“Shrinking” the size of their dairy cattle while maintaining milk solids production has been a successful strategy adopted by a young Western Australian family.
Since the Miller family opened the doors to the first ice creamery in the Cowaramup district, near Margaret River in the south west of the state – soon after Christmas last year – the accolades haven’t stopped. Locals and visitors alike are embracing the family-friendly tourist attraction, which sits comfortably alongside the family’s commercial dairy farming operation.
The new venture is the realisation of a dream for the Millers who have long held a desire to value-add to the milk their herd produces.
“The ice creamery is about moving forward in an industry that has had a lot of ups and downs in the last 10 years,” Trish says.
Paul Miller is a third generation dairy farmer. He and Trish are determined to stay in the industry and give their two young children the opportunity to grow up in a country environment. However, Miller admits his enjoyment of the business and lifestyle has been deeply tested in recent years.
“For many years the WA dairy industry has developed on the theory that the more milk you produce the more money you make,” he says. “So over the years our family has been expanding our business with the purchase of more land and increasing herd size. But in recent years, the reality of that expansion has had no correlation to increased income. We have not been rewarded for all our efforts.”
About two years ago the Millers bought a former group settlement cottage with the aim of turning it into accommodation for workers on their expanding business. However, milk prices dropped and their focus changed.
“Not long after we had finished refurbishing the cottage we were sitting on the deck enjoying a coffee and for the first time really appreciated what we saw before us – a tranquil rural scene in the heart of Margaret River’s tourist precinct,” he explains.
“The venue is an attraction in itself. It dawned on us that the way to go forward was to share what we had with the public.”
The Millers considered short-term farm stay accommodation, but factors such as occupancy rates and the fact they would probably need more accommodation steered them away from this. They both did cheese making courses with the idea that it could be the way to go, but there were already two similar businesses close by. In addition to this, Paul admits that he is not passionate about cheese.
“I believe that if you are not passionate about doing something you will not do it well.”
The idea just grew and eventually morphed into ice cream as it appealed as a product that they could do and do well.
“We figured that if we didn’t do ice cream in the area, someone else soon would and we’d lose our market opportunity,” Miller says. “The nearest ice creamery is at Dunsborough (35km away) so our venture fits in well with tourism in this area. We have filled a void.”
In May last year, the Millers lodged their plans with the shire. Meanwhile, they set about creating a car parking area and started landscaping before winter set in – highly confident that their plans would gain approval.
“We spent a lot of money employing consultants to help us deal with government regulations, departments and issues like quality assurance. But it was money well spent. We covered all bases to make sure what we were doing complied with all regulations, we had to get it right from the start.”
Once the Millers chose to make ice cream they set about sourcing recipes, equipment and, most importantly, the right tuition.
“We had booked flights to Melbourne where we had located what we would need, but then found a fantastic one-stop shop in Perth which offered us everything,” Paul says. “But we went to Melbourne anyway, we needed the break!
Their ice cream making equipment is from Italy and comes highly recommended.
“We are in the process now of sourcing local products to use as flavourings and hope to eventually source everything we need from our local area.”
Millers Ice Cream offers 12 flavours at any one time and the menu is evolving – Paul believes the number of flavour combinations is only limited by imagination.
“We offer anything made from milk at the cottage shop and it’s all manufactured on-site,” he says. “Currently there’s iced coffee, coffee, milkshakes, chocolates and we are looking at expanding the menu. We also offer sorbets and a dairy-free product that I defy anyone to say doesn’t taste like dairy.”
The ice creams are offered in cones or old-fashioned buckets and there’s a one-litre takeaway option.
The family’s Holstein herd currently produces 3000 litres daily and their requirement for ice cream manufacture is a very small percentage of that.
They’ve adopted a steady as you go attitude to their business after a busy 12 months, but the future is looking very bright and they continue to explore new opportunities. A few local restaurants have shown keen interest in their products, but they want to ensure everything is going well before they take on more.
Visitors to the venue have a range of activities to enjoy. Trish Miller says the whole concept is very child-focussed.
“This is about the kids,” she says. “As parents of young children we have noticed that a lot of tourist venues are more adult-oriented. We wanted this to be very family friendly.”
She says they spent a lot of time sourcing the right kind of playground equipment and settled on a solid, treated-wood model that is proving very popular.
“Visitors have plenty of picnic tables to choose from and parents are able to watch their children safely play from a number of vantage points. There is a small bush walk as well, and we have two wooden cows available for people to try their skill at hand milking.”
Reprinted with permission from The Landmark Livestock Informer.