Hi, I’m Laura Sluder and I run Blue Sage Farm.
Blue Sage Farm is a small sheep and goat dairy located in southern Idaho. The farm philosophy is to let the animals do as much as the work as possible. While I have been farming since 2001, I didn’t start dairying until 2009. It has been a huge learning curve even though I had a background in farming and ranching.
As with most farms today, one of us has to work off the farm to “pay the bills”. In our case, it is my husband Paul. He has his own small business that offers him some flexibility to be able to help me when I need an extra hand and our kids, Jake and Izzy help some too. Otherwise, I run this 80 acre, 100 head (sheep and goats) farm by myself. I’ve gone from 6 ewes to 250 ewes and now am back to 85. I’ve added the goats recently and experienced a whole new set of rules for them. In the future, I’d like to grow to 200 ewes and 50 goats but first I need to develop a market for all that cheese and ice cream.
I use Management intensive Grazing and am able to graze most of the year. I only feed hay for a couple months in the winter. Of our farm’s 80 acres, I strive to have a ratio of 70% pasture / 30% annuals for grazing on a 3-5 year rotation. I also grow oats to feed the sheep and goats in the parlor. I’d like to be 100% grassfed but haven’t accomplished that yet.
There aren’t very many options for goat and sheep dairy producers in our area. There are no creameries close enough that one can sell milk to so processing it yourself is really the only option. I started out taking my milk to a local farmstead cow creamery but even though they were small compared to the Glambia and Kraft plants in the area, their equipment was much bigger than I was able to fill. It was extremely inefficient to take my milk there and tie up their plant for a whole day for such a small amount. After a year of shipping it there, I found a small creamery in the next state who was willing to make cheese for me but shipping the milk 6 hours away didn’t work very well either. In the fall of 2010, I purchased my own cheese making equipment and by the following spring, I had a partner who brought in her goats and was making the cheese for both of us right here on the farm. Long story short, my partner moved away in January 2013 leaving me with all the work, but also, all the income. It seemed scary at first but it really was a good thing. I took a few weeks to reevaluate my business and came up with some fresh ideas and a new focus.
I guess you could say I’m a little hard headed or I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now. That being said, I strive to be flexible and try new things and I’m known by my farming neighbors as “that crazy lady who milks sheep and farms with draft horses”. I know no of them thought I’d stick it out this long. I like to keep them guessing what I’ll do next!