What is a Herdshare?


Herdshares are about community food.

In California, there is no legal definition of a herdshare. However, the California Herdshare Association defines a Herdshare as a private, community-oriented, alternative and participatory food system whereby community members and farmers enter into a private contract to co-own or co-lease livestock in order to produce milk for their personal use. 

CHA has identified the following conditions as further marks of a herdshare–

1. Milk is picked up exclusively by individuals or their agents who have purchased or leased an ownership share in the herd and who have a genuine relationship with the farm where their livestock are boarded. No milk sales are made to the general public.

2. Membership in the herdshare is limited to an area geographically local the farm.

3. Farm is a “micro dairy” and produces no more than 30 gallons per day for human consumption so as to allow for artisan handling methods such as hand milking, usage of individual bucket milkers and hand-filling of jars. Production scale does not necessitate the use of automated equipment such as pipeline systems or bottle fillers.

Is it legal to sell raw milk in California?


Yes, in California raw milk may be legally sold in retail grocery stores, provided that the milk was produced in a licensed Grade A dairy and carries the appropriate state-required warning labels.  Would-be raw milk producers who are seeking a larger-scale, retail model for raw milk production may contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture for information about obtaining the necessary permits. Guidelines for building a Grade A compliant dairy facility and milk bottling plant can be dowloaded here:

Dairy Farm Guidelines.v.2011                Milk Plant Guidelines.v.2011


Why are Herdshares formed in California?


In many states where raw milk sales are either banned or severely restricted herdshares are formed as a means to gain access to raw milk that is otherwise unavailable. In California this is not the case. Here raw milk is legal for retail sale, so why would raw milk farmers need to organize herdshares?

California is a unique state for dairy producers. It leads the nation in milk production with 1.8 million head of dairy cattle and a yearly production of 41,000 million pounds of milk.   Our state regulations are well designed to address the needs of large-scale dairies  producing for a retail market.

However the needs of community-oriented, direct-relationship micro-dairies are not  currently well addressed by California’s dairy code. Grade A facility requirements are highly  prescriptive. Building a Grade A compliant dairy barn and processing plant will cost a farmer hundreds of thousands of dollars (See CA Code of Regs Title 3, Division 2, Chapter 1, Article 22.)

For the micro-dairy focused in direct relationship with their own community, these regulations are cost-prohibitive and do not fit. For this reason, micro-herds typically form private herdshares in order to operate.

Are Herdshares Legal in California?


Herdshares are neither explicitly legal nor illegal in California.  The term “herdshare” is not found anywhere in the California Code.  It is however legal to privately own livestock for your own production without a state license, and it is legal to negotiate private contracts in our state. Where herdshares generally draw scrutiny by the State of California is over the area of food safety.

In 2011, the California Department of Food and Agriculture issued Cease and Desist orders to four California herdshares, expressing safety concerns and requesting that the operations obtain dairy licenses.  Farmers and community members who valued their freedom to produce milk on the small and local scale claimed that obtaining the necessary license would be cost prohibitive, either forcing them out of production or into a larger retail model that no longer reflected their values.

A working group of farmers, regulators and public health workers was formed to create solutions to the regulatory and public health concerns presented by micro dairies. The attempt unfortunately did not result in an official resolution.

However herdshares have continued to operate openly in California with the full knowledge of the CDFA. Since 2011, no further enforcement has occurred. While the state does not officially recognize herdshares as legal, they at present have de facto legal status.


The Role of Safety


It is reasonable to assume that Herdshares in California will continue to enjoy the freedom to provide milk to their local communities as long as they demonstrate a track record of safety.

It is therefore imperative that herdshare operators make safety and good practices a high priority. While no set of safety standards can guarantee a 100% safe food, good information and good practices can significantly reduce the risk of illness.

CHA seeks to ensure the ongoing freedom for California herdshares to provide milk on the small scale directly to their communities by establishing best practices for its members. By voluntarily aligning with our own standards, CHA members accomplish several positive outcomes:

  1. Risk of illness outbreaks is reduced.
  2. Public health officials may be assured that science-based risk reduction practices are being observed by herdshares.
  3. State regulatory resources are conserved. Self-regulation creates no added work load on state regulators nor addtional taxpayer burden.