New Red Dragon Dairy Focusing on Producing Sheep Cheese
Ellis Morris and his family came to Canada from Wales in 2007. The family started milking sheep on the farm in 2008 with 200 dairy sheep. 400 milking goats were added in 2012. “I had a dairy herd in Wales, but we didn’t own the farm, we rented it. We weren’t in a position to buy dairy quota when we arrived in Canada. We were looking at staying in dairy without the huge investment.”
For 10 years, Ellis, his wife Hazel and their son Sion owned and operated Quality Sheep Milk, an operation that milked its own sheep and goats and primarily hired other cheesemakers to create their products. Ellis said it was a combination of factors that led the family business to head in a new direction. “About two years ago my health deteriorated as I had heart trouble. My son wasn’t really interested in the farm, and I was doing all of the milkings, so I had to make a big decision – if we carried on or not. We were able to sever off some of our lands and sold the farm, then I was able to develop a processing plant.” He added that it was becoming more and more difficult for us to get licensed dairies to make their products. “Having our own plant gives us full control over when we produce which cheese. My son is now in charge and making the cheese.”
Now, in 2021, the Morrises are opening the Red Dragon Dairy in Salford, South-West Oxford Township. This location will enable succession and create new opportunities for the Morrises to continue making their traditional hard cheeses as well a variety of soft fresh cheeses like ricotta, curds, cream cheese and water buffalo mozzarella.
The family’s previous operation focused on hard cheeses, but Ellis said the demand has really turned to the soft variety. “My son has been practicing, including a batch of curds which is a fresh cheese. We always focused on making hard cheeses, but we are now making soft products like cream cheese, curds, ricotta, and even yogurt. I’m quite excited.” He added there has been a huge interest in the new operation and he is answering two or three calls a day from people asking when they are opening which he expects to happen as soon as their license arrives.
The family-business will focus on a local retail market in an intentional shift away from a wholesale business model. “In the past, most of our business has been wholesale. We would be better off selling a bit less in retail as there is just such a small margin in wholesale. It makes a huge difference to the bottom line,” added Ellis. “We are planning to carry local fruits and vegetables along with other natural products that you may not be able to find at your local supermarket”.
The new facility also leaves room for future growth. “We have only developed about a third of the building so we will be looking to grow into the rest of it as we get bigger,” Ellis added that they are using milk from local Mennonite farms in their production, and he hopes to hire some staff soon. “We will be looking to hire neighbours, people within walking distance and go from there. We just don’t know how busy we will be yet.”
With his son Sion now in charge of the business, Ellis was asked about any retirement plans soon. “I hope so,” laughed Ellis. “I’m 64 and I will be here to help but I will take a step back once we are up and running. The dairy is well over a million-dollar investment.”
The Red Dragon Dairy is located at 383747 Salford Road. Stop in or visit online at www.reddragondairy.ca (website coming soon).