Today we’re diving deep into the lives of the women who run Bee Tree Farm and Dairy in Manor, Texas, just a few minutes from the heart of downtown Austin.
After realizing her love for raising animals in her suburban backyard, Jenna moved to the country and founded Bee Tree Farm and Dairy. Throughout that grueling process, she’s gone from farming mentee to mentor.
Kathryn’s family has a history in agriculture. A few years ago, she realized her passion for working with goats, and since then she’s worked on several farms. At Bee Tree, she offers a helping hand during kidding season.
Filipa moved to the US from Portugal as a photojournalist. While she still works in the industry, the rest of her time is spent working as herd manager at Bee Tree and on her own operation, Saudade Farms.
In 2008, Jenna was on a much different path than she is now. She was in graduate school, on her way to becoming a lobbyist. On a whim, Jenna bought a few chickens to care for in her backyard. That’s when everything changed.
The first egg laid coincided with Jenna’s growing desire to see what other animals she could raise. That weekend, she and her husband started the hunt for land to call their own. Eventually the couple found their new home on 15 acres of raw countryside, just outside of Austin city limits.
“I desperately wanted to raise a few goats. My first two goats were sisters from a local goat dairy—Pearl Snaps and Jolene. They had their first babies one year later, and I milked them on a wooden milk stand I bought off of Craigslist…
It was the experience of raising them and then milking them that caused an epiphany at a time I was already certain I didn’t want to live in high heels and at conferences: I wanted to build a life around these goats whose love for me, and mine for them, was powerful medicine. I had never felt so certain about anything. From that moment on I was determined to figure out how to make a living with goats.”-Jenna Kelly-Landes
Over the years, Jenna added more acreage and animal life to the farm. She read books and articles, teaching herself what she needed to know. From the beginning, she wasn’t afraid to ask farmers for help. Two women, Fran Sharp, who owns a raw milk goat dairy in a nearby town, and Amelia Sweethardt, owner of Pure Luck Farm and Dairy in Central Texas, were Jenna’s mentors—playing a crucial role in the development of Bee Tree Farm and Dairy.
Jenna’s herd continued to grow, as did the need for goat housing. That’s when the arduous and lengthy process of securing a construction loan and barn plan approval by the Texas Department of Health’s Milk Group began. It took 2 years before they could even break ground. Once the barn and dairy were completed, Jenna earned the licenses to sell cheese made from the milk of her own goats in 2016–8 years after purchasing the land.
“We currently have 54 goats and we are milking 40 goats this season. We make fresh cheeses entirely from the milk of our own animals which means we only make farmstead cheese: we never buy milk from other farms for our cheese. Every cheese is 100% created from and on the farm. This is a distinction that I think most consumers don’t know much about and is important to understand.” -Jenna Kelly-Landes
Then came 2020, a year for the history books that has taken a toll on small businesses and the folks devoted to keeping the lights on. When many restaurants and shops shuttered around the world, farmers kept at it.
“The thing with a dairy is that the lights can’t be turned off, the employees can’t be sent home. On farms that rely on and revolve around animals, their immediate needs continue despite the state of the world. They would still be lining up at the dairy each morning to be milked and I needed to make sure I continued to find an outlet for their milk and way to pay for their food.”-Jenna Kelly-Landes
In 2012, after experiencing instability when the recession hit Filipa’s home country, Portugal, she took her professional expertise in photojournalism to Texas. She continues to work as a freelancer with her skills in photography and cinematography. The rest of her time is devoted to farming.
Born and raised in the city, Filipa didn’t have any experience with agriculture. That is, until she began working with Jenna. She put in the hours of hard work and became herd manager at Bee Tree. Filipa now lives on the other side of the property, where she runs her own operation, Saudade Farms. There, she raises a few animals of her own and sells eggs to the community.
Filipa’s advice for beginning farmers:
- Be ready for a lot of hard work, humbling and heartbreaking moments.
- Always be patient and dedicated. Keep a clear mind on what your goals are.
