OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Water Buffalo Mobile Dairy

A solar-powered Mobile milking parlor on a 34-foot trailer, designed to follow the herd on a rotational grazing system.

Photo of Office RockingTTBar

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Rocking TT Bar

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Greenline Architects, CORE (Community Office for Resource Efficiency) and Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Division of Environmental Health & Sustainability

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Carbondale, Colorado

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Roaring Fork Valley is an area in Colorado on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains which covers 4,000km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Roaring Fork Valley is a rural mountain community with a long history of cattle and ranching. This rich history in ranching began in the mid 20th century. Some of the families that tie us to a time when potatoes and railroads were more important than chairlifts and powder days are still here, being stewards to the land. History gets replaced rather quickly here, and the past can seem more like entertainment than education, but this community is built strongly around food; where it comes from, who grew or raised it, and how the land was treated. The Roaring Fork Valley is a place where, even in 2020, you may be late to work because of a cattle drive running down Main Street. I have lived here for over ten years and as a food producer I want to contribute to the successful continuation of farming and ranching here. I often marvel at the sense of community that the people here have forged and am honored to be connected via my stewardship of the land and the animals I raise.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

When thinking about what sustainability means to this community, I know it extends beyond just solar panels and electric vehicles. To this community it means coming together to make a life and be connected to the environment around us. The ranching community that gives the character to this area has decreased in size due to the high cost of production and farmers aging out of the industry. As a result of increasing demand for housing, land value has increased dramatically and agricultural production is declining. However, a strong effort has been made by conservation groups and county efforts to protect agricultural lands from further development, creating opportunities for farmers to lease land and create management plans for this protected land. 

The Roaring Fork Valley is largely comprised of a population with a high awareness of food nutritive value and importance of eating healthy. Along the forty some miles stretching for Glenwood Springs to Aspen you can find bustling farmers markets 5 days a week during the summer. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) programs are in high demand and all of the farms in the region sell out of shares on a yearly basis. There are a few raw dairies in the region but currently the supply does not meet the demand. Restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley that are most successful are those sourcing local produce and meat; creating seasonal rotating menus based on what is available. 

The people living in this Valley are known for being active and accessing many of the available outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, fly fishing, high alpine hiking, rafting, skiing, backcountry snow sports, horseback riding, etc. Diet plays an important role in the lives of the residents of this region and a few local organizations even offer programs that provide funding to farmers in exchange for CSA shares for families that are food insecure.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A new model for small dairy production is necessary to avoid total consolidation of the industrial dairy industry. Increasing consumer demand for animal welfare, healthy food, and the protection of the environment are some of the forces changing the dairy business as it currently exists. High cost of agricultural land and investments related to building a milking parlor are real obstacles for beginner dairy farmers. 

In the industrial dairy industry, the push for high production and uniformity has reduced the genetic diversity of bovine dairy breeds. This reduction in the gene pool limits the capacity of the animals to face upcoming environmental changes and increases the risk of genetic mutations. The industry is facing now an unforseen consequence of artificial insemination and embryo transfer breeding techniques to increase milk production; "more than 99 percent of them can be traced back to one of two bulls, both born in the 1960's. That means among all the male Holsteins in the country, there are just two Y chromosomes." (Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 98, Issue 4, April 2015, pg. 2738-2745)

In general, large-scale dairy operations use between 500 and 1800 kWh/cow-year; 46% of this on milk harvesting (vacuum pump, cooling, etc.), 46% on lighting and ventilation, and 6% for feeding, etc.. (

As our current food system stands, farmers are left relying heavily on stakeholders, large technology, big banks, etc.. The mobile dairy is a tool to empower farmers to remain productive on a small scale and for beginning farmers to get into the dairy industry in a creative and independent way. While the trailer would be used primarily for dairy purposes, it would also serve as a mobile animal care unit. Animals could be weighed on a daily basis, milk output measured, wellness exams performed, etc. within the bays of the trailer, without having to transport the animal off the rangeland. By taking a low-tech approach, the farmer maintains independence from stakeholders, large technology, and data companies, creating an environment with food, market, and energy independence, all while keeping jobs local and in-house and providing the highest level of animal welfare possible. 

