The road to Whispering Pines farm and stables is just outside of downtown Mauldin.
“The farm was here,” said Debbie Webster, “and the neighborhoods and businesses kinda grew around it.”
Whispering Pines has been around since 1980, starting out as a horse farm and stable where Webster – also known as The Horse Lady – operated Upstate Equestrian Ministries and a therapeutic program for special needs children and a vocational program for high school students.
The sheep and goats arrived about 18 years ago, when the farm began live Nativity events. Shetland sheep and pygmy goats were raised as pets and for the wool. Debbie and her husband, Alan, head up the only 4H Dairy Sheep and Goat Club in the United States. They schedule volunteer opportunities for folks to come out and learn about the animals and life on the farm.
Debbie Webster’s life hasn’t always been easy. Injuries from an automobile accident in 2001 sidelined Webster’s horseback riding career. Then, about 13 years ago, Webster’s daughter began having digestive issues. The family looked to milking the goats and sheep as a substitute for cow’s milk in her diet. After a few seasons, and with so many animals, the Websters had to make a decision: either sell off the herds or license the farm.
Webster did her research. She learned how to make cheese from the sheep’s milk, attended cheese-making workshops, consulted papers from the University of Wisconsin and Clemson, and in the process, she found a new passion.
“You have to step up your game every year,” Webster said. “I want a standard of excellence, taking care of the animals, the milk and the cheese. Making a quality product.”
On a recent day, walking into one of the fenced areas that holds younger animals, Webster said “the sheep are meek, a bit pitiful, and ... they’re uncoordinated. But ... they’re adorable. And they need a shepherd.”
A group of about a dozen 3-month-old sheep crowd around Webster, nudging her, waiting their turn for her to pet them and talk to them.
“People ask me all the time, ‘sheep’s milk, is that ‘a thing?’’ It is, but the sheep have a very short lactation cycle. Only 200 days,” Webster said. “And rarely do you get sheep to produce more than a half-gallon per day.” In comparison, goats and cows can produce milk continuously over a span of years – goats produce an average of three quarts a day, cows, six to seven quarts of milk each day.
“That’s why the milk is so expensive,” she said. “More labor, less milk. It’s basic economics,” why you’re paying $14/gallon for goat’s milk and upwards of $30/gallon for sheep’s milk.
And here’s the “thing” about sheep’s milk. It has twice the protein and fat of cow and goat’s milk, more carbs, vitamins C and B12, calcium and magnesium, and is the creamiest of the three. One gallon of goat milk will produce one pound of soft cheese. One gallon of sheep’s milk produces three pounds of soft cheese. And, like goat’s milk, sheep’s milk is naturally homogenized.
“We keep only the best of the best,” Webster said of her flock. “We have four generational lines” of Tunis sheep on the farm. “I can tell you who you got the milk from and when you got it.”
“We’re trying to get to the point where we would have 20 ‘super-milking’ ewes so we can take better care of less animals.” Whispering Pines was USDA approved three seasons ago and the animals and the cheese-making process are regularly inspected.
This is the first year that Whispering Pines has been on the Upstate Farm Tour and – along with the goats, horses, chickens, rabbits, black Angus cattle and sheep – will be featuring tastings of their cheeses (soft, hard, whey, yogurt and kefir). The cheeses, yogurts, milk and farm fresh meats, eggs and wool products will be for sale during the tour.
Oh, and #sheepsmilkisathing.
Grown Here is an occasional series profiling S.C. specialty farms and products. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, @foodsusan.
Whispering Pines farm
Sheep, goats, horses, artisan cheeses
Where: 206 Adams Mill Road, Mauldin
See it: In addition to being part of this weekend’s Upstate Farm Tour, the Websters offer tours of the farm by appointment, summer camps and themed field trips, along with horseback riding lessons.
Info: (864) 360-3222, www.wpstables.com
Upstate Farm Tour
What: Self-guided tour of 22 farms across Greenville, Spartanburg, Pickens, Oconee, Anderson, Laurens, Abbeville, Greenwood, Cherokee and Union counties
When: 1-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Cost: $30 in advance per vehicle or cycling group for all farms, all weekend; $35 at the gate; $10 per vehicle or cycle group to visit an individual farm. Button tickets available at www.carolinafarmstewards.org
Farm tour tips
DO bring a cooler and extra money for on-site purchases. Some farms have farm stores, and there are four first-come meal stops along the way (Happy Kritters Ranch, Possum Kingdom Kreamery, Forx Farm and Greenbrier Farm).
DO NOT bring pets as they can be a hazard to livestock and pose food safety threats to produce growers.
DO keep an eye on your children. These are working farms with potentially harmful equipment, electric fences and large animals.
DO NOT enter private homes unless given permission.
DO remember to wash up after petting animals. Hand sanitizers will be provided at each farm. You may be asked to disinfect your shoes to prevent farm-to-farm transmission of germs.
DO NOT arrive early or after tour hours.
DO map out your route before you go, allow about one hour or so per farm. Plan on visiting only three or four per day. Find a pdf map at www.carolinafarmstewards.org