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Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW Nubian and La Mancha dairy goats at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Champaign, Illinois.
Wes and Leslie moved to Champaign in 2003, from an urban, academic life in Madison, Wisconsin. “Through great friends and serendipity, we found our small farm just outside of town,” explains Leslie. “That first year, we planted all of the land previously in cash grain (about 5 acres) with a lush cover crop of buckwheat to begin restoring our prairie soil.” In 2004, they planted over 350 fruit trees and 600 berry plants and purchased their first Nubian goats. By August of 2005, they had received their licenses for Prairie Fruits’ Grade A goat dairy and farmstead creamery.
Over the last 13 years, Wes and Leslie have expanded their herd to 75 milkers and installed a pipeline milking parlor with a 14-doe station. In 2010, they became certified with A Greener World as an expression of their commitment to high welfare and environmental management. “Animal Welfare Approved certification by AGW forces us to really think about welfare in a holistic framework,” says Leslie. “It’s not just about how much space they have. It’s about giving animals the opportunity to express their natural behaviors. It’s about letting them be goats.”
Pasture-based management and sustainability are at the heart of the farm’s holistic approach to raising livestock. “We strive to keep our goats as happy and healthy as possible,” say Wes and Leslie. “We manage our herd using sustainable practices, feeding them locally-grown, top quality grass-alfalfa hay and haylage, as well as locally produced, non-GMO grain during milking. We have a little over 8 acres of grass-legume-forb pastures in which the goats graze during the growing season.” In addition, the goats are herded daily to browse on restored prairie and riparian zone trees and shrubs.
Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is a seasonal pasture-based dairy, which means that does are bred in the fall (October-November) and give birth in the spring (March-April). “Goats lactate for about nine months,” explains Wes. “This gives the girls, and us, a two month break to rest up before the next round of kids arrives. As soon as they freshen—have their kids and start producing milk—we start producing cheese a new.”
What results are both pasteurized and raw milk cheeses that capture the flavors and native microflora of what the goats eat seasonally out on the pasture and browse areas. “I really wanted to raise people’s awareness of the terroir of central Illinois,” explains Leslie “I know people never think of those concepts together, because they think of industrial agriculture and corn and soybeans. They don’t think about the other things that grow here and also the incredible nature of these soils and their productivity and resilience. I wanted our cheese to retain that character of the soils and I wanted it to be reflective of the seasonal variations of the milk.”
With a sustainable farm structure and lifestyle in mind, Wes and Leslie have focused on transforming their landscape into diversified perennial crops and livestock. Wes and Leslie hope to serve as a model for others interested in small-scale diversified farming systems. “Little by little,” Wes and Leslie explain, “we are working toward building a vibrant local food system in central Illinois. The farm embodies core principles of sustainability—including environmental stewardship, economic viability and social responsibility, and we strive to educate our community about organic and sustainable agriculture and the connections between food production and consumption.”
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW cheeses from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery are available at a variety of retail and market locations in Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, and Chicago. For more information on Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery–including cheeses, goat-milk gelato pictures, CSA, tours, farm-to-table dinners, breeding stock sales and more–visit www.prairiefruits.com or follow Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.