Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative

Final Report for FNC09-780

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $16,885.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Abbe Turner
Lucky Penny Farm
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Project Information


Lucky Penny Farm, LLC is a family-owned dairy goat farm located on a once-fallow century farmstead in Northeast Ohio’s Hiram Township. Owned by Abbe and Anderson Turner since 2002, the 14-acre farm includes Nubian, La Mancha and Alpine dairy goats, breeds that produce top quality milk, ideal for artisanal cheeses and confections.

Anderson and Abbe operate a state of Ohio licensed artisanal creamery for specialty dairy products in Kent, Ohio- Lucky Penny Creamery. At this location they use traditional cheesemaking methods, handcrafted in small batches, using only the highest quality ingredients to create delicious local goat cheeses, and beginning in March 2012, sheep dairy products. The creamery is a 6,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility with the ability to produce 20,000 lbs. of goat and sheep cheeses annually.

At the farm and creamery sustainable practices are used whenever physically possible and economically feasible.

GOAL: The goal of the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative (OSMCI) was to determine the feasibility of the production of sheep milk in Ohio and to explore value added processing of this milk into local artisan sheep cheeses.

* Abbe and Anderson Turner- Dairy Goat Farmers, Lucky Penny Farm- Garrettsville Cheesemakers and Owners, Lucky Penny Creamery- Kent, Ohio (Lead Farmer)
Abbe Turner managed the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative (OSMCI) project, survey mechanisms, student interns, collateral print production, travel arrangements, analysis and dissemination of research and outreach activities and events for this SARE grant. After the grant period she will make sheep milk cheeses and continue working with Innovative Farmers of Ohio and the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association for future business development of Sheep Dairy products.

* Kathy and Jeff Bielek- Ohio Sheep Farmers, OSU Sheep Team Member
Kathy and Jeff raise a flock of Katahdins on their Ohio farm practicing sustainable methods and focusing on research on parasite resistance and genetic heritability on small farms. Professionally Kathy works as a Program Assistant for the Organic Food and Farming Education and Research, Ohio State University.

* Troy and Ellen Cooper - OSU Extension Educator-Knox County, Ohio Sheep Farmers, Mt. Vernon, Ohio
Troy and Ellen Cooper started their farm flock operation during their college years in Logan, UT where Troy received his BA and MA degrees in Animal Sciences from Utah State University.

Today their flock consists of 30 Finn x Dorset ewes. Lambing is synchronized with forage growth and all sheep are maintained in a management intensive grazing system. Troy is the farmer liaison and managed the research of flock management and the exploration of dairy sheep genetics best suited to Ohio for this SARE grant.

* Brian Schlatter- Farmer, Cheesemaker, Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese. Defiance, Ohio
Brian Schlatter is a sixth generation, Paulding county agriculturalist. Brian is responsible for the coordination of the cheesemaking educational workshops.

* Leah Miller-Small Farm Institute-Farmer/Dairy Sheep Workshop Partner

* Parker Bosley-Chef, Project Coordinator

* Lisa Waldschmidt- Marketing

* Jan Deuble-Student Intern/ Cheesemaking Apprentice

* Sylvia Zimmerman-Cheesemaker/ Workshop Partner

* Peter Dixon-Dairy Consultant/ Cheesemaker

The purpose of this study is to determine interest and opportunities for the production of sheep milk and cheeses in Ohio. The approach was through research and analysis, surveys of farmers, consumers, producers, chefs and retailers and the results supported future action and the continuation of business development for an entity of this nature.

Our intent was to understand the producers’ interests, the marketplace, and the demand for the products in general; what do consumers want in local food, specifically artisan dairy products. We also learned from our constituents by surveying retailers, chefs, food service workers, farmer’s market patrons, specialty food vendors and ordinary consumers. The questions asked included:

QUESTIONS FOR POTENTIAL PRODUCERS- Do you raise sheep? Are you familiar with sheep as dairy animals? Would you attend workshops and training sessions to learn about sheep dairying?

QUESTIONS FOR CONSUMERS- Do you purchase or have you purchased sheep milk cheeses? Do you know of cheeses that are made from sheep milk or combination of sheep milk and cow or goat milk? If you have purchased sheep milk cheeses, what country did they come from and what are names of the most common examples? Where do you purchase your cheeses? Would you pay more for a locally produced cheese?

