PLAINFIELD, Vt. (AP) - Frank Kipe thought he had everything he
needed to launch a business selling what he described as the
world's most expensive ice cream: two Jersey cows, a 10-acre farm
and an old barn.
Then he found out that he would have to pasteurize his milk
before making his ice cream. Equipment for commercial farms was
bulky and cost tens of thousands of dollars, so he built his own
pasteurizer. Then he built more to sell. His pasteurizer business
boomed, and the ice cream was forgotten.
With small dairies popping up nationwide to meet the growing
demand for locally produced food, the market for equipment for
five-cow, 10-sheep and 20-goat operations has grown, too. Major
manufacturers long ago gave up producing equipment for small
dairies, which seemed to be a thing of the past, leaving the field
open for entrepreneurs like Kipe.
He sold two small pasteurizers the first year to his milk
inspector's other clients. In the six years since, he has sold
about 160 to dairies in about 30 states along with Bermuda, Kosovo
and Australia. He expects to sell up to 80 this year, installing
them himself with his wife. His biggest markets have been New York,
Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont.
"The key thing is to be flexible," Kipe said, "so that's why
we designed our pasteurizer, for example, to work as a legal
pasteurizer. But it will also work as a cheese vat, it'll also work
as a kefir or yogurt incubation vat, and it will even work as a
small bulk tank to store the milk until you are ready to process."
Pasteurization is a process in which milk is heated to kill
disease-causing organisms. Federal law requires milk and most other
dairy products to be pasteurized before sale to the public.
Kipe's system, sold by MicroDairy Designs in Smithsburg, Md.,
includes a large vat where milk is heated to 145 degrees for 30
minutes. Another system designed by a Vermont farmer pulls the milk
through a heater at a gallon per minute, warming it to 161 degrees
for 15 seconds before it is quickly cooled.
"For probably 30 years there wasn't a market for these very
small operations and now there is a market and so now we're
starting to see the equipment coming in," said Dan Scruton, the
Vermont Agency of Agriculture's dairy section chief. "Some's being
imported, some's being developed around the United States and in
Sharon Peck and her daughter Kim Ingraham invested about $16,000
in one of Kipe's pasteurizers about two years ago to process milk
from their herd of about 50 Nigerian dwarf goats at Willow Moon
Farm in Plainfield, Vt. Their model has two different-sized inserts
for the vat, allowing them to process 15 to 35 pounds of milk at a
time for their fresh chevres and feta.
"It's really nice for us because this time of year we have much
less milk, so she's able to use the smaller vat," Peck said. "And
in another few weeks she'll swap that for the bigger one because
she'll be in full swing for the season."
About half of Kipe's customers make cheese, and he said most
make a variety of products, including yogurt, kefir and flavored
Steve Judge and five investors spent more than $1 million and
six years to develop the Bob White Systems pasteurizer, which they
hope to get approved for sale in Vermont this summer and then
expand to other states.
Judge, who milks four cows that produce about 20 gallons of milk
a day in South Royalton, said the system was designed to fit
dairies like his, which produces enough milk to supply about 60
families on a regular basis. He plans to sell it for about $35,000.
His company also sells bulk tanks, small milking equipment and
livestock supplies and is developing small butter churns and
bottlers. Sales grew by nearly 40 percent last year.
"Because that end of the market is so underserviced, because
everybody just gave up on it," Judge said.
He plans to set up a free demonstration pasteurizer at Jersey
Girls Dairy in Chester, where Lisa Kaiman hopes to one day bottle
her own milk and make sweet cream butter and ricotta and mozzarella
cheeses. With pasteurization, she can diversity her products and
sell to local chefs and the public, earning more than if she kept
selling milk wholesale.
There's a "huge potential," Kaiman said. "I can move all my
own product. I can move all my own milk. I don't have to rely on
While even small pasteurizers are a big investment for small
farms, Peck said she wasn't concerned about losing money because
she figures she'll be able to sell the equipment if she gets out of
"Used dairy equipment is snatched up pretty quickly," she