September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Cheese and harmony

Singing Hills Dairy crafts, markets own product
Lynne Reeck (left) and Kate Wall pose with two of their goats on their farm, Singing Hills Dairy. The couple milks 30 goats and makes fresh cheese on the their farmsite in Rice County near Nerstrand, Minn. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Lynne Reeck (left) and Kate Wall pose with two of their goats on their farm, Singing Hills Dairy. The couple milks 30 goats and makes fresh cheese on the their farmsite in Rice County near Nerstrand, Minn. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

By By Krista Kuzma- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

NERSTRAND, Minn. - A four-part harmony is necessary to keep Singing Hills Dairy going, said Lynne Reeck.
"It includes the animal, land, farmer and you," she said.
Reeck and partner Kate Wall milk 30 goats and are in their fourth year of making cheese on their farm, Singing Hills Dairy, in Rice County near Nerstrand, Minn.
"We like taking the resources we have ... and turning it into something better that we can share with the community," Kate said.

Harmony part 1 and 2: The animals and the land
Reeck and Wall's herd consists mostly of Nubians and Saanen crosses.
"Caring for them is a joy," Reeck said.
Their average doe milks around nine pounds each day, but a number of does in the herd can milk up to nearly 18 pounds per day.
Reeck and Wall breed their does in November so they kid in April. They are milk sharing, where they keep the kids with the does and they take whatever milk is left.
"Usually the babies self-wean," Reeck said. "Most produce more than their baby's take."
Since starting with seven does and one buck during their first year of milking in 2010, Reeck and Wall's herd has grown to capacity and additional stock is typically sold to area farmers. As soon as they are able, Reeck and Wall would like to build a new housing facility for the goats.
However, during the summer, the goats are outside for a majority of the day. Reeck and Wall give their herd plenty of pasture room and hope to soon rotationally graze the animals. Although they aren't certified organic, they feed organic grain and hay, and they don't use chemicals on their pasture.
In addition, when a goat is sick, Wall uses her herbology background to give an herbal treatment followed by a homeopathy treatment. If neither of these works, she uses antibiotics. When this happens, Reeck and Wall withhold the milk for twice the amount of time needed before adding milk back to the supply.
"Prevention is the key to herd health," Wall said.

Harmony part 3: the farmers
Reeck grew up on a dairy farm in Paynesville, Minn., while Wall, the daughter of a pastor, raised sheep during her childhood. After college and working in media, Reeck wanted to get back to her farming roots and took on many apprenticeships, on a vegetable farm, dairy farm and with a cheesemaker among others. She also went through the majority of the cheesemaking licensing process in Wisconsin.
"In all the farming I did I realized I liked goats," she said.
Before milking goats, Reeck and Wall tried vegetable farming; however, the land's rolling hills and heavy clay soil made growing vegetables less than ideal.
"During that time without animals we weren't happy," Wall said.
That's when they decided to shift gears and bring animals into the picture.
"It was a long process to get to this place. We went through two years of planning - financing and how to do it ... ," Reeck said.
The farm had older infrastructure - not something fit for their current animal and cheesemaking needs.
"Because we couldn't use the older barn on the farm, we had to rethink a lot of stuff," Reeck said. "It was hard to find a way to make it work."
After crunching numbers and brainstorming different options, the two were at a standstill.
"We needed something cost efficient for our needs," Wall said.
But it was a big financial hurdle.
"We had kind of given up on farming. When we backed away from it everything fell into place," Reeck said.
"If you keep looking and pursuing, you knock on enough doors to find leads ... we talked to enough people to open enough doors and windows," Wall said.
The Dairy Profitability Enhancement program through Minnesota Dairy Initiatives helped the couple set up their farm in a manageable way.
"They were around for the majority of the conversation," Wall said. "That group held our feet to the fire on things like how much debt to take on ... they were huge cheerleaders and held us to our original vision."
Wall and Reeck were also able to afford their venture through a low-interest rate loan through the Farm Service Agency.
In 2009, they built their cheese making facility, milking area and milk house, and by 2010 were in their first year of cheese production. Reeck works full-time on the farm and handles all of the cheesemaking. Wall has a full-time job off the farm in addition to her main responsibility of managing the herd at home.
Because the couple has a smaller herd with 30 goats, they supplement their milk needs to make cheese by purchasing milk from neighbors.
"We started small because that's what we can afford," Reeck said. "We only do what we can."
Cheesemaking is done six days a week. Each day, the process can take up to eight hours. Reeck uses two 22-gallon vats, making six to eight batches of cheese each week.
"I love the challenge of cheese making ... but what keeps me grounded and keeps me going are the animals," Reeck said.

Harmony part 4: You
Wall and Reeck consider their dairy to be a community supported farm.
"Community is a big aspect," Wall said.
Cheese they make on their farm is sold in Northfield and in three Twin Cities farmers market locations. They make all fresh cheese - cherve, feta, cheese curds and their own version of farmer cheese, which is a cross between farmer and cheddar. Saturdays and Sundays they venture out and sell their product at farmer's markets.
Both Reeck and Wall agree that their business would be much simpler if they just made cheese or only milked goats, but that's not the way they want to farm.
"We want the whole picture and we want our customers to see the whole picture," Wall said. "Farming's not pretty. It's hard work."
They want people to be able to meet them and ask questions about how their cheese is made.
"So many people are disconnected with their food source. We want people to know where their food comes from," Reeck said. "It's hard for people to relate ... only two percent of the population grows food."
"We have a strong belief in being interconnected ... we want to keep talking to people about farming and we want people to see what farming looks like," Wall said.[[In-content Ad]]


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