There are a great many things that a modern family can do with their spare time. There are countless television shows to watch til you're sufficiently numb, video games to tackle round by round, all manner of high tech gadgets to mesmerize the senses, or one could drag their clan through the nearest mall and mindlessly shop shop shop til they drop. As for our growing brood, we prefer time spent together in the great outdoors, especially if we have the opportunity to try our hands at a little something new. So when a friend of a friend of ours invited us to visit a small herd of dairy goats at their home in Altadena we found it hard to resist. We have been entertaining thoughts of perhaps raising some dairy goats here at Pomello ( although beekeeping is next on our list ) for the last several months and this was a welcomed opportunity to ask all of our most burning goat rearing questions to someone with a bit of experience..... and of course to play.
(photo courtesy of Gloria Putnam)
This is Pipi the goat. She is one of the eight GORGEOUS Nubian goats at Zane Grey Estates. Pulling up to the driveway I suddenly realized I was not properly prepared for the grandeur of the place. Before heading out of town we were only told about there being a band of goats, that the place was "cool" and to get the full tour. I had no idea that it was a historic mansion whose grounds were now being converted into a fully edible estate with raised veggie beds in the front yard, a series of small vineyards sprinkled throughout the grounds, occasional cheese making classes, and a new brooder of tiny baby chicks. The shear size of the place was hard to fathom, but I was instantly set at ease by the groupings of grapevines in black plastic pots waiting to be planted and the eye high stack of straw bales by the entry door......... because as we all know.......nothing says mellow earthy mansion like straw bales.
Gloria, a statuesque and energetic lady in straw hat and jeans greeted us by the goat yard under the eucalyptus trees. Gloria and I met by phone weeks before this visit and chatted about raising our own food in the suburbs, various "sustainability" related issues and, of course, about all things goat. Her knowledge and enthusiasm flowed like nectar from a honeysuckle as she encouraged me to dive a bit deeper into this part of the local food world. It was nice to finally put a face to the voice as we stood face to face at the milking stall by the gate. We easily jumped right into more questions and answers, Gloria filling a wheelbarrow with used bedding all the while. And the goats came to flirt.
A goat, as it turns out, is a gentle, highly intelligent, adventurous, friendly and simply gorgeous creature. There are all sorts of reasons people choose to raise goats. There are special breeds one might select for each purpose : dairy, meat, draft & pack, and even fiber ( for spinning and weaving ) are among the strengths to consider. After spending some time with this lovable herd mammal though I can say that their companionship alone is an equally good reason to raise a goat. It is easy to see why they are one of the most popular domestic animals in the world. They are heart crushingly cute, easily as friendly as a puppy and even more beneficial to the urban homestead with their fantastic enriched bedding to be used as the ultimate mulch and fertilizer. However, it would be cruel to raise just one goat since they are herd animals and cannot live a truly healthy, natural existence in isolation. To consider raising a goat is to consider raising at least two goats or more. So many breeds to choose from too: there are Nubians, La Manchas, Alpines, Oberhoslis, Angoras, Boers, Toggenburgs, African Pigmies, Saanens, Cashmere goats and more, but each breed is raised among a herd, each goat needs at least one goat friend to express their innate goatiness. They are the social butterflies of farm animals and hardcore snuggle bugs at that!
Keoni, Kai and Eden settled quickly around their new furry friends as they offered up a bite of local forage. We found out that a good percentage of the worlds goats are milked by children. As a matter of fact, some goats will only let a child milk them. It might have to do with the smallness and gentleness of their little hands.
I could definitely see from our visit that kids and goats do get along swimmingly!
Gloria and Steve, the two individuals tending to the herd at Zane Grey Estates, are unusual in their approach to goat rearing.They are unusual in a most wonderful way. Their eight goats are given the spacious and shaded outdoor playground that would be a generous allotment for twenty five full size goats. These goats have REAL ESTATE! I am all for free range and so a wide smile danced across my face as I watched these does leap, climb, graze and visit each other with plenty of room to do their ruminant thing. Their caretakers are also breeding them much less intensively to give each milking mother a chance to regain her strength, and therefor her life force, between each birth and lactation. The utmost care and consideration has been given this little goat society; from the organic feed and supplement that is offered to the holistic health care measures that they have on hand in the case of any emergency or special need. This is a thoughtful inter species exchange and one I hope to see repeated as more and more homes return to the common sense lifestyle of raising some of their own food.