- Everything in farming takes time, a farm is not built overnight. There are a lot of setbacks and unforeseen situations that will make you question yourself, but also bring the opportunity to constantly think outside of the box.
- You’re dealing with living beings and unpredictability is always there. But when you love it, you pour every single ounce of yourself into it. As cliché as it might sound, farming is truly a labor of love.
Before joining the team at Bee Tree, Kathryn worked at a goat farm in Vermont. Agricultural work runs in her family.
“My grandparents on both sides are very connected to farming and animal husbandry. My grandmother raised dairy goats, so I’ve been running around with and loving on goats since I was young. She hand milked her goats everyday, twice a day, and sold their milk to a cheesemaker. She inspires me.”-Kathryn Ivey
Kathryn was brought on to help during kidding season. Her tasks included helping with births, feeding expectant mothers, and bottle feeding the kids a few days after birth.
“It’s amazing to watch them grow. They eventually go from the bottle to the lambar bucket. They get excited to see me when I bring them their milk and start running around. It’s adorable. There’s something so calming about them. Some are affectionate, some are funny to just sit and watch.”-Kathryn Ivey
“I opened the dairy when my twins were almost 1 year old. The first 3 years of their life are truly a blur – and for that I have regrets. I birthed 3 babies in one year essentially: the twins and this dairy.
I do wish they could have been older before I started. But then, I don’t think I ever would have started the dairy because the work has been so intense. I will say that as they’ve gotten older, I have been so grateful to share the farm and the animals with them.
While I do not include them in milking or cheese making, they do participate in goat care and spend a lot of time with the baby goats. It’s made them brave and strong and tough and caring in a way that I think would have happened had we stayed in Austin.
I wish I were more present. I wish I weren’t always worrying about the business or my animals, but it also forces them to see that while I love them more than anything, they are a part of this entire farm – they are not the center of the universe. And I personally feel that’s a valuable lesson for them to understand.
Hard work can have major benefits, but you have put in the work.” -Jenna Kelly-Landes
What Jenna wants everyone to know about goats:
- Goats have an incredibly well-organized and structured hierarchy.
- I wish people knew how passionately goats live and how honest they are with their emotions.
- Goats raised by humans love their owners deeply – and sometimes they also hate their owners too, depending on hormones.
- Whatever a goat does, she does it 150% and it’s something I have admired about them from the beginning.
- They are absolutely herd animals and must never live as an only goat.
- They are fierce protectors of their herd and fierce lovers of their people.
- They have evolved alongside people being one of the first livestock to be kept by humans for meat, fiber, and milk. I personally believe this is why humans today have such a deep unknowable connection to them: we have walked beside them forever.
- Fran told me years ago that goats are simultaneously incredibly hardy and fragile: they are extremely prone to parasites and as long as that’s kept in check they tend to tolerate all sorts of temperature and condition extremes.
- They thrive when living in their most natural habitat which is rocky terrain with a lot browse.
- They prefer browsing to grazing because of their parasite issues: grass always has more parasite growth so they tend to look upwards to for food first for leaves and vines and all the scrubby things that sheep, horses and cows might overlook.
Jenna cuddles Legs, whose limbs were unable to straighten after birth,
but with a little extra love is now able to walk and play with the other goats.
“Professional farming requires a person to relinquish nearly all of their control over…everything. All of the factors so essential to the business operations or almost completely beyond the realm of our control: animal health, weather, feed prices – etc. Twenty-twenty hit me like a train, as it did for everyone.
I do feel that, being a farmer, I have learned to adapt to change in a way that I wouldn’t have in many other types of professions. Farmers must be prepared to pivot constantly and they must be prepared to endure unspeakable heartbreak, bear witness to unspeakable sights, sounds, and smells. This work is for those people who have no need to make money and whose hearts rely on the intangible bonds made and trust earned with beasts. If you don’t feel rich from those relationships, then this isn’t for you.”-Jenna Kelly-Landes
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