting their goal of providing incomes for multiple family members from one farm. And they project they’ll be able to do that for a long time given the large market demand and their loyal customer base.

Contacts: Shetler Family Dairy, 5436 Tyler Road, Kalkaska, MI, 49646,

New Agriculture Profiles: Rebuilding Local Markets

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