Moore Family Farms is going local. They’ve found a niche for their cheese among a growing demand for local products.

Heather and Brandon Moore started Moore Family Farms near Maquoketa  as a stock cow operation in 2009. They added a dairy barn in 2014, and wanted to find a way to diversify their farm.

They had conversations about contracts, discussing heavily the case in which a Wisconsin processor cut back on contracts.

“We had a lot of conversations about that,” Moore said. “We’ve only got 50 cows, we’re a brand new dairy, we don’t have a history with any milk company. What if that happens to us? What’s our backup plan?”

Instead, they decided to focus on their 50-cow herd and make a go of it. Most of their milk goes to Brewster Cheese in Stockton, Illinois.

They also found a custom cheese factory, Nordic Creamery in Westby, Wisconsin, to turn their milk into cheddar cheese.

A local opportunity

Moore Family Farms rented an available storefront on South Main Street in Maquoketa, and began selling their cheese to customers in November 2017.

And then it snowballed.

They sold out of the 700 pounds of cheese the day before Christmas, forcing them to have another batch made for eager customers. They’ve shipped their cheddar cheese to customers in 16 states.

They added coolers to sell other local products like cheese curds and hand-dipped ice cream from WW Homestead Dairy, meat from Edgewood Locker and various crafts from local crafters.

Just last month, the Moore family expanded their hours and their offerings with made-to-order daily specials, which usually feature a cheese or a meat product sold in the store.

“People really love that their food is coming from places they know,” Moore  said.

The Maquoketa area has been supportive of the family’s efforts, Moore said.

“We’ve had great support from our community,” she said. “Our community has been just amazing.”

Connecting cows, consumers

In order for her customers to get to know their food, so to speak, Heather posts pictures and stories of the cows on their farm to social media. Cows named Alexis, Kayla, Heidi and Hiccup are featured on the farm’s Facebook page, connecting consumers to the farm.

“We realize how much people just really love the local food again because they love that they’re not just getting cheese, they’re getting cheese from Alexis or Kayla,” Moore said.

She’s been able to continue growing her passion for the dairy industry, which started on the farm where she grew up.

“My family sold the cows when I was 10,” she said.

She leased calves from her grandparents and later from friends so she was able to continue showing while in 4-H and FFA.

She stayed close to the industry, showing cattle, working in a small cheese factory and learning more about dairy production. She met her husband, a cattle farmer, and the stars aligned: they found the farm near Maquoketa, land adjacent to the farm opened up to move their cattle operation, and they were able to turn their existing site into the dairy farm. There they raise their animals and their three children: Cassidy, Cooper and Tucker.

A focus on cattle care

The family continues to look for ways to improve their business. Part of that is buying registered cattle and proven genetics, Moore said.

“We believe in good genetics,” she said. “Cows that look good and milk good. We believe in longevity in our cows, and healthy cows make milk so we like to optimize our production but not at the cost of the cows.”

The list of goals for the Moore family is long: an on-farm creamery, more products produced from the farm, etc. But for now, Heather said they’re focused on the most important things.

“Milk quality and milk production are big goals,” she said.

They like to keep somatic cell counts low, and they’re working to produce more milk.

“We take care of them (cows) and they take care of us. If we take the best quality care for them that we can, they’ll produce the best quality products they can,” Heather said.

Technology and genetics have changed, she said, but the quality of care has remained a constant, she said.

“We really want to show people how much we care,” she said. “We care about our cows. We care about their milk, their cheese, the customers that come in here.”

Follow the family’s farm and business adventures on Facebook at The Kitchen at Moore Family Farms.