Their motto is: “When you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves,” and so, Little Big Dairy near Dubbo in Central West NSW began. It is an incredible business, one of only a handful in the nation offering single source milk, meaning the milk comes solely from one farm, is processed on-site and sold directly to consumers.
For the family behind the business – quality, traceability and integrity are everything. The Chesworths come from a long line of dairy farmers but that hasn’t held them back from taking a risk by doing something different.
Owner, partner and matriarch of The Little Big Dairy Co, Erika Chesworth says a positive change was borne out of a lot negativity.
A difficult time for dairy
“It came at a time when our milk company was trying to stem supply and they put a cap on milk production and paid significantly below production costs for a third of our milk.
“It was also a time when our daughter Emma was turning 21 and our son, Duncan was coming to the end of his apprenticeship as a boilermaker and wanting to work at home.
“It was that convergence that realising nobody cared about the product more than we did,” she explains.
It was a time when consumers were buying milk for $1 a litre.
“Our processor in Sydney was no longer Australian owned. It was a gunky time!” Erika and the family put that energy into doing things their own way.
They now control the whole process from start to finish with their own brand and an on-site processing factory. Interestingly, nothing has changed in terms of what they do with their cows.
“It’s that ethos of doing all those little things properly, you end up with something that’s really good.”
Risk pays off
It has flowed through to positive relationships with big retailers and also individual customers. There’s no denying they risked a lot financially to set up this new model but the best outcome possible for Erika is that her three children have returned to work in the business, and are proud to do so. “It’s great but it’s been a ride,” she laughs.
Little Big Dairy now delivers 500,000 litres of milk to homes across NSW and the ACT.
Their local Dubbo community has been especially supportive, proving that consumers will pay more if they feel connected to the story of a business.
The good story of dairy
“We try to sell the good message of dairy. It’s an extremely wholesome, healthy food. It has sustained humanity for a long time. It’s a good story. Dairy is a good story.”
Erika also believes the taste is a big selling point, and puts that down to happy cows.
Attention to the animals’ care, soils and diet is extremely important. “That’s one of the reasons our milk tastes good. We do that well. For a large number of cows, we have consistency in diet. That leads to consistency in taste.”
When new staff come to work on the farm, they are taught that the milk in the bottle is the final product, there’s a lot that happens to get there!
Some local schools are very lucky to enjoy the benefits of that taste with donations to school breakfast programs and Indigenous after school care. “Being involved and sharing product with those that we know can’t afford it, is really nice. We were children who lived on cups of milk. It’s just simple, it’s giving back, it’s understated, it’s not flashy but it’s important,” Erika says proudly.
Dairy farming is synonymous with hard work but Erika believes working seven days a week brings with it a flexibility and freedom in each day. Despite putting in long hours, she is still surprised by how successful Little Big Dairy has been.”
We sort of had no idea what we were doing and lots of people would tell us you can’t really make success out of just selling milk but we have managed to do that.
There’s more work to be done, off the farm too. Erika feels there is still an erosion of trust between consumers and farmers. “There is a lot of idealism among voters but they are the same shoppers who will pick up products made off shore because they are cheaper. There’s a lot of contradiction.”
Erika’s ultimate dream for the future is to continue building that trust. “It would be lovely if that spilled into the broader agricultural space.”
The Chesworths are certainly up for the challenge, having already proved that from little changes, big things can happen.
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Great story about a great family having a red hot go and a truely beaut product. It’s milk that tastes like milk!
We’ll keep on buying it and enjoying it.