“My dad grew up a city boy in Peterborough, New Hampshire but he always just loved animals,” says Joe Shultz. “When he was a kid, he worked for a guy who milked about eight or ten cows and my dad peddled the milk around the community.”
Joe, the second oldest of four boys, inherited his father’s love of animals fostered by growing up on his parents’ small registered Holstein dairy, located first in New York’s Delaware County and then the northern region of the state. Today, Joe and his wife, Sue, run the farm with the help of their teenage son, Bronson, milking 45 to 50 cows and raising their own replacement heifers on about 150 acres. It is called Ara-Kuh, named for the original Shultz farm location in Arabia, New York and the German word for cow, “kuh.”
Like his father, Joe went to college to study agriculture and thought he’d follow his dad into co-op extension work but after working for five years for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, he decided to focus back exclusively on farming. “It was good to travel around and see a lot of different types of farms,” he says, noting that it helped him focus on how farming worked best for him. “I always thought to stay smaller and make more margin per cow, to be able to do it without hired help, to keep it just family.”
The Shultz family follows the rotational grazing practices started by Joe’s dad. With the herd out on pasture from about May 1 through mid-October, they are freed up from some of the constant growing-season crunch of cropping hay and corn so, about four years ago, Sue Shultz had the idea of making fresh cheese curds with some of their milk. She grew up in a farming family nearby and had worked in some of the local dairy processing plants but “she didn’t do well cooped up,” her husband says. “She was always much happier and felt healthier when she came back to milk on the farm.”
Shultz Family Cheese was born in a converted room in the front of the milk house. The farm’s nuggets of noshable “fresh and squeaky” cheese curd, as Joe describes them, are sold the day they’re made direct to devoted fans, to area retailers and also in special batches for local school groups and other club fundraisers like 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
Ara-Kuh became an Agrimark member right around when they started the cheese business partly because of the co-op’s strong support and flexibility related to member’s developing their own value-added dairy products. “They’ve been excellent and encouraging,” Joe says. The cheese business has also helped the family take a little more time away from the farm with travels for product development and marketing research. Luckily, Sue’s father and a neighbor’s son are able to help out with the herd when they are away.
But mostly, the Shultzs are happy on the farm working through the year with their cows and small cheese plant. “I guess we like the change of every season,” Joe says. “Each beginning and each end of season we enjoy. The change is good.”