Initially, when Andrea Schreiner made the jump from accountant to the sheep dairy business, fellow farmers smiled at her condescendingly. Today, Andrea is setting an example of how sheep dairy farming can be done successfully. Few farms produce ewe’s milk products and lamb in Tirol, and Andrea only began farming dairy sheep on Mallnhof Farm in 2007.
Innsbruck-based farmer Andrea Schreiner is counting on sheep. Andrea’s sheep are a Northern European breed called East Friesian, among the best milk-producing sheep in the world. “You can’t beat East Friesians,” Andrea adores her herd. “They’re an incredibly special animal. They’re sociable with a high degree of empathy. They can be black or white and I like their physical appearance: East Friesians have their heads clear of wool. I have always had a great love of sheep.”
Framed by long blonde hair, her light blue eyes sparkle and her lips break into a smile although she has had no sleep that night. We meet early in the morning in her kitchen on Mallnhof Farm in Arzl and over a cup of coffee she tells me that she assisted in the delivery of three lambs during the night—and the ewe is weak after the birth. Andrea’s eyes were opened to the potential of a sheep dairy farm one day and she made the jump from accountant to the sheep dairy business without missing a beat. She embraced the challenge with customary enthusiasm.
The trained accountant decided to step down from the corporate world, and go back to her roots. Growing up on her parents’ cow farm, it was a brave move to swap dairy cows for sheep. Andrea attended agricultural school, swapped her family’s cow farm and selected the best individuals from East Friesian breeds to ensure robust, healthy and happy sheep. Although sheep are common throughout Tirol, Mallnhof Farm is, however, an oddity in terms of sheep farming activity. East Friesian is an unusual breed and sheep milk products are very rare in the country. Moreover, for a single woman to undergo such a life change was unusual to say the least. But it led to an exciting and rewarding adventure in tending sheep and raising lambs.
“I had to learn it all from scratch. In my quest to improve my processes and my products, I visited sheep farms in Salzburg and Upper Austria and dairies in Rotholz and in Zillertal Valley,” Andrea tells me. “One day I started making yogurt in my kitchen at home and my two children even liked it.” The next step on her way to success was converting other consumers to sheep milk yogurt.
“I gave away most of my products in the beginning and my customer list was within very reasonable limits, it was not more than one A4 sheet,” remembers Andrea. But then she partnered with “Bauernkiste” (literally ‘Farm Box’), a fresh produce delivery service that brings fresh, local, seasonal healthy foods right to customers’ doors. “The Farm Box supports small local companies like mine and it helps me to make a living,” says Andrea. “Farm Box delivers what’s fresh, local, and in-season directly to the doorsteps of consumers across the entire country. They partner with local farmers to deliver the freshest in-season product possible. It’s super convenient for customers—and it enabled me growing my business by reaching more people and selling my produce.”
Demand for her new and innovative sheep products continued to grow and so did her expertise. Georg Moser, chairman of the important and influential Brixlegg Farmer’s Market heard about Andrea and proposed her a deal: “I show you how to make lamb bacon and you join us and sell your yogurt on the market!” Such was the interest in her high quality sheep and lamb products that only soon later she was supplying to an Innsbruck fine dining restaurant, to the Thaur Farm Store and to a delicatessen shop. As time went on, production had outgrown its home in Andrea’s kitchen.
One and a half years ago, Andrea decided to install a shop on her Mallnhof Farm, the Arzl Farm Store. She wanted to have a place here on the farm for her customers to come purchase everything grown and produced. Mallnhof lies directly on Arzler Straße Street, in a rural district of Tirol’s capital Innsbruck. Andrea Schreiner had to work hard to earn respect and recognition from local farmers. She owes them that at last.
The quaint Arzl Farm Store carries the full line of Andrea’s sheep and lamb products. Moreover, Andrea turned her efforts to running a Facebook page with weekly recipes and news updates. And last but not least, she is a rabbit breeder, which again is an oddity in terms of farming activity in Tirol.
At the heart of her operation is Andrea Schreiner’s creative energy and desire for creating the highest quality products. She has an enduring passion and energy. “It’s easy, if you love what you do!” she laughs. And what about getting a good night’s sleep? “I will do that in autumn…”
Andrea Schreiner’s fine sheep and lamb products are available at the Arzl Farm Store on Fridays from 8:00am to 12:00 noon and from 3:00pm to 7:00pm and on Saturdays from 8:00am to 12:00 noon. A vending machine sells a small assortment 24/7.