QUESTIONS FOR VENDORS (retailers)- Do you sell sheep milk cheeses in your store? What are the most common kinds of sheep milk cheeses? Would you like to offer a local version of sheep milk cheese? How would you market this local product? What suggestions do you have for farmers interested in producing sheep milk and sheep cheeses?

QUESTIONS FOR CHEFS/RESTAURANTS- Do you use artisan cheeses in your restaurant: as ingredients in dishes, in a cheese course, for special offerings? Do you use cheeses from local/Ohio artisan cheese makers? What kinds of cheese do you use in your restaurant? If sheep cheeses were produced in Ohio what you would be interested in purchasing?

Questions were asked by survey (Survey Monkey and paper copy) in 2010 and a blog was created with additional educational resources available for those interested in sheep dairying.

Of the 263 survey responders: 35 percent were Farmers, 10 percent Food Industry, 4 percent Retailers and 51 percent Consumers of cheese. The OSMCI Survey Highlights include:
* 88.6 percent would pay more for a locally produced cheese
* 96 percent said eating local cheese was somewhat or very important
* 100 percent of respondents were somewhat likely or very likely to purchase Ohio made cheese
* 45 percent of Farmers were somewhat or very interested in adding a sheep or sheep cheese enterprise and of these folks interested the time frame reported to start the venture was:

Within 1 year 6.5 percent, 1-2 years 51.6 percent, 3-4 years 29.0 percent, 5 or more years 12.9 percent. These results taken collectively are very exciting and demonstrate support as 58 percent of responders suggested consideration of or starting a sheep dairy in the next 24 months in Ohio. Expanded survey results can be found at http://ohiosheepdairy.wordpress.com/.

Currently it is estimated there are approximately 160 sheep dairy farms in the U.S., but even considering this amount 66 million pounds of sheep’s milk cheese was imported into the U.S. with a value of $118 million. These imported products included Feta, Manchego, Romano and Roquefort cheeses. Sheep milk also offers distinct advantages for farmers and cheesemakers due to the fact that freezing and storage of sheep milk does not hurt its cheese production capabilities. This option provides cash flow management and production flexibility within the parameters of shipping and storage of fluid and frozen milk.

The sheep dairy industry is a market that could unfold into an exciting economic opportunity for small farm producers in Ohio. Demand for specialty cheeses exists, but raw materials, fluid sheep milk, processing capabilities, quality sheep dairy genetics and milk logistics issues in Ohio are currently limiting factors. Research and activities performed with this SARE grant answered some of the questions, and presented additional challenges as well.

Reports from other countries state that sales of sheep milk cheese have more than doubled in the domestic market since 2000 noting that sheep cheese owed its success and rapid sales increase to direct marketing initiatives by innovative farmers and small dairies. This remains our intent: to determine interest and explore opportunities in Ohio to build this specific industry. When the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative was conceived in October 2009, there were no licensed sheep dairies in Ohio. As of this writing in March 2012 there are three producers with plans for another licensee underway in 2013. It is easy to label the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative an overwhelming success.

It continues to be the goal of the Ohio Sheep Cheese Initiative to determine the feasibility of the production of sheep milk in Ohio and to explore the opportunities for value added processing of this milk into local artisan sheep dairy products.

One very strong outreach tool for OSMCI has been the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative blog created at http://ohiosheepdairy.wordpress.com/. We used the blog to explain the initiative, promote the survey and link to it, promote our workshops and events and finally to promote the activities of OSMCI and other media coverage.

Comments from visitors to the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative blog: “Long awaited arrival. We are on board and support the initiative.” Chef David W.

“We have a flock of registered Horned Dorset sheep and are interested in learning new ways to
keep them profitable. Interested in learning more about dairy possibilities with this and other
breeds.” Jill

“Howdy. I have a small starter flock of East Friesen crosses here in Springfield, OH. We are milking 4 ewes this year, for family use, and have 4 more ewe lambs to add next year… Please include me in any discussion of Ohio Sheep Dairying.” Greg

“It would be wonderful to have locally produced sheeps milk cheeses available! We have some wonderful locally produced goat’s milk cheese but none from sheep. A hole in the market waiting to be filled!” Diane

The educational offerings were also a very important component of our outreach. OSMCI educational content in college classes, Ohio State University Intro to Sheep Production class- 50 students, and at the OSU-ATI symposium (85 participants) have also been very well received and have covered topics such as sheep genetics, the state of artisan cheese, workings of a sheep dairy and cheese maker, grazing practices and a panel of cheese makers telling their story and answering questions. Additional academic involvement has included students from Kent State University, Walsh University, John Carroll University and Malone College.

