Expanding Small Ruminant Dairy Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Suzanne Quintana
Quintana Farms


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, grazing - continuous, livestock breeding, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, vaccines
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, study circle
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, public participation, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    This project develops an on-farm demonstration and producer outreach program for sustainable, high-mountain, small-ruminant dairying. Background. Suzanne and Art Quintana have operated a successful diversified livestock operation near San Luis, Colorado for over fifteen years. Their 150-acre ranch is located high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains (elevation 8,300 feet) and is connected to other farms in the area by a series of acequia irrigation ditches that distribute water from the mountain’s pristine snow-pack. The Quintana’s pasture-raised Navajo-Churro Sheep, Ayrshire dairy cattle, and goats are adapted to the high-mountain climate. The Quintanas are leaders in revitalizing the practice of transhumance grazing, whereby the sheep are driven up to the areas collectively grazed (high-mountain pastures) in the early summer. Established Market. Over the last 15 years, Suzanne has developed a thriving market for her cow milk, sheep and goat cheese, and pasture-raised lamb at three area farmers’ markets. Three days a week, she packs up her refrigerated truck and visits area markets, typically selling out of product at each stop. Over the years, she has developed a solid network of CSA customers who are committed to pasture-based production dairy and meat products. Cooperative Formation. In addition to marketing the products of Quintana Ranch, Susanne serves as the President of the Rio Culebra Agricultural Cooperative. The cooperative has 52 family members involved in diversified livestock production. The cooperative recently launched a line of branded beef products and specialty grain products. Suzanne’s vision is to incubate and develop a Dairy Guild from among the RCAC’s membership base. Each family participating in the Dairy Guild will contribute milk for processing into sheep and goat cheese. Once launched, the cheese-processing and marketing will ultimately be coordinated by RCAC. However, the cheese produced will be sourced from the Dairy Guild's network of small farmstead cheese operations. Development Plan. Suzanne Quintana has developed a strategic plan for the development of the Dairy Guild, which models successful cooperative structures in Vermont and Switzerland. Currently, the Quintanas are the only dairy producers in the San Luis area. However, seven families have committed to participating in the formation of a dairy guild. Dairying represents a new, lucrative production base for farmers in the region. This SARE project will establish the formation of the Dairy Guild, and will provide guild members with technical expertise through a monthly seminar series, white papers adapted to small-ruminant dairy production, and on-farm technical assistance

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Meeting Western SARE Goals


    This project develops a network of small-ruminant dairies located near San Luis, Colorado, high in the Sagre de Cristo Mountains. Farms involved in this project practice sustainable agricultural practices, including acequia irrigation and transhumance grazing, that are culturally and economically significant to the region.


    This project develops a network of high-mountain sheep and goat dairies necessary to expand the production of artisinal cheese marketed by Rio Culebra Agricultural Cooperative. Producers involved in the project will be able to participate in the development of a cooperative dairy and cheese processing venture that will return approximately $4 per pound of raw sheep and goat milk processed to the producer.


    This project develops a network of small-ruminant dairies, using species of animals that are biologically adapted for high-mountain, small farm production. The species of goats and sheep that are being used in the project have been selected for ease of handling by all producers involved in the project. Additionally, these breeds are adapted for high-mountain production.


    This project develops a network of dairies involved in Navajo-Churro sheep production. This species is on the “threatened” list of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy. Further, this project expands livestock dairying in an area that has historically been primarily involved in beef production.


    This project develops a network of sheep and goat dairies that are operated by women producers on small, sustainable, and historically significant farms and ranches in the Rio-Culebra and Rio-Costilla watersheds. Producers involved in the project are dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices. This project gives them an opportunity to develop an alternative income stream for their farms and participate in the production of a high-margin value-added product.


