Jerome and Ann Wheeler love their work. But even more than that, they love the animals who put the “family” in family operations.
The Wheelers own a herd of Saanen goats, a breed renowned for their high quality milk. The goats are not only great producers, they closely bond with their humans and have formed strong connections with each other and the Wheelers. Goats are highly social, so the operations often feel more like a way for the Wheelers to justify having the goats, rather than the other way around. Ann couldn’t imagine life without their herd.
“Life with animals is so much better, they just enrich it,” she said
So when the goats produced more raw milk than they could sell, the Wheelers weren’t interested in reducing their herd. Instead, they decided to make and sell their own cheese. They are now a licensed milk barn and creamery who sells mostly to farmers’ markets, local stores, and restaurants.
While their business was growing, their capacity was not - the husband and wife employ only themselves. Spending 6 hours a day for both of them in the milking barn made everything else that needs to be taken care of on a goat dairy fall that much further behind. CDA’s Farm to Market grant’s $11,000 went directly to expanding operations.
Purchasing additional stanchions (milking frames) meant they were able to cut their milking time in half and doubly increase milking production. This might not sound astronomical, but for a small operation, it made all the difference.
“It not only improved our business, it improved our lives. It would’ve taken years on our own,” Ann said.
The Wheelers purchase their goats’ alfalfa and feed locally and try to use local ingredients like Pueblo chiles from just down the road in their specialty cheese. While fully acknowledging that making and selling their own cheese is a dedicated, full time, at times exhausting effort, the Wheelers have come to enjoy the time that they spend connecting directly with consumers who sample, offer feedback or reactions, and hopefully then buy their wares.
They often take their customers by surprise when they explain that they don’t purchase materials from other suppliers, but use their own farm fresh goats’ milk, expressed that same day, to make the cheese that the customer is now enjoying. It’s a fulfilling circle.
“How often do you get to meet the people making the food that you’re eating?” Ann said.