by Brianna Walker
for Agri-Times NW
They say you can’t count on anything except death and taxes….but according to Robert and Cheryl Cosner, if you live on a farm, you can count on one more thing: sex.
The Cosners live in Upper Dry Creek, Oregon, and raise sheep and cattle. Recently they have been hosting field trips for the students from Whitman College.
To immediately capture their attention, Cheryl began by telling them that life on a farm was all about sex and reproduction. It didn’t matter if you were discussing cattle and chickens or grass and alfalfa—it’s all about reproductive cycles. Breeding, genetics, cycles, and articificial insemination are all are normal topics for dinner-time conversation at the Cosners.
There are definitely many reproduction cycles on the Cosner place. With over 800 head of sheep, a large herd of cattle, several goats, dogs, chickens and three children of their own, a reproduction theme really does seem to apply.
Robert and Cheryl Cosner have always been involved in agriculture; Robert’s family having ranched for generations and Cheryl’s family from about the ‘60s. They both majored in Agriculture at Washington State University, and after getting married settled down near Goldendale, Washington to start their own cattle operation.
In addition to agriculture, Cheryl also enjoyed painting…until the pregnancy of her first child. Due to the fumes and chemicals, she put her painting on hold and began exploring fibers: wool and yarn. That interest lead to her first 6 sheep. She had raised a few sheep as a kid in 4-H, although her family’s industry had always been cattle. But that didn’t dissuade her as she purchased her first purebred Coopworth sheep.
The Coopworth breed was originally developed in New Zealand by crossing Romney ewes with Border Leicester rams, to increase lambing percentages.
It wasn’t long before those 6 sheep multiplied to 30 and then 80. One evening over Chinese food, Robert and Cheryl decided to turn what started as an artistic venture into a more lucrative career. By 2004 they had bought a 2,000 acre ranch in the foothills of the Blue Mountains and moved their 200 head of sheep from Goldendale.
After her undergraduate studies, Cheryl had gone back to college for her mba in business. The move into Oregon provided her the opportunity to put all of her skills, agriculture, artistry, and marketing, together. Instead of marketing to local farmer’s markets, which they had originally intended, Cheryl instead began a direct marketing approach. Their first customer was Wildhorse Resort and Casino, and several high-end restaurants in Walla Walla were soon to follow. They currently sell direct to restaurants from Pendleton to Seattle.
Both Cheryl and Robert enjoy the direct marketing approach. It allows them the opportunity to get to meet new people as well as sitting down and brainstorming with the restaurant chefs. Cheryl praises events such as the Portland’s Farmer Chef Connection, which provides a forum where local ranchers, farmers and fishermen can meet chefs, restaurateurs, foodservice directors and such.
The Cosners also recently applied for and were awarded one of four Value Added Producer grants in Oregon, which allows them more opportunities to increase their clientele.
Since reproduction and growth are such a vital part of this ranching operation,, it is little wonder that their business keeps expanding. What started out as 6 sheep and an alternate hobby to painting is now an 800 head operation, lucrative, and keeps both them and their three children quite busy—delivering their product, caring for the ewes, maintaining a webpage, and giving college kids lessons about life, ranching, and reproduction.