New sheep dairy opens in SW Oregon

LANGLOIS, Ore. — Armed with years of sheep-raising experience, agriculture degrees from Oregon State University and a lot of support from fellow sheep growers, entrepreneurs Woody Babcock and Cora Wahl have opened a sheep dairy in Langlois, Ore.

The couple started Woodrow Farms LLC in 2018 with 73 East Friesian ewes and started milking them in 2019. Hoping to increase their flock to 220 by next year, they are now milking 100 ewes and selling all of the milk to Face Rock Creamery in nearby Bandon.

Woody, 29, and Cora, 27, have degrees in ag science and ag business. They met as students at OSU.

Woody, who was selected in 2014 as one of two young shepherds to represent the U.S. at the second World Ovinpiades challenge in the Auvergne region of France, gained his experience from working and shearing for other sheep growers.

Cora, who was born and raised in Langlois, grew up working on her family’s sheep ranch.

“It’s been a chaotic year and if we both hadn’t known a lot about sheep, we wouldn’t have made it,” Woody said. “The first five months we milked twice a day. With three hours per milking (considering clean up and everything) and feeding and working with all of the bummer lambs, it added up to very long days.”

In addition, he sheared on the side to help make ends meet, so at times Cora was left to do it all by herself.

“We recently cut to milking once a day so at least until it’s time to start up again we can take time to go to dinner,” he said.

“Still, he said, “the whole project came together through a community effort, and if it weren’t for the help of friends and family there wouldn’t be a dairy.”

Cora and Woody, who for the last four years were in charge of 1,000 bummer lambs on the Wahl family ranch, were unknowingly preparing themselves for the sheep dairy business.

“Raising bummer lambs is an important part of a sheep dairy and it is very intensive work,” Cora said. “We worked closely Woody Lane, a livestock nutritionist and forage specialist who developed an early weaning system that pulls the lambs off milk replacer in 21 days and puts them on grain.”

They keep replacement ewe lambs so they can get their numbers up and sell the rest, she said.

“We definitely have had a leg up in the game by knowing how to raise bummer lambs at a profit,” she said.

With advice from the USDA inspectors who contributed to the information on parlor construction and help from fellow sheep growers, the couple renovated an old dairy parlor and barn on property they rent from Brownsville friend and adviser Reed Anderson.

They were able to buy the milking parlor equipment from Mac Stewart of Salem.

Brad Sinko, co-owner and cheesemaker at Face Rock Creamery, is optimistic about what Woody and Cora are doing.

“Sheep milk is more nutritious and also more expensive but that didn’t scare people off when during the years I was making cheese for Beecher’s Hand Made Cheese in Seattle,” Sinko said. “It’s pretty neat having a local source of sheep milk only 10 miles away. We are starting with a half-and-half cow and sheep block cheddar and a natural rinded cloth-bound wheel, which will make a milder cheese.”

The new product should be on the shelf ready to buy in about six months, he said.