Farmers and Consumers had the opportunity to expand their knowledge at our workshops and events held in 2010 and 2011. In an OSMCI symposium exit evaluation, most attendees rated their knowledge as “little” or “none” on the topics of the day, the majority replied that they had increased their knowledge from 1 to 2 on a scale of 1-5, to 4 and 5 at the end of the day. Over 90 percent rated the symposium a 7, 8, 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 – 10, and 57 percent said they got more than they paid for and 100 percent of respondents said they would recommend the program to others.

In closing, 84 percent said that information from this program impacted their decision on starting a sheep dairy or cheese making enterprise. From these educational offerings eight interested farms in Ohio and Indiana expressed serious consideration of a sheep dairying operation and three farms have become licensed by the state of Ohio for sheep milk production.

Great exposure has been achieved for OSMCI (over 30 media placements including online, radio and regional magazines) and enthusiasm from farmers, consumers, chefs and academic and non-profit partners continues. We estimate our reach at over 8,000 people who have learned about OSMCI. Activities to date include: In May 2010 the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative blog was created at http://ohiosheepdairy.wordpress.com/. We used the blog to explain OSMCI, promote the survey and link to it, promote our attendance at events such as Ohio Sheep Day, Innovative Farmers of Ohio Farm Tour, Family Farm Day, Buckeye Shepherds and Sheep-o-rama! and our OSMCI Symposium at OSU-ATI in Wooster.

In November 2010 OSMCI partnered with Small Farm Institute, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, The Ohio State University and OSU-ATI to present the OSMCI Symposium at OSU-ATI in Wooster. On Friday, 45 OSU-ATI students in the Intro to Sheep Production class enjoyed a lecture by Yves Berger from University of Wisconsin’s Spooner Agriculture Research Station, and on Saturday over 80 individuals heard Berger speak about dairy sheep genetics, milk production and nutrition. In addition, cheesemaker Pat Elliott from Everona Dairy shared how she started her working sheep dairy. Afternoon breakout sessions featured enterprise budgets, Ohio cheese makers, dairy grazing practices and nutritional requirements.

In December 2010, OSMCI presented at the Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium a breakout session on Sheep Dairying and Value-Added income opportunities for small farms.

In October 2011 Delaware County hosted Sheep-O-Rama – a one-day educational event to promote the development of the Sheep Dairy Industry in Ohio. Held at the Delaware County (OH) Fairgrounds, this event was organized by the Heart of Ohio RC and D and the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative and sponsored in part by Innovative Farmers of Ohio. The day’s events focused on the business of sheep milk production including financing, facility and equipment requirements, genetics and grazing. The Keynote speaker was Claire Mikolayunas, Ph.D., Dairy Sheep Specialist from the University of Wisconsin. Also speaking was Bob Hendershot, USDA/NRCS State Grazing Specialist and 2010 Charles Boyles Master Shepherd Award winner. His remarks were about management-intensive grazing and forage-based nutrition for dairy sheep.

It is the goal of OSMCI to continue to educate and inform through Field Days, workshops and conferences, networking, print media, professional associations, academic institutions and nonprofit partners. To this end, three Ohio non-profits, Small Farm Institute, Ohio Sheep Improvement Association and Innovative Farmers of Ohio have all expressed interest in future involvement and moving the OSMCI project forward through 2013.

Abbe Turner gave a presentation at the 2014 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum, held in conjunction with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). A video recording of this is available online through NCR-SARE's YouTube channel. Use the following link to watch the video: https://youtu.be/kfkcTOAXLGs

The SARE Farmer/Rancher program was easy to work with and a positive experience for the farmers, consumers, and nonprofit and academic partners involved in the project-OSMCI was a great success for SARE and Ohio farmers.


Participation Summary

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.