I would like to introduce Heidi Kovacs from Sugar Maple Jerseys in Stockton, NJ. When Heidi messaged me about being included in the Women in Dairy series, she described herself as a single Mom that owns her own registered Jersey herd where they make and sell Jersey cheese. Currently their cheese maker is making a cheddar, gouda, feta, mozzarella, colby, cream cheese and fresh cheese curds from the milk from the ladies at Sugar Maple Jerseys. Truly an inspiring story and I thank you, Heidi for sharing it with us.
Heidi’s Story in her own words:
I originally grew up on a family owned dairy farm in Lebanon NJ. When I was in second grade my grandfather sold the farm and my uncle moved to Pennsylvania to continue with the herd. My father continued forward with his own herd of beef cows, which always kept me involved in agriculture. Whether it be helping with harvest or throwing hay in the summer. Around the age of 20 my father had a sick Hereford calf that required constant care. I had some availability at that time and was able to become involved hands-on with his little heifer. It didn’t take long before I fell in love and made her my own and decided I needed a milk cow. So for my 21st birthday my parents bought me my first Jersey and her name was Lily. Her great granddaughter is still milking in my herd today. After having Lily and purchasing other heifers I began to manage dairy farms in the area. The last farm I managed was for approximately three years until the herd was sold. I kept a few of my bred heifers and I eventually decided that if I was to continue forward with my jerseys that I should finally pursue my dream and have my own herd. I did quite a bit of searching and I found the current location of my farm in Stockton, NJ. It was abandoned and hadn’t been farmed in probably 15 years. I came here and slowly cleaned things up and applied for a loan with FSA for some dairy equipment and a herd of cows. I was approved for that loan and the cows arrived on June 22, 2013. I have slowly been moving forward ever since and we now produce our own cheese. We sell on the farm in our refrigerated stand at the end of the driveway and also at local farmers markets. I feel that cheese is our segment into my ultimate dream of producing our own line of ice cream with the first flavor being vanilla.
What is your role in the dairy industry?
My role in the dairy industry I find to be rather unique. I am a single mom of two amazing little girls and the sole owner of Sugar Maple Jerseys LLC. My daughters are, Madeline 6 1/2 and Miranda 5. I see everywhere women bragging about being a Farmer’s wife/ farm mom/farmher and I think all of that is very nice but I’m the farmher and I’m the farm mom and assumable one day the wife. I don’t brag or boast, I just work hard every day to provide for my family and give these jerseys the best possible care that I can afford. Dairy has always been in my DNA so to speak. I’m a fourth generation dairy farmer and the last in that long line. I consider my work with dairy animals to be a natural talent and one that has blessed me in so many ways and one that I thank god for every day! I am truly living the dream. Every day is not easy and it’s an uphill climb but without my family and my cows I don’t even know who I’d be.
As a Mom what do you want to share with others about the dairy industry?
As a mom in the dairy industry…..the one thing that I would like share is how important it is to set an example every day. It’s not what you tell your children and it’s not what you tell them not to do. It’s your attitude about your everyday life and the way you live your life because they see it the most. My children and I thank God every day for all that he has given us. We don’t have much but we have each other and this farm and for that we are truly blessed. As a dairy mom I am the giver of life and I am also the provider. I feel that I set an example for my children of strength, courage, responsibility, hard work, and understanding. Farm life is a good life. Always shine for your children because through that, they too will learn how to shine for themselves one day.
What is your favorite dairy product?
I have to be perfectly honest and say that my favorite dairy product would be your standard glass of fresh milk. I feel that nothing could possibly taste better in the morning. I of course have to say that everything amazing is a result of milk whether it is ice cream or cheese. We of course drink our own raw milk, and as a farm mom I fed my daughters a raw milk formula after I was finished nursing. Raw milk is my favorite for sure.
Editor’s note: When it comes to dairy products, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that when consumed raw, “milk and products made from milk (including certain cheeses, ice cream, and yogurt) can pose severe health risks.”
What is our favorite breed of cattle?
My favorite breed is the Jersey. It always has been and it always will be. My first heifer was a Jersey and my love for them began quite simply because I thought they were pretty. Now that I own an entire herd of this breed I also love them for their productivity and longevity. As a female, I find that their newborn calves are easier to carry and being that they are a smaller breed they are easier for me to handle. I also don’t need a hay bale to stand on when breeding them. Haha
What are 3 things you want consumers to know about the dairy industry?
- First and foremost I would like to say….. THERE ARE NO ANTIBIOTICS IN MILK! I find this misconception to be rather exhausting and tiresome to explain. But as far as antibiotics are concerned if I have a sick animal, I would treat them just as I would take medicine for myself or give it to my children.