That brings things right back home. I mentioned earlier that we've been thinking of raising milk goats here at Pomello. I adore goat cheese. I don't use the word ADORE lightly here since cheese is really one of those foods that repeatedly has made it quite impossible for me to ever become vegan. I've tried........ but goat cheese is my lover....... I'm working on it. In the meanwhile, I've done a bit of reading and talked to a few people who have raised or are raising dairy goats themselves. I love the idea of tending goats here and inviting their gentle dispositions into our growing family of fun pets, the miraculous fertilizer they make naturally, for the opportunity to make cheeses, butters, fresh raw milk, ice creams, goat milk soaps and for the chance to learn something old that feels new. We certainly have the space to give them what they need and then some. And I'm totally cool with the fact that for ten months of the year it would mean milking some goats every twelve hours ( read twice a day, everyday ). Local food is always worth the effort. Something about this charming animal feels comfortingly familiar, accessible and irresistible. On the other hand, here's the real sticky wicket for me: Milk is not just milk. Raising a goat, sheep or cow for milk also means breeding that female regularly so that she will give birth so that she will give milk. Some breeding methods are more unsavory than others. Once a "kid" is born the baby gets some milk and you, as the herder, take some milk. How much milk to take is left to your individual discretion. Then there is the question of the offspring. The ethics, rather, of what to do with the offspring..... the babies. Girl goat babies, like girl chickens for eggs, are of course welcomed with open arms. Boy goat babies are another matter all together. A boy goat, or buck, as they are called, is typically used for breeding (where he is then called the "stud buck" ) or for..... (gulp) meat. And to keep a buck near a nursing female goat, or doe, is to taint the flavor of her milk. So removing a buck from surrounding does in milk is usually the course of action. A complicated set of agreements. And all for the love of goat cheese!
I do LOVE cashmere ( I literally sleep in it in the winter months! you can find decent second hand cashmere separates at the Goodwill for under five bucks if you're observant. ). Man, maybe it's just easier to raise a Cashmere or an Angora goat!
This decision of if, how and when to introduce goats into our garden home is ongoing and, given the various philosophies and sensibilities in our home, complex in nature. The more solid information, experience and input we get from our community the better. I've learned as I've ventured back into remembering the old ways, that many things about securing one's own food are not just a given. There is some debate as to whether we humans are omnivores or herbivores.... and even the "ethics" and philosophies of that are intricate. To secure a simple tomato for the herbivore a gopher or locust or mole may have to die..... making that one carnivorous tomato that the oblivious herbivore chomps down without the least bit of conscience. And I've learned one thing with crystal clarity............ death happens in the garden. Death is a part of life. Just ask a mushroom. The plants and the animals eat each other. And the animals , bugs and animals eat each other! The reality that a goat, whose average life span is about 10 to 12 years, will possibly die sooner than "natural" and become someone or something else's meal is quite simply not a popular modern thought. We have fancy, privileged class problems to sort out with our food in this country at this point in human history. I could write a book on this alone. But I'm more curious to find out what you think. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment on this posting and the discussion can continue.
All this said, after our visit with the goats, Steve and Gloria invited us to a cheese making class, had me sample a fig jam and goat cheese morsel that was scrumptious and prepared a delectable package of goodies for us to take home. There were two kinds of goat cheese and a liter bottle of rich, creamy fresh raw goats milk. It was penetratingly white and sooo good that Julian, our three year old, guzzled half the clear glass bottle full all by himself like he had been waiting his whole life for it! That answered our question as to whether or not the kids liked goats milk! The other five of us had to split the remainder of the tasty milk at our picnic at Travel Town in Griffith Park about 10 minutes later. There are all sorts of health advantages to choosing goats milk over cows milk. A quick google search will produce a landslide of info on the subject.Healthy whole food.... just another mark on the pros list for bringing goats to Pomello.
I never did get the full tour of the mansion by the way, maybe next time. I think I prefer that my impression of the place was that of true wealth anyway. True wealth involves creating and enjoying something of deep value. The value of sustaining one's self by securing your own food source even though you don't " have to " is priceless. These people have the means to purchase all their own high end food ...... import it actually....if they want to. But they choose instead to show value for things that matter. There is something much bigger than money here that is changing things all over the country. It is changing the landscape of our cities, suburbs, and countrysides. Local, organic and ethical are here now. They are happening in many forms. It is the sunrise of the era that I call The Great Remembering. Everyone, from the super wealthy to the super humble participates. Things are getting interesting.
So pictured here is the breed that we have narrowed in on if we ultimately participate in milk making..... the Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat. I mean, come on! This is excessive cuteness here! Captivatingly sweet natures, good feed to milk ratio, bright blue eyes, supremely kid friendly and utterly, manageably pint sized. Seriously.... look at them. An adult Nigerian Dwarf at full size is between 16" to 22" tall. Yes, they are under two feet tall. No bigger than a medium sized family dog. But your dog could never do what a goat does ( nor, dare I say, would you want it to! ). They play well with others....... forming bonds and symbiotic relationships with chickens, people and all types of pets. Did I mention the cute factor? Flippin' cute. Period. Not making it any easier with this abundant squooshy cute element.
So we volley back and forth on the topic of goats. We'll take our time, read, watch, ask and listen. And when the time is right we'll put it all together and do what feels right for us. For now, pull up a chair, sit a spell and share your thoughts..... I'd love to know what you think!
Peace, carrots and goat cheese....... maybe,
A warm thank you to Gloria and Steve for this generosity of time, knowledge and food! Next time I'll bring more than just a packet of quinoa seeds as a thank you!