    Our overall vision is to create a cooperatively-owned cheese-processing venture. To that end, the goal of this project is to expand specialty milk production in and around San Luis, Colorado among RCAC’s Dairy Guild members. To facilitate this expansion of dairy production in the area, the project specific objectives are:

    1) Provide 12 monthly seminars focusing on different aspects of small-ruminant dairying. Our vision is to hold a monthly meeting on the first Tuesday of each month that will provide a forum for discussion on dairy production and practices. In addition, each meeting will have a specific “seminar series topic” conducted by an outside professional on specific production topics, including rotational grazing, herd genetics, dairy barn construction, etc.

    2) Provide producers with professional expertise on specific topics. Small-ruminant dairy production at an elevation of 8,000 feet is specialized. Suzanne will oversee the development of six white papers, specific to high-mountain sheep and goat dairying. These papers will be distributed bi-monthly and will be a reference source, as well as a topic for discussion among guild members.

    3) Provide on-farm Training to potential dairy producers. Suzanne Quintana will be provide a monthly on-farm visit to each of the dairy guild’s members to assist with any farm-specific technical questions.

    4) Provide a professional link to sheep and goat dairy production resources. Susanne Quintana will become involved in the Dairy Sheep Association of North America and will participate in the Annual Sheep Dairying Symposium sponsored by the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It is critical that producers within the San Luis area develop professional resources at the national level.

    Benefits and Impacts to Agriculture

    This project will expand sustainable, small-rumiant livestock dairying. Currently, the United States imports 70 million pounds of sheep milk cheese. The U.S. sheep dairying industry can only provide 1.5 million pounds of sheep milk cheese annually (University of Wisconsin, 2008). It is critical that our nation develop a source of sustainably produced sheep and goat milk cheese. This project develops a dairy guild comprised of producers committed to sustainable agricultural production.

    This project creates a new revenue stream and improves on-farm incomes of low-income, Hispanic producers. Producers involved in this project are descendants of the area's original Hispanic settlers who came to the region in the 1820’s. Dairying will create an alternative income stream, to supplement cattle and crop production.

    Farmstead dairy and cheese production is economically sustainable. Nationally, sheep milk cheese sells for about $20 per pound at the whole sale level. Based on advice from industry experts, producers can add about $4 per pound for raw sheep milk processed into cheese. The relatively high price received for artisinal cheese offsets the inefficiencies from small-farm processing.

    Outreach Plan

    The outreach plan will consist of three components: monthly seminars, on-farm site technical assistance, and development of a web-based informational outreach.

    1) We will establish a Dairy Guild among members of the RCAC.

    2) We will establish a monthly seminar for dairy guild members, consisting of two parts. The first part of the meeting will be a seminar conducted by a dairy professional. Topics include: rotational grazing, requirements for construction of a dairy barn, management of herd genetics, development of a long-term breeding program. The second half of the meeting will include a forum for casual exchange and outreach among the guild members.

    3) We will develop a “Dairy Guild” web page on the Rio Culebra Agricultural Cooperative’s web-site. This web page will have four components, which are updated twice per month. The site will feature an “online library” with pdf articles for small-ruminant producers. The site will feature a “membership update” informing producers about monthly guide meetings, field days, and other events. The site will profile the guild's members, and provide email contact information.

    4) We will hold two “Dairy Guild Field Days”, with four hours of on-farm seminar based programming for existing and potential dairy guild members. The field-day topics will include lambing and kidding, mastitis prevention techniques, and other livestock related topics that benefit from an on-farm, hands on approach.

    Educational Materials to be Produced

    1) Handouts for Monthly Professional Seminars. We will develop concise four page hand-outs for the monthly seminar series. The handouts will provide an overview of the speaker's topic and pertinent resource information available. The format will be similar to an extension bulletin. Further, the handout will list additional print and web resources that are available on the topic.

    2) Notebooks for Field Days. Each field day participant will be give an ½ inch three-ring binder containing resource information on the topics covered.

    3) Development of Series of Six White Papers. We will work with industry and academic professionals to develop six white papers, each about six pages in length, covering pertinent topics on high-mountain dairying.

    4) We will copy and disseminate information from the Dairy Sheep Symposium and other professional meetings.

    5) Dairy Page on RCAC Web-Site. Twice a month, the Dairy Guild page on the RCAC site will be updated with pertinent information.

    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.