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Minerva Cheese Factory Dairy Farmers are truly wholesome people with great family values and a reverence towards nature. Father and Son working side-by-side keep the small family farm alive by passing down their traditions one day at a time. We at Minerva Dairy feel a connection with our farmers and the great work they do. This page is to highlight the uniqueness of each Dairy Farm and pay tribute to their dedication. The highlighted farm will change every few months so keep checking back!

"To be named on Ohio Century Farm, you have to provide proof from the deeds that blood relatives have owned the property for 100 years," explained Sue. "I spent an afternoon in the recorder's office gathering all the paperwork that the state needed, and found documents showing the Little family had been here for at least 105 years."
Sue learned that Thomas Little came from Stark County to the area to start a dairy farm 105 years ago. She found that possibly Thomas' wife's family had worked the farm before that, but was unable to locate the documented proof needed.

"I started the project late, so I called while our application was still in process and they allowed me to go ahead and purchase the sign because our documentation looked good," said Sue. "But we got the word by mail that our application was approved just a few days before Christmas so I was able to give him (father-in-law, Delmar Little) the signed certificate from the Governor for Christmas." The farm is named Wild Duck Farm in honor of a nearby small school that used to serve the area. Today, Mike and Sue Little, their son J.D. Little, nephews Damion and Nat Wallace, great niece Nattallee Wallace and great nephew Lincoln Wallace all have active roles in the farm. Mike's father, Delmar, is retired, but still lives on the main farm.

"Sue and I, Damien and Nat are all partners in the operation, but, of my six siblings, five of us settled right here within two miles of the farm, so we have many nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews who are here all the time working along with us," explained Mike. "We are a many-generation family operation."

On the dairy side of the operation, Nat and Damion milk a 90-cow herd of Jerseys, Holsteins, Brown Swiss and Ayrshire cattle twice a day in a double-six parlor. The herd is about 80 percent Holstein, with some of the other breeds mixed in to help with the butterfat content of the milk. "We have about a 60 pound a day herd average with about 4.2 butterfat," explained Mike. "Our milk is shipped to Minerva Dairy." The Jersey cattle and the Brown Swiss cattle in the herd are registered and taken to the Carroll, Columbiana and Canfield fairs to show.
The Littles farm 300 acres and run a double-crop system for some of their acreage. In the summer, their fields are used to grow corn for silage, and, once the corn is taken off, a crop of rye is planted for the fall and winter. They also make wet and dry hay to feed the herd. A ration mixer is put together by a nutritionist to be certain the cows are getting the vitamins and minerals that are needed for herd health.

The Minerva Cheese Factory depends on a steady supply of milk -- 400,000 pounds per day, to be exact -- in order to maintain its production of 40,000 pounds of cheese and 7,000 pounds of butter per week. To keep the milk flowing, owner Phil Mueller relies on approximately 70 dairy farms, mostly small operations within 40 miles of Minerva. Mueller's admiration for these farmers goes beyond appreciation for the truckloads of milk arriving regularly at the cheese factory. "I tell the farmers that I appreciate their hard work," Mueller said. "That is a hard job. That's a seven-day-a-week job; they put in a lot of hours, and they're running their own businesses." Mueller makes it a point to pay yearly visits to each farm that supplies the factory with milk, to thank the farmers personally. "That way they're comfortable to call me," he said. "A lot of them like that, that if there's anything wrong, or they want to talk about where prices are going, we talk, or they wander in and sit down here."

On a recent visit to the farm of Brad and Brian Baker, Mueller and his daughter, Venae Banner, sales manager for Minerva Cheese Factory, stood in the milking barn discussing the percentage of heifer calves the Bakers' herd is producing, the diet the cows are fed, and the pros and cons of different breeds. The Bakers have been a cheese-factory supplier since July 2003. They started milking in 1996 with eight cows, and currently milk 60 to 70 Holsteins and Guernseys. The two young men farm more than 350 acres in two counties and four townships, growing soybeans, corn, wheat, hay and oats, which includes all the feed for their cattle and some grain to sell, as well. The Bakers said they feed their cattle a "rumen-friendly" diet, weighted toward forage. Their herd produces an average of 55 pounds of milk per head per day, with approximately 4.2 percent butterfat, which they noted is high for Holsteins. Guernseys, however, are known for giving rich milk, high in butterfat. The milk's high butterfat content, which the Bakers attribute to the "healthy ration" the cattle receive, makes the milk ideal for cheese making. Minerva Cheese Factory looks for suppliers with high fat and protein levels in their milk, as high percentages of these components result in the production of more cheese. Suppliers are paid based on the levels of fat and protein in their milk.

Every cow produces bovine growth hormone, Phil said, so there is no way to test for it; however, he is asking Minerva Cheese Factory's suppliers to sign an affidavit saying they do not use rBST.

The Baker brothers said they tried using rBST, but found it made feed requirements and milk production fluctuate unpredictably, so discontinued it. Their cows continue to produce milk the old-fashioned way, and so, through the hard work of its suppliers, Minerva Cheese Factory will be able to continue producing its products to meet the needs of the next generation.


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