Glen Herud of Happy Cow Milk at his mobile milking station in happier times. Photo: Nancy Zhou

‘Your support brought me to tears’: Glen Herud on life after his Happy Cow story went viral

His company has been liquidated, his mobile milking shed sold for a song. But Glen Herud is not giving up on his ethical milk mission.

Last month, we hit the wall and shut the doors – but our customers encouraged us to go on.

I founded the Happy Cow Milk Company in 2012, and my mission was to create a more ethical and sustainable diary model.

In April, I faced the hard reality that I couldn’t do it. I was out of money and out of energy. But when I announced I was shutting down, something amazing happened; this passionate community of supporters told me not to give up.

People heard about my story and wrote from all around the world asking how they could help make Happy Cow rise again. After my article for The Spinoff, our Facebook following increased by 3,994% and more than 6000 people signed up to our email list. The story went global and I’ve fielded messages of support from Sweden, Finland, Singapore, China, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and the USA.

This reassures me that people are into sustainable agriculture, and it’s not just millennials or urban professionals. It’s across all demographics – young, old, high income, low income, politically left and politically right. I feel this is part of a mood sweeping across the world where people are saying they’re not comfortable with some aspects of industrial agriculture.

Founder Glen Herud with his cow 47 (Photo by Nancy Zhou)

For 20 years we’ve seen reports and presentations talking about New Zealand as the “clean green” producer to the world. New Zealand milk is referred to as “sustainable” or “pasture fed”, but no one is doing it with any real commitment. When farmers talk emissions, it’s normally in the context of how can they make sure farmers are excluded from the emission trading scheme.

When I started Happy Cow Milk, I had no land and no money to buy land. But to test my ideas, I needed to run my own farm. That’s a pretty tough brief.

It took me a year of thinking, but eventually the mobile cowshed idea came into my head. It allowed me to lease land and set up my dairy farm for a fraction of the cost.

I want to change the dairy model; I want milk from cows that get to stay with their calves. I want milk that’s better for the environment.

Research from Lincoln University shows that we in New Zealand can milk a cow, turn the milk into cheese, ship it across the world to the UK – and that block of cheese will have half the carbon footprint of a block of cheese made locally in the UK.

There is almost no country in the world that could even try and attempt carbon neutral dairy and still be profitable, but it’s actually incredibly simple. If a New Zealand dairy farm plants 50% of its land with trees, it would be carbon neutral.

We need to forget everything we know about retailing and distribution and start with a blank sheet of paper to ask: “How can carbon neutral dairy be done?”

With enough thought, I’m sure we can design a system from the farm gate to the customer that meets the brief. So we’re going to have another crack at designing sustainable dairy – but it’s getting hard. 

I head into the BizDojo every day, and I’m trying to put together deals and talk to investors – but I’ve probably only got about two weeks left before I need to get in some money.

The trading company, Milking on the Moove, liquidated earlier this month and I need to get a job. I’ve applied for about 30 jobs, but people can Google my name and see I want to start my business again. Who is going to hire me?

Happy cows at the mobile milking shed. (Supplied)

It’s placed a huge strain on my marriage, and I’ve lost everything.

The liquidator owns everything now, and they are selling everything for such small amounts that secured creditors are not going to get paid. There’s a possibility of bankruptcy because I’ve committed to paying it back personally. I’m hoping to have some money in place before then, and I’m hoping something will happen just in time.

There’s been a lot of interest from investors, and people wanting to help. I’m building a proposal to send to interested corporates that got in touch. I’m looking at a new distribution model with a view to launching again in Auckland and Christchurch, hopefully in six to eight months. We’re talking with a few farmers in the North Island; I think we need to be near the city.

We are on the right track, but now I have to rely on our fans to help this work out.

The support I’ve received has brought me to tears. It’s amazing to know that you care about animal welfare and the environment too. The dairy industry is a bit of a beast – quite resistant to change. But we got very close. And the people who enjoyed our delicious milk felt so good supporting better dairy.

(Image: supplied)

So just weeks after landing at rock bottom and admitting defeat, I find myself more determined than ever to make it work.

I know exactly what I need to do. I created a new way to farm (calves stay with their mothers for 15 weeks). I created a new way to milk (mobile milking is easy on mums and reduces nitrate build-ups). I created my own bottling facility for re-usable glass bottles instead of plastic.

Now, I need to re-invent the system of distribution. And I need to get some proper financial backing to make sure I don’t end up here again.

Investors are starting to take notice and I really feel it’s all within reach now. But it will require me to focus hard for about six months.

With your help, I can make the Happy Cow 2.0 dream a reality (and still feed my kids). I’ve set up a Patreon; I’m hoping people would support by paying $5 a month.

Any money raised above and beyond my costs of living will go to these people who supported my business and deserve to be paid.

Your support will also send a signal to potential investors that I’m not completely crazy, that people really do want an alternative dairy model for New Zealand – and they are willing to back it.

This is the first in a series of articles following Glen Herud’s attempts to launch Happy Cow Milk 2.0.


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