Delicious Dividend: Little Qualicum Cheeseworks

Why buy the cheese when you can get the cow for, oh, $2000?

Credit: Ilja Herb

Part of your investment portfolio is shuffling around in a field, eating grass and scratching its ample rump on a fence post. The returns are solid, literally, and translate directly into a fridge full of San Pareil, Monterey and Caerphilly cheeses.

A Vancouver Island cheese farm is extending to investors its considerable access to healthy pastoral living through its Buy a Cow program. For $2,000 customers can buy a bovine from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, where it remains a part of the herd. In return they can choose $240 worth of cheese or other farm products (pork, beef, eggs, jellies, salsas or kitchenware) a year.

Alternatively, for those who need funds more than fare, investors can take a cash return of $140 a year, which works out to a guaranteed seven per cent.

“Some of the cow owners own more than one cow, so they’ll take cheese on one cow and cash on the other, but I’d say 75 per cent of the cows are in exchange for goods in our store,” says Clarke Gourlay, co-owner of the Cheeseworks with his wife Nancy. “It’s of two great benefits to us – we have investors who are excited about the farm, excited about the idea and who are out there telling people about it, so we’ve got a whole bunch of ambassadors.”

In addition to the free PR, Gourlay says, going the direct-investor route means he gets a slight discount from average bank rates and can give his customers a better return on their investment. “We’d far rather pay almost the going rate to an individual than to a bank anyway, so that’s an advantage.”

Little Qualicum Cheeseworks will replace the cow if it’s removed from the herd for any reason – including natural death – guaranteeing investors can reap the annual cheese or cash dividend for as long as they leave their $2,000 invested in the cow.

The contract stipulates a one-year minimum ownership, but clients can sell their cow back to the farm with no questions asked at any point after that.

Since starting the program in 2002, the Gourlays have expanded their herd from 15 to 75, and business is thriving. Around 45 customers have invested in their bovines, and some are involved to the point of sending out baby announcements when their cow gives birth. Now that’s dedicated portfolio management.