On a single acre of land lies a makeshift pen of wire, logs and fencing. Inside, several playful goats — S’mores, Nutmeg, Tootsie Roll and Hershey Bar, to name a few — gallivant through the grass.
Nearby, in the garage, baby goats Sunflower and Juniper lounge about.
Meet some of the loving companions of 16-year old Shea Cencula, Frederick County’s Dairy Princess.
Shea shares an affinity for the dairy industry and its animals, and with her goats, she brings a unique mindset to her role as local Dairy Princess, a position for which she was selected in late May.
It’s a busy life being Dairy Princess. Shea wakes up early every morning — either 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. depending on her school schedule — to take care of her now 11 goats, goes to school, comes back to do homework, cares for the cows and gets to dance (Irish dance, more specifically) and swim practice. Once, she had to leave school early to birth baby goats.
While Shea came up just short in last week’s Maryland Dairy Princess pageant, she still sees it as an honor — and important duty — to educate and engage the dairy community.
As the local Dairy Princess, Shea’s major role is to educate and promote the local dairy industry, milk and other milk products. This is especially important since dairy farmers have been struggling with the popularization of other milks, such as almond, Shea said.
Much of the education happens at fairs and schools. At fairs, she’ll hand out winning ribbons and take pictures in addition to her promotional efforts. At schools, she makes sure to remind kids how beneficial milk is for them — drink your milk, eat cheese and yogurt and, yes, enjoy the occasional ice cream treat, she urges.
Part of the reason Shea got involved in the Dairy Princess organization was to educate herself and learn the differences between cow milk and goat milk. She began as a Dairy Maid and served in that role for two years before becoming a Dairy Princess.
“Goat’s milk naturally doesn’t have as much lactose in it, so people who are lactose intolerant can drink goat’s milk a lot easier than cow’s milk,” she said. She noted that she makes soaps and lotions utilizing goat product and often gifts those to friends and family.
Shea’s passion for agriculture began in the second half of third grade, when she began homeschooling and got involved with a homeschool farming program. The program featured goats, a creature that quickly captured Shea’s heart.
Later, Shea became involved in Montgomery County’s 4-H program for dairy goats as well as the local FFA chapter. She leased two goats from a woman in 4-H, and that sealed the deal for her affection for the creatures.
“They were my very first show goats,” she said. “So we started the farm in 2016 to go ahead and purchase those two because I really had a bond with them.”
At the family’s Mount Airy property earlier this week, Shea’s mother, Hope, chuckled with amusement when she reminisced about 11-year-old Shea asking to bring goats onto their small plot of land. The parents said they would allow it, but the daughter would have to do her own research and independently go through the process.
Naturally, Shea’s older sister got involved since she, too, fancied having a goat or two to call her own.
The family went before the zoning committee to advocate for the project, and their animal-loving neighbors vouched for them, leading to the eventual success.
Building up the farm ended up being a learning experience for everyone involved, Hope said, and she’s been so proud to see her daughter learn and evolve.
“She does a lot. She’s become very confident in herself and passionate about animals and goats and dairy, and it’s just been neat to see because I had no clue,” she said.
Not only does Shea have a deep knowledge of the dairy sector, she seems to be a natural with another animal in it, as well. When she went to see Johnsville farmer Sydnie Grossnickle — also involved with the Dairy Princess program — in 2019 to lease and learn more about cows, Shea quickly forged a connection with both Grossnickle and the new livestock.
But goats are Shea’s bread and butter. They crowd around her and, like cats, rub their heads all over her legs. She scratches their noggins and feeds them peanuts while complimenting them. Sunflower, the baby goat, even landed a smooch from Shea on Thursday.
“I love them because they all have a different personality,” she said.
Grossnickle said Shea’s commitment to dairy education and engagement is what makes her stand out.
“Shea has definitely created her own story and her own journey within the dairy industry,” Grossnickle said. “And I couldn’t think of a better person to represent our county and our industry this year, because she really does care.”