Irish Cream Sheep Dairy Uses NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund Loan to Enhance its Unique Enterprise
National Livestock Producers Association, Colorado Springs, CO (2/20/13) -- For more than 30 years Bill and Virginia Halligan have raised sheep, cattle and alfalfa on their small family farm near Bushnell, Neb. After raising their two children JoElla and Cody, Virginia started to look for ways to diversify their small operation and Irish Cream Sheep Dairy was born.
The Halligan name is of Irish origin and sheep milk is creamy, which is how they came up with their name. The next step was to secure financing to develop their idea. The Halligans turned to the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund and applied for financing.
''NLPA helped us to refinance a previous startup loan when our original bank was forced to close,'' Cody Halligan said. ''At the time that this happened there were not a lot of other banks looking to make ag loans, especially sheep dairy loans.''
Cody Halligan left his job as a herdsman at a large cow dairy to oversee the construction and become the herdsman for Irish Cream Dairy. His sister, JoElla, also helped with the initial construction and continued to work at the dairy. She left the dairy for a short time, but returned with her husband, Andy Norman, to work at the dairy for several more years.
The Halligans have taken their knowledge of commercial cow dairies and have applied similar techniques in their sheep dairy, Halligan said. Irish Cream Sheep Dairy is one of the first, if not the first, sheep dairy in the country to take the same approach as the larger commercial cow dairies.
''Due to infancy of the industry and the lack of research applicable to our situation, we have had to experiment at every turn,'' Halligan said. ''We have gained knowledge the hard and expensive way, which has proved invaluable to others choosing to get into the sheep dairy industry. We strive to be an asset to the sheep industry as we diversify and grow the sheep dairy market, while reaching and educating consumers who would otherwise not have been aware of this type of product.''
Irish Cream Sheep Dairy has run about 800 ewes for the past seven to eight years and the milk is currently being marketed from coast to coast both as frozen milk and as finished products made with milk.
''Sheep milk is highly regarded for its healthy qualities as well as its unique molecular characteristics,'' Halligan said. ''It is naturally homogenized, therefore it will not separate, allowing it to be frozen without affecting its quality. Twice as much cheese can be made with sheep milk, than can be made with the same amount of cow milk. A lot of people who are unable to digest other milks can tolerate sheep milk. This makes the health conscious consumers a large market. Also due to the limited availability, it is naturally considered a delicacy and pursued by culinary connoisseurs. It is used quite extensively internationally thus influencing the domestic culinary world.''
When asked what some of the challenges are operating a sheep dairy, Halligan replied that they are basically the same as in the cow dairy industry.
''High feed, fuel, labor, taxes, and equipment costs; as well as the lack of quality and trustworthy employees, and we can just forget about experienced,'' he said. ''The lack of education and exposure regarding agriculture, the sheep industry, and especially the sheep dairy industry make finding experienced employees more of a challenge.''
Halligan said Irish Cream Sheep Dairy is doing a lot to expose and educate people around the country about this relatively new agricultural industry.
''We have a couple of colleges that make annual tours. We have hosted and consulted for people from all over the country as well as the world,'' he said. ''We have imported and crossed with some Canadian genetics and we have also invested a lot in research.''
The Halligan’s business goal has never been to produce an end product, making them one of the only dairies in the country to have milk available to sell.
''This means two things: first, those who do not have the capability to milk their own sheep can still acquire sheep milk to work with, greatly increasing the number of sheep’s milk products on the market,'' according to Halligan. ''Second, it allows processors to market/grow current product lines beyond their current milk production capabilities.''
To find out more about the Irish Cream Sheep Dairy or to order their product, visit their website at: http://irishcreamsheepdairy.com.
More information about the NLPA Sheep & Goat, including the application, an informative slideshow presentation, descriptions of funded projects, news and industry links, please visit www.SheepandGoatFund.com or contact Scharee Atchison at 800.237.7193, ext. 10 or via email at NLPA@NLPA.org.
The NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund is available to qualified applicants at a competitive interest rate. (Please call for current rates). Some basic information about the Fund includes:
- Loans are available in amounts up to $1 million per applicant.
- Sole proprietors are ineligible, (but most other legal entities are eligible partnerships, corporations, etc.)
- Rates and terms are determined during the approval process.
- The Fund is delivered through either direct loans or loan guarantees – grants are not available
Applications can be submitted at any time without subject to deadlines. There is a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $100.
The National Livestock Producers Association, founded in 1921, is an organization of livestock marketing cooperatives and credit corporations representing more than 150,000 livestock producers nationwide.
Written by Lynelle Pahl, NLPA Correspondent, and Melissa Schneider, NLPA