Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative

2010 Annual 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

Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative


The goal of the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative is to determine the feasibility of the production of sheep milk in Ohio, and to explore the opportunity of value-added processing of this milk into local artisan sheep cheeses. Great progress has been made in just a few short months and the project is receiving much attention and enthusiasm from farmers, consumers, chefs, and academic and non-profit partners.

To date we have promoted OSMCI through Field Days, networking, printed production materials- postcards, traditional media, professional associations, non-profits, academic institutions and blogger websites.

In May 2010 the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative blog was created at http://ohiosheepdairy.wordpress.com/. We used the blog to explain the initiative, 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 and finally to promote our Symposium at OSU-ATI in Wooster on November 6, 2010. Over 228 people have taken the survey and preliminary results are attached. Survey will remain open until 12/31/10.

We are thrilled to have received coverage in regional magazines (Edible Columbus), various Facebook sites, Farm World, Amazing Graze, Local Ag-Radio and many more. Proudly we can say our media coverage and PR for OSMCI has covered the state of Ohio.

To date SARE funds have covered print production, attendance at workshops, survey mechanisms, postage, cheese sampling, travel to dairy sites and conferences and web presence. The project is on track for success and for development of next steps with future funding.

The scope of the research survey so far has reached sheep farmers, dairy producers, consumers, chefs, retail establishments and restaurants, agricultural non-profits, educational institutions and sheep special interest groups. We are exploring the marketplace and developing an understanding of demand for the product in general; what do consumers want more of in local cheeses and are farmers interested in an enterprise of this nature.

The survey can be found at http://ohiosheepdairy.wordpress.com/.

Early results show:

Farmer 34.8%
Food Related Industry - Chef/Food Service Provider/Restaurant Owner, etc. 12.1%
Retailer who sells cheese 3.8%
Consumer of cheese 49.2%

Would you pay more for a locally produced cheese? Yes - 88.6%
When buying a cheese which of the following is important to you?

Locally made - Somewhat Important 47.2% (58)
Very Important 47.2%

Made from sheep - Somewhat Important 42.2% (49) Very Important - 21.6%

Food industry:
Please let us know the importance of the following items when purchasing cheese for your restaurant, institution, catering company, etc.:
US state of origin - Somewhat Important 50.0% Very Important - 30.0% (3)

Locally made - Somewhat Important 41.7% Very Important - 50.0% (6)

If sheep milk cheese were produced in Ohio, how likely would you be to purchase it?
Not Likely 0.0% 0 Somewhat Likely 25.0% Very Likely 75.0%

Are you interested in adding a sheep dairy or sheep cheese enterprise?
Not interested 25.5% A little interested 29.8% Somewhat interested 27.7% Very interested 17.0%

If you are interested in a sheep milk or sheep cheese enterprise when would you most likely be considering it:

Within 1 year 6.5%
1-2 years 51.6%
3-4 years 29.0%
5 or more years 12.9%

These results taken collectively are very exciting and show the promise for this initiative as well demonstrate support for future action.

WORK PLAN 2010 & 2011
Our next activity will be the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Symposium:

The Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative will be hosting a Sheep Dairy Symposium on November 6, 2010 from 9 to 4 at Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI) located at 1328 Dover Road, Wooster, Ohio. Researcher Yves Berger from University of Wisconsin’s Spooner Agriculture Research Station will talk about dairy sheep genetics, milk production and nutrition. Farmer and cheesemaker Pat Elliott from Everona Dairy in Rapidan, Virginia will share how she started her working sheep dairy. Afternoon breakout sessions will feature enterprise budgets and financing options, market potential and Ohio cheese makers, grazing practices and nutritional requirements.

This event will educate, inform and explore what the community needs next.

If deemed desirable and appropriate we will discuss future opportunity for the production of sheep milk and cheese in Ohio and the next steps to move the project forward. These may include a formal business plan and exploration of the co-op model if conditions are favorable for an entity of this nature.

Analysis of qualitative and quantitative results will drive the next course of action, with the most favorable and optimistic outcome being business plan and infrastructure development.
We are already encouraged by the bubbling conversations of tangential projects related to sheep, sheep dairying, and artisan cheese making happening now in Ohio because of this project.

Future items for consideration in the next grant- Flash Freezer Mapping as the ability to freeze sheep milk offers distinct advantages for farmers and cheesemakers. This option provides cash flow management and production flexibility.

Future events for promotion of OSMCI include presenting about OSMCI on December 11 at the Buckeye Shepherds Symposium, and a spring workshop as part of the activities of the OSU extension/ Ohio Sheep Improvement Association.

It is the goal of this project to explore and inform through Field Days, workshops and conferences, networking, print media, professional associations, non-profits, academic institutions and websites. Outreach and survey requests have gone to farmers, chefs, retailers, farmers’ markets, consumers, distributors, wholesalers and gourmet food suppliers.

We anticipate through events and electronic media we have proudly reached over 8,000 people to date. Thank you to SARE for helping us plant the seeds.

The Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Symposium held on November 6, 2010 was a great success. Over 50 OSU-ATI college students benefitted from our speakers in an Intro to Beef and Sheep Class and 85 additional folks attended the public lectures and breakouts the following day and are now requesting more content! We hope to be able to provide more education and training in the future with additional funding. Photos and more about the event are at http://ohiosheepdairy.wordpress.com.