Jesse and Renee Whinnery, Whinmont Farm
Although not quite what she imagined, Renee Whinnery is doing what she wrote about in her grade school yearbook: “I want to work with animals.”
“This is nowhere near what sixth-grade Renee thought I’d be doing with animals but it’s the animals that took me here and keep me here,” said the Coshocton County sheep farmer.
Growing up in the suburbs of Spokane, Wash., Renee didn’t plan on having a small farm and working full time for a large food company. But that’s where she now finds herself.
She met her husband Jesse at Ohio State University where she studied animal science while he pursued a degree in horticulture. Renee now works as a safety, security and environmental manager for Kraft Foods at its Coshocton factory, which makes the lion’s share of Oscar Meyer bacon. Jesse grew up in Belmont County, active in 4-H and working on the neighbor’s dairy farm. He works as a dairy nutritionist for AgriKing, an animal nutrition company based in Illinois.
“A dietician to the cows you could say,” he said.
About five years ago, the couple settled in Coshocton, centrally located for their jobs and with relatively affordable land prices. They initially discussed starting a dairy, but the challenges of being beginning farmers led them another direction.
“We only have 20 acres and we wanted to figure out a way to be profitable off of what we own, and sheep was the best fit for small acreage,” Jesse said.
They bought a starter flock of six ewes and have been raising lambs for meat and a few for youth 4-H projects while growing the flock. They are now on their third crop of lambs and have a unique side project providing additional farm income.
“We wanted to see what milking sheep was like because we have a bigger vision in mind for the whole farm and making soap was the easiest way to use the milk without it having to be pasteurized,” Renee said.
Mixing the sheep milk, which has a higher fat and protein content than goat or cow milk, with lye and oils like olive or coconut oil creates the natural soap, which is sold in two Ohio stores and online. Many of the orders come from California and northeastern states. Down the road the couple envisions making artisan sheep’s milk cheese.
As new members of the Coshocton farming community, Jesse said that getting involved in Farm Bureau was very important.
“We were definitely outsiders and nobody knew us but getting involved with the local Farm Bureau has opened up a tremendous amount of doors for us,” said Jesse, who now serves as the president of the Coshocton County group.
Despite how busy they are with parenting, careers and community involvement, it’s difficult to keep this couple from building their farm.
“We love waking up and having work to do every day. I know that some days that’s rough but the farming lifestyle is the most rewarding piece,” Renee said. “The toughest part is finding the hours, but we see the bigger picture in the future, and if you aren’t going to do it now when are you going to do it?”
“I see the sheep at nine or 10 o’clock in the dark an awful lot,” Jesse said. “You get things done when you can and I look years down the road.”
Starting from scratch with no equipment or barns can be challenging, but the Whinnerys were resourceful. Jesse built a barn on their Coshocton property with materials from his great uncle’s old Belmont County farm. They also searched for equipment and supplies at farm auctions and on Craigslist.
Meet other young Ohio farmers
Published in the September/October 2015 Our Ohio magazine. Stay connected with and support great food and farm stories like this by becoming an Our Ohio Supporter. For just $25 you can stay connected with Ohio food and farm stories while supporting local foods and community outreach.