- Secondly, all of our breeding is done artificially by me and at least 95% of it is done hormone free and on natural heats.
- Lastly we are a pasture based herd. 75% of our ration is grass fed. Spring through fall our animals are out on pasture and only come in to be milked. In winter months the animals stay inside our tie stall barn overnight and are let out daily for exercise.
What is the most rewarding part of being in the dairy industry? Challenging?
The most rewarding part of owning my own farm is the fact that I get to work for myself and I am also able to raise my children. I feel as though you reap what you sow and for “most” of what you put in to your animals and your farm, they will give back to you…. mostly. I am also able to be here when my daughters leave for school and be right here when they get off the bus after. That is my biggest reward. What are most challenging for me are two things, money and mechanics. As far as financially I would say there are many things I would like to do differently here regarding nutrition and housing but unfortunately the money is just not available and therefore I have to make do with what I have and try to do the best job I can with very little. As far as mechanically speaking I will be perfectly honest I am just a cow girl. Most of my time is spent with animal care and managing the farm and taking care of my children. Tractors, crops, and equipment are a foreign language to me. Fortunately I have a wonderful man in my life that is able to help me part-time with all of those mind boggling tasks. I would be lost without him and before he came along my father and brother bore the equipment/crop burden.
What advice would you give someone interested in the dairy industry?
The only advice I have to offer is dream big!! I was always told from day one there was no way I would ever own my own herd of cows let alone my own farm. Not because I am a woman but because it is a very difficult industry to thrive in. I however did not listen to the negativity and told myself there has to be a way. So through believing in me and working hard, we have been in business for over 2 1/2 years. We are currently in the process of working out a purchase agreement for the farm. All of that being said I do believe that dreams can come true if you believe and you work hard and maintain a positive attitude!
Heidi, thank you for sharing your story with us and keep making that Jersey cheese!
Entire Women in Dairy Series:
- Joanna Lidback of The Farm at Wheeler Mountain, VT
- Katie Boyke Grinstead of Vir-Clar Farm, WI
- Alicia Lamb of Oakfield Corners Dairy, NY
- Ysabel Jacobs of Ferme Jacobs, Canada
- Heidi Kovacs of Sugar Maple Jerseys, NJ
- Jolene Griffin, MI
- Melissa Woolpert of Country by Chance, VT
- Katie Sattazahn, PA
- Kim Bremmer of Ag Inspirations, WI
- Abigail Copenhaver of Farmstead Nutrition, NY
- Jodi Cast of JJC Jerseys, NE
- Amy Rowbottom of Crooked Farm Creamery, ME
- Britte Nooijens, Netherlands
- Julianne Holler, PA
- Cynthia Martel, VA
- Abby Swan of Kemridge Farm, WI
- Jamie Van De Walle, WI
- Joseta Halbur, WI
- Holly Smith, WI
- Jenny L. Baerwolf of Sassy Cow Creamery, WI
- Jenna Jongenotter, Canada
- Liz Neadow of Teacup Farm, NY
- Hannah Worden of Will-O-Crest Farm, NY
- Carla Wardin of Truth or Dairy, MI
- Amanda Freund of CowPots, CT
- Mandi Pacitti of Misty Brae Holsteins, Australia
- Jessica Chittenden Ziehm of Tiashoke Farm, NY
- Lisa Myers, MD
- Carissa Ann Tolzman, WI
- Danae Bauer of FarmGirl Photography, WI
- Ashley Kennedy of Messy Kennedy, MI
- Emily Lyons, Washington DC
- Joanna Rowher of Hollingstedt Schleswig Holstein, Germany
- Rita Mosset, ND
- Brianne Brown of Beslea Farms, Canada
- Pam Bolin, IA
- Janean Boss-Anderson, WI
- Jessica Peters of Spruce Row Farm, PA
- Amanda Williams, WI
- Trisha Boyce, PA
- Melissa Hanke, WI
- Tara Woyton, NY
- Melisa Konecky, NE
- Lizzie Frazier, NE
- Renee Norman-Kenny of Eat Farm Love, PA
- Amanda Killian of Dirt Road Holsteins, WI
- Kim Kester, WI
- Amy Ruegsegger, WI
- Alba Alvarez Nunez – Spain
- Emily Parker, WI
- Nicole Kearns, PA
- Cheyenne Ryzenga, MI
- Freynie Lancaster of Royalty Ridge, OR
- Maryanne Dudli, New Zealand
- Michelle, Keller, WI
- Ashley Abbott, VA
- Brenda Rudolph of Raising a Farm, MN
- Jennifer Heim, KS
- Janet Bremer of My Barn Yard View, MN
- Iris Barham Peeler, GA
- Laura Daniels of Heartwood Farms, WI