With the help of the State of Colorado and a representative from the FDA, we are designing the first certified mobile milking trailer in the state. By working directly and openly with the state, we hope to encourage policy changes that adapt to meet the needs of the farmers that they affect. This trailer will meet all food safety guidelines required by the state. 

As the occurrence of events such as fire and drought are likely to rise in many parts of the world by 2050, this design offers flexibility for the small-scale dairy industry. With the global population projected to increase by nearly 2 billion by 2050, sustainable, small-scale solutions need to be developed. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

An innovative way to overcome these hurdles is to build a milking parlor on a flatbed gooseneck trailer to manage a milking herd using a rotational grazing model. This method reduces the initial cost of investment and overall operating cost as well as opens the opportunity to lease agricultural land in remote locations without utility services available. This model is a competitive alternative to industrial dairy practices and allows for maximum environmental health, healthy rangeland, high animal welfare, and would allow for milk production while attending to the natural habits and seasonal grazing cycles of ruminants. 

Creating opportunities for small dairy systems encourages genetic diversity and healthy breeding of animals.

With this model we eliminate energy costs related to feeding and those related to milking will be offset by the solar energy production. This model allows the farmer to reduce energy costs by up to 75% and become self-reliant. 

A mobile milking parlor allows for attention to soil conservation, water conservation, and energy savings. By bringing the dairy to the herd, nutrients are allowed to be returned to the soil when manure is evenly distributed across the pasture system, resulting in increased soil fertility from this rich source of organic matter. Overgrazing is avoided by moving the animals often as and allowing pasture to rest after being grazed. Water is conserved with this mobile method because water used to clean after use is returned directly to the water table which it originated. In addition, water use is reduced overall and pollution of local water sources is avoided because waste or grey water is released at a different location daily. Having the flexibility to move the herd and the dairy operations in case of fire, drought, etc. is crucial for financial security of most operations as well as reduces reliance on outside sources of feed, an often high energy expense. 

"Due to enteric methane produced through ruminal fermentation, ruminants are a significant source of GHG emissions, but grazing ruminants also provide environmental benefits and ecosystem services (Beauchemin and McGeough,2013). Ecosystem services may include beneficial preservation of habitats for wildlife and improved biodiversity with grazing systems" (Del Prado et al.,2013).

The mobile dairy is a model that can be implemented in a dairy cooperative model as well. By re-imagining the dairy portion of a food system and breaking it up into sustainable regional systems, it can enhance the system in a way that ensures supplies remain affordable and stable and protects the poor and most vulnerable from the risk of social and environmental volatility. A mobile dairy shifts the focus from food security to nutrition security and allows for adapting to the effects of climate change on food systems. It creates a pathway for the present to the future by addressing issues that are only going to have a more severe impact on our current food systems. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We want our customers to know where their food came from and feel confident in the quality of the product. If we aren't taking steps towards developing a healthier food system, especially as communities, we won't see the improvements we need to implement to deal with climate change and possible food system collapse. A hope I have is that by 2050, mobile units for dairy are made more accessible to farmers. This would create more stability and security in these industries, while creating a healthier relationship and deeper connection with the land. Not all communities are able to source local products but by 2050 we could have in place  more independent systems that allow for smarter, higher quality production of both plant and animal products. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Mobile dairy will give a competitive edge to small producers against big industrial mechanized dairy. Consumers demand protection of the environment, humane treatment of animals and healthy food. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bayou Sarah Farms null

This innovative and sustainable approach to dairy production is the way of the future. José is helping me start a herd of water buffalo for my farm in south Louisiana. Though my herd will be rotated on pastures across a continuous 120 acre tract of land, I will be following his lead in this mobile dairy approach. Particularly in Louisiana where we receive 70 inches of rainfall a year, building a permanent diary is invasive and destructive on the land. When animals are grazing on "the back 40" but are required to travel to the same permanent structure for milking once or twice a day, the path to the dairy and the land surrounding it sees too much traffic with no time to recover. However, with the mobile approach, the dairy is moving with the livestock and the other pastures are left alone to recover. For farmers who do not own the land that their animals graze on, this mobile dairy is even more vital for a successful dairy business. As for the water buffalo, José has spent his life working with and researching these magnificent animals and is a natural herdsmen. Water buffalo milk has many desirable qualities over cows' milk and is responsible for the famous mozzarella di buffala. I can say with confidence that José's passion for this project will withstand any obstacle that comes up.

View all comments