Dairy farm owners, Meike and Francois Laan

Small Dairy Farm From Norway – Litlvea Gård.

Litlvea Gård, family dairy farm from Norway, is an excellent example of a successful small dairy business. Its founders Meike and Francois Laan started it from scratch, and now their customers can enjoy fresh and natural dairy products all over the year. We believe that the story and experience of Meike and Francois will help you, our dear reader, to learn more about small dairy business and how to succeed in running it.

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What was the main reason for you to start your dairy business?
I used to volunteer on a small farm in Holland for a while. Besides everything else, this farm produced dairy products. That’s why when I met Francois a bit later, we decided to create our own small farm. We were going to create dairy products there.

Was it hard to do? As the owner, what main challenges did you face and overcome?
Here in Norway, sanitary norms are very strict. So we had to take a lot of things into account when building our production room. We built the production rooms ourselves. That was a lot of work together with the other farmwork, so it took us a while. We financed part of the building costs by selling a small part of our milking quotas (quotas are used to regulate how much milk a farmer can produce each year).

Which animals did you start with? How many animals do you have right now?
We had about 25 dairy cows at the farm. Now we have about 20.

Cows at family dairy farm
Enjoying fresh grass and beautiful landscape.

As far as I know, it’s much easier for dairies to sell milk only, but you decided to sell other dairy products as well. Why?
Yes, it is easier to sell just milk. But I wanted to produce and sell dairy too. I love cheesemaking and experimenting with different products and recipes.

Cheese at ageing room
Hard cheese at the ageing room

The production of dairy products requires deep knowledge. Where did you learn it?
Yes, every product has its own unique production technology. I didn’t attend any courses, but I did use a recipe book. The farmer from the Dutch farm recommended me this book, and it’s very informative. I used recipes from it, but I had to adjust each of them to our equipment and milk. There was a lot of trial and error, but that is how you learn. I also had some help from dairy experts.

Cheese press in action on the family dairy farm
Cheese press in action

What equipment did you need at the beginning for the dairy production?
This is of course dependent on what products you want to make, but we needed a 500-liter cheese kettle and a cheese press for the cheesemaking. We also have a milk separator and a butter churn to make cream and butter. Plus, we use a smaller kettle for making yogurt and Polish fresh cheese (tvarog).

Making room at family dairy farm
Making room

Running a farm and making dairy products requires a lot of time. How do you manage it?
It’s true. Even a small farm requires a lot of time and effort. Since it’s a family business, Francois takes care of the farm and the milking, and I make the dairy products. But we help each other. We could expand our business, but we don’t want to. We want to keep it just like it is now. Of course, if I or Francois get sick, we ask other people for help. But if we hire someone, they will earn more than us. Salaries are very high in Norway.

Cream separator is making cream from milk at family dairy farm
The cream separator is making cream

Was there a moment when there was too much to do and you felt like you were done?
Yes, we had such moments. But eventually, you survive them and continue working because despite the hard work, it’s precisely the lifestyle we both wanted. Right now, there is only me and Francois on the farm. Our kids are too small to help us.

What are the main advantages of a small dairy business compared to a big producer?
Mainly, it’s the quality and taste of the products. Dairy from a small farm is more flavorful, and a lot of people value that a lot. They like this taste more. Also, it’s our story. People like supporting local family businesses and they want to know which conditions these dairy products were made in.

Dairy Products from family dairy farm
Dairy products made at Litlvea Gård

Who are your main customers? How do you find them?
Surprisingly enough, initially our main clients were Germans who especially valued the quality of our products. Also, there are a lot of Polish people here in Norway, and they like our dairy too. Once, they asked us to make soft cheese that is very popular in Poland. They provided me with a recipe, and a while later, we could make this cheese.

Norwegians were a bit careful in the beginning. We sell a lot of our products on the local farm market, and when we started doing it, people were very interested. But they were standing two meters away from us and we had to convince them to come and try what we sell. Once they finally tried out products, they were very enthusiastic. Now things are different and there are more and more Norwegians among our customers. Also, we have a shop on the farm where we sell our products. But we sell way more on the market because our farm is a bit away from the city and people usually are not eager to drive to us. We are at the market about twice a month.

Dairy Farmer at a farmer's market
Meike at the local farmers market

Which products have become bestsellers at your dairy farm so far?
We used to want to have a wide choice of products, from different kinds of yogurts to various cheeses. But at the moment, we’re not there. We determined that our bestsellers are hard cheese, butter and sour cream. We always have them in stock. Other products are sold from time to time.

Dairy products in the fridge at family dairy farm
Dairy products are waiting for customers

I saw that you sell not only dairy products but also some herbs? Do you sell any other products?
Yes, we also sell spices, chocolate, jam and honey. We buy all these goods from other local producers. Now we’re focused solely on dairy. We’re planning to sell meat products, but those are just plans for now.

Cheese and jam
Cheese and jam

Is the dairy business your main source of income right now? How much did you need to make it profitable?
It’s hard to tell the exact numbers at the moment because we invested a lot of money in the beginning. But we can see how our income grows and our farm becomes profitable.

Was it your investment or a state investment?
We invested our own money.

Litlvea Gård from the sky
From the sky

Which side do you take in the raw vs. pasteurized milk debate? Why?
We prefer raw milk. But it is forbidden to sell raw milk in Norway, so we have to pasteurize it. However, we’re allowed to make cheese from unpasteurized milk, and we produce it. A woman from France fought for a long time for the right to make unpasteurized cheese in Norway, and she succeeded. So if we can use raw milk, we do it. Unfortunately, the food control institution is afraid of bacteria in milk, but this fear has no grounds.

Some people fight against dairy farmers because they think farmers abuse animals. What do you think about that? Were you ever involved in such disputes? We personally haven’t met these people, but we read about them in the newspaper. One of their concerns is how cows impact the climate. We think that there are industries that are way more dangerous for the environment than cows. To us, the solution is to eat locally produced, natural food. But farmers are an easy target. We’re located away from big cities where activists usually reside and act, so we don’t see them here.

Litlvea Gård
You are always welcome…

Would you like your children to be involved in the dairy business in the future?
We think that kids have to decide for themselves what they want to do in the future. At the moment, they’re too young to make a choice. We have three kids — the youngest is five years old and the oldest is seven years old. We see that one of them is interested in machines and mechanisms. And the youngest likes to feed the cows. They all say they want to have a tractor when they are bigger. But it is too soon to make predictions.

What challenges are you facing right now?
Now we are in a good place. Everything is stable and we don’t face any challenges. Sometimes equipment breaks, but that’s completely normal.

Where do you see your business in five years?
We like where we are now and I wouldn’t want to change anything. I like that the farm is our small family business. I want it to remain just the way it is now.

Soft cheese
Soft cheese

What advice would you give to people who would like to start and run a micro dairy as well?
Learn the local rules and unique conditions before starting your business. You need to understand the demands and find out which products are in demand, and then just take the first step. You have to understand that you won’t be able to succeed in everything right away. But you should keep trying. I think that’s important.

Visit the Facebook page of Litlvea Gård to learn more about Meike, Francois and their beautiful farm.

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