This Central Californian goat’s milk creamery recently received the opportunity of a lifetime. As 2019 winners of the Jennifer Bice Artisan Dairy/Cheesemaker Grant, Stepladder Creamery was awarded $10,000, intended to support the growth of their small business.
This is the third annual award granted by Jennifer Bice, Founder of Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery. Bice created the grant to give back to the dairy industry, knowing how difficult it was for her to start her own dairy business decades ago. “Small business ownership is no small feat and requires wearing many hats,” Bice said in a press release. “I think it is important to help insure the production of artisan, high quality cheese which keeps more land in agricultural production.”
The award is meant to provide financial support to new artisan dairy or cheese producers—usually through education or farm/creamery infrastructure. Stepladder was chosen from a group of several California Artisan Cheese Guild member applicants.
Co-owners and husband-and-wife-duo Jack and Michelle Rudolph feel incredibly honored to be recipients of the award. They plan to use the funds to build a state-of-the-art loafing barn for the goats, per their company’s inherent devotion to the animals’ welfare. “The goats work so tirelessly for us,” says Michelle. “So it means the world to us to be able to repay the favor and improve their home.”
Cheesemaking is what brought this couple together back in 2014, when Michelle was still working at a winery and Jack was making cheese as a hobby. They became inspired when they took notice of a friend who was running a licensed farmstead goat creamery with just seven goats. Jack decided to take over his grandfather’s ranch operations and build their creamery the following year.
When Stepladder opened in 2015, they only had 15 Lamancha goats. Since then, they’ve grown to responsibly care for a herd of 60. The couple has always been focused on creating the best environment, diet, and life for their goats. The herd of 60 milkers—all individually named—enjoy a mild climate and a beautiful open pasture. “They are the perfect animals to make the most of that forage and convert it into delicious milk that represents our terroir,” Michelle says.
The Rudolphs are also hoping to use these grant funds as a stepping stone to attain Certified Humane status for the farm—a certification that shows certain precise welfare standards are met in farm animal production. The 1200-square-foot loafing barn they plan to build this winter will provide at least 18 square feet per doe, qualifying them for certification. Receiving this status would make Stepladder one of very few Certified Humane dairy goat farms in California and the United States.
“[The grant] will help us continue pushing to improve our goats’ quality of life in all facets,” says Michelle. “Which we know will only bolster our customers’ support of our farming methods and cheeses.”