After 15 years of work and saving Carlie Brouwer and Rudolf van Dijk have achieved their dream - a boutique dairy farm where cows and their young family can enjoy a rural life.

"My family goes back to the early 1800s milking cows. Milking and dairy is my passion. Some people like fishing, cars, whatever. I like cows," Mr Van Dijk said.

He and his wife began raw milk sales to the public on Saturday, from their 30ha farm halfway between Marton and Bulls. Theirs is the sixth farm in New Zealand to join the Village Milk franchise.

It was a quiet but encouraging start, they said.

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They sold 50 litres and had people arriving all day, with some returning for more milk. Under New Zealand law they can sell up to five litres of raw milk to each customer per time, from their property.

They plan to have cows in milk year round, and milk once a day. At the moment they're milking 16, which takes an hour. Each cow gives 16-17 litres of milk a day, and they're looking for quality rather than quantity.

The milk is chilled from 39degC down to 7degC in half a minute, then held for up to 24 hours at 2-4degC. It's dispensed from a vending machine attached to the milking shed and costs $2.50 a litre.

Reusable bottles cost $4 each, or people can bring their own. Cream rises to the top of the bottles within 90 minutes.

Milk that doesn't sell is given to the calves and future excess could be made into butter, cheese or yoghurt.

It may take a while for that to happen though. It's been a huge effort and expense to take their bare piece of land this far in a year, and they have some trimmings to add.

Rudolf Van Dijk and Carlie Brouwer next to the vending machine. Photo/Bevan Conley
Rudolf Van Dijk and Carlie Brouwer next to the vending machine. Photo/Bevan Conley

They arrived in New Zealand from The Netherlands nine years ago, eager for opportunity. In Waikato they worked as farmhands for a year, then as lower order sharemilkers, then moved south to milk 1000 cows on Dan and Jane Nugent-O'Leary's farm in Bryce's Line near Marton. It was hard work, but they were glad to have it.

"Dan and Jane gave us an opportunity so that we could move ahead in life," Mr Van Dijk said.

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They bought a run-off in Woodville and traded in beef cattle. A year ago they bought the bare 30ha near Crofton and now live there with their three children.

Their dairy shed is right in the middle of the property.

Cows never have far to walk and customers can see from one side to the other.

"We have nothing to hide. What they see is what they get," Mr Van Dijk said.

The soil is Marton clay, and the herd is 30 KiwiCross cows. That's a stocking rate of one cow per hectare - low compared to the New Zealand average of 3.5/ha. They have consent to graze 60 animals, but don't need that many.

Everything the cows eat will be grown on the land, and Mr Van Dijk is aiming for a pasture with lots of clover to add nitrogen. They won't be using urea but fertilising with a seaweed mix and irrigating with effluent.

Their aim is to build a deep, healthy soil with lots of worms. They follow organic principles but have not sought organic status because they want to use antibiotics if cows get sick.

The cows will only be put to their Hereford bull or artificially inseminated when they are fertile, and those that don't get pregnant will not be culled.

"We don't want to push the cows with hormones. They will go to the bull when they are ready."

Calves will have 24 hours with their mothers to get colostrum, then be raised on the farm to 100kg and sold.

Their infrastructure is an eight-a-side milking shed, an Italian milk dispensing machine and a 750,000 litre effluent pond giving them eight months' storage for dairy shed waste. The cost and the size of it boggled Ms Brouwer at first, but it has some advantages.

"We can use the effluent at the best time for the grass."

People make lots of claims about the benefits of drinking raw milk, but these two take an all care/no responsibility line.

"I wouldn't say it's better for your health. I would say give it a try and make up your own mind," he said.

Raw milk contains live organisms that can harm the health of the young, the old and people with compromised immune systems, a notice at their dairy shed says.

"It's a raw product, so there can be risks."

But they follow strict Village Milk guidelines to prevent problems. They wear gloves while milking and keep every speck of dirt or poo out of the milk.

Photo/Bevan Conley
Photo/Bevan Conley

It's tested daily, and they aim for a count of less than 100,000 of the somatic cells that indicate a cow has mastitis. They won't be supplying milk if there are more.

Their cows are also vaccinated for salmonella and leptospirosis.

With bottles washed, the dispenser sterilised and reused bottles washed by customers the milk can be kept for two weeks in a refrigerator.

The couple visited raw milk outlets in the South Island before deciding to join the Village Milk franchise. Mr Van Dijk said Village Milk CEO Mark Houston was a farmer after his own heart.

"We saw how the animals got treated and we knew straight away that fits us."