Timaru dairy farmers Stu and Andrea Weir are looking
forward to opening a Village Milk outlet on their farm
later this month. Photo supplied.
When Village Milk chief executive Mark Houston moved from
South Canterbury to Golden Bay in 2010, he was looking for a
After more than 30 years as a dairy farmer, milking cows was
not initially on his agenda. Dairy farming was in the Houston
family's blood. They started supplying milk back about 1890.
Mark and Phillippa Houston initially farmed near Rotorua,
before converting a 200ha cropping property at Temuka to milk
up to 800 cows, supplying Fonterra.
When they moved to Motupipi, Mr Houston thought he would run
some beef cattle and do some fishing.
But then he got thinking about a disused cowshed on the
property, which had not been used for about 25 years.
''It was feeling a bit lonely to be honest,'' he joked.
They started milking one cow for their own use, and for
family and friends, and decided it was the ''real thing''.
Mr Houston did a lot of research on raw milk and travelled to
Italy to look at milk dispensers which were fairly common
He decided to go down the path of a more ''pure version'' of
dairy farming, using
cows that had been DNA tested for A2.
The Houstons got a licence to import the automatic milk
dispensers and Village Milk was born.
Rather than ''going hell for leather'' and trying to sell
machines around the country, they thought they should set a
high standard themselves.
The pilot scheme at their Golden Bay farm began at the end of
2011 and it led to inquiries from farmers and consumers
throughout the country.
There were now Village Milk farms also at Moutere, Greymouth,
Oxford, and Gordonton (near Hamilton), with the latest farm
opening in Timaru on February 24.
For Mr Houston, who is the company's chief executive, joined
by son Richard as managing director, the journey was all
about milk quality.
''There is a risk with raw milk. It's not plain sailing.
Every drop of milk isn't suitable.
''It's got to be done properly and conscientiously to make
sure the public are safe.
''It's all to do with attitude ... being aware that little
girl there that is going to drink the milk. It's your
responsibility she doesn't get sick,'' he said.
There were ''huge upsides'' to raw milk, which he believed
was significantly better than processed milk.
''Once you've done the substantial amount of research on raw
milk ... you realise, in time, it'll have a huge effect on
the health spend. It's like a superfood really,'' he said.
Raw milk had a ''bad rap'' for a long time and it was about
educating the general public.
Demand for better food was increasing and he encouraged
consumers to consider raw milk.
''It's the real thing. It's what our ancestors have been
drinking for 9000 years. We've only really had this other
version in the last 50 to 100 years.
''The biggest thing I get a buzz from is when people say,
`Wow, this is cool, this is the best thing ever and the taste
is amazing,' and you say, `That's what milk is supposed to
taste like','' he said.
If anybody was keen to open a Village Milk operation on their
farm, and they had the right skill-set, the Houstons' would
have a ''good chat'' to them, Mr Houston said.
Being a direct retailer to the consumer - ''there's no middle
man'' - was a good business plan, as it was vertically
integrated, he said.
Timaru dairy farmers Stu and Andrea Weir had long been
interested in the concept of raw milk and were quick to
initiate discussions regarding opening a Village Milk
Their farm had been bought by his grandfather in the early
Their location on Fairview Rd, on the southern boundary of
the city, was a key reason for the decision, and they often
had people calling in wanting to buy milk direct from the
farm, Mr Weir said.
It also added value to the product, which was unaffected by
world product prices. They would continue to milk cows for
Fonterra as well as 20-odd cows for Village Milk.
The Village Milk cows would be kept separate and milked at
the end of the main milking.
There was a lot of interest in the initiative with phone
calls every day from people wanting to know when it was
He agreed there was increased interest from consumers in what
they were consuming.
A few years ago, it was probably ''more the green element''
and cheese makers who wanted raw milk, but now that demand
had spread to families.
Mr Weir believed there was huge potential for the venture.
''I reckon there'll be one outside every town in New Zealand
before long,'' he said.