Couple investing their
expertise and their dreams
in sheep, goat milking farm
By Joe Quackenbush
Mar. 8, 2018
SPRING CITY—A couple from Salt Lake County are transforming the one-time Allred Dairy into the largest sheep and goat milking operation in Sanpete County and possibly in all of Utah.
While milk will be their primary product, it is just one of the things Anita and Vern Wilson plan to produce at Milky Hollow, the name they have given their 6-acre farm just outside Spring City at about 640 S. 500 East
They also plan to make ice cream, artisan cheese, yogurt and fudge—all from sheep and goat milk. And they hope to develop their farm as an agritourism destination where visitors can play with baby goats and sheep, and observe adult animals. Eventually, Anita Wilson would like to offer cheese-making classes on site.
“I feel that we can make some of the finest goat and sheep products on the market. The key to producing a quality product is maintaining the health and nutrition of the animals. Raising happy goats and sheep will be the cornerstone to our success,” Anita says.
Anita is a mother of 10 who managed a dairy in Taylorsville until it was closed and the land sold to developers. In 2005, she was first runner-up for Mrs. Utah (for Mrs. America). Her platform: Strengthening the dairy goat and sheep industry in Utah.
When Jones Dairy closed, eliminating her job, she decided to go to college. “I thought since I already did the work of someone with a college education, I might as well get a degree,” she says. Studying something to do with animals was a given. She enrolled in the agribusiness major at BYU and ultimately earned her B.S. degree. She has done additional training at Wisconsin State and Penn State universities.
Vern Wilson is a perfect partner for Anita. He is a Paul Bunyanesque man who can do the work of several men half his age. Vern is a master welder and metalworker who can pretty much build anything out of wood, metal or concrete.
When Anita approached Vern with her idea of starting her own dairy, he told her, “If that’s what you want to do, I’ll build it for you.”
The couple, mostly Vern, is currently building a creamery, livestock buildings and a fodder room. The old cow parlor from the Allred farm is being updated and used as a birthing area and nursery.
The fodder room represents a different approach to feed production. Feed is grown indoors by cultivating barley-seeds sprouts. The fodder building at Milky Hollow will produce 400 pounds of fodder per day, which will cover nearly all of the nutritional needs of animals on the farm.
The bucolic look, the sweet musky smell, the cacophony of, “baaaa, mehhh” can mask what’s really happening at the farm. A lot of thought has gone into the design of Milky Hollow in order to accommodate new technologies (ice cream blast freezer, fodder building, cheese room and pasteurizing equipment); make production efficient; and incorporate sustainability practices.
Anita is the one who understands the science of what is happening—the genetics, nutrition, animal health. Vern has taken input from the animal side of the operation and is designing a facility that works.
Animals can go from their pens to milk and go directly back to their pens safely and efficiently. Farm manager Chelsey Black says, “The goats are easy to milk and move. Sheep are a challenge because they are more stubborn.”
Most of Anita’s adult life has been spent in the dairy industry, but in recent years, her work has shifted from cows to goats and sheep.
“Goats and sheep are more efficient milk producers than cows per body weight,” Anita says. “And due to their size, they are easier to handle.…You can milk them, enjoy them and you don’t have to slaughter them like animals raised for meat.”
In 2015, she was invited to speak at the 4th Annual Food Congress in China, where she taught people from all over the world about making goat and sheep cheese, making ice cream from goat milk, and fodder technology.
“We showed people from desert places like Saudi Arabia and Africa how to produce food for animals indoors and without soil.” she says. “And the fodder, which is basically sprouted barley seeds, is 85 percent digestible compared to alfalfa, which is only 35 percent.”
The Wilsons are thrilled to be in Spring City. “Sanpete County is the most farm-friendly community in the state,” Anita says. “The local employees have a commitment to quality livestock care and a willingness to implement new technologies and management strategies in goat dairy and sheep farming. It’s also a great asset when our hay supplier can harvest his crop, and just drive over and put it into our barn.”
Milky Hollow currently employs two Snow College students. Once the farm is fully operational, the Wilsons say, there will also be internship and research opportunities for students.
The Wilsons also look forward to developing the local agritourism industry. “Sanpete County possesses an agritourism opportunity not fully realized that can blossom into significant revenues for many local family farms,” Anita says.
Milky Hollow was designed from the ground up to be animal- and people-friendly. People on tours will be able to view the all the processes of feeding and milking sheep and goats, and not be in the way.
According to the National Institutes of Health, goat and sheep milk offers a variety of health benefits such as better digestibility (due to smaller-sized fat droplets) and less lactose. It is also less allergenic, more alkaline and has some interesting medicinal properties.
Currently, the goat and sheep milk produced at Milky Hollow is being used to feed baby animals right on the farm.
Once the milking facilities are complete, the milk will ready for human consumption. Anita and two of her workers will attend a cheese making seminar at Utah State University next week. So the finish line is in sight.
According to Vern, “We’ve come so far, but it seems like there is still a lot more to do.” Working through the winter has been a challenge, especially since several babies were born during the last cold spell.
The roof will go on the main facility this week. The Wilsons are looking forward to finishing the construction phase and are eager to start offering their products to the public.