Joel and I have lived on our farm for five years. Before that when we were in the reading, researching and dreaming phase I was obsessed with dairy goats. Anyone that knows me even a tiny bit probably knows about my deep and unyielding love of cheese.
There is an often quoted saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, ” Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” In all reality this is a condensed version of a paragraph Ben wrote in a letter that was actually about wine. Personally, I think he was just to drunk to actually remember he was talking about cheese. Cheese is just delightful, and really does seem to be proof that at least dairy goats love us and want us to be happy.
So why, given my overpowering cheese lust did we wait five years to start milking goats? I knew I wanted to make cheese but I also knew our animals needed to be working to pay our bills. Wisconsin has some of the most draconian cheese laws and one can not simply build a commercial kitchen and start making cheese. So, I put the brakes on my dreams of goats.
Half of our 40 acre property is overgrown woods. The first few years we spent building pasture fences (a task that never ends) in the obvious pasture worthy parts of the farm. As our poultry, sheep and pig herds and flocks grew bigger we began to think seriously about the woods. Joel has been wanting to clean up and restore the woods to Oak savanna (as it historically was) since we moved in, but it’s a huge project and it always seemed we had to many irons in the fire to get started on this important and time consuming project.
In 2014 we decided to get serious about restoring the woods. We knew we wanted to take out the invasives like Buckthorn and keep the trees with food value to livestock and wildlife such as oaks, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, black walnut, and mulberries. Some people don’t like mulberries because they are not native, but their leaves are very high in protein, everything loves to eat their berries (myself included!) and they provide shade in the pastures, so they are quite welcome on our farm.
We started building the first one acre pasture in the woods. We bought five goats and in the spring of 2015 put those goats and pigs into the wooded pasture. It was pretty obvious in the first few weeks that we needed more goats. The best goats for brush clearing are wethers, (neutered males, does currently in milk can damage their udders on things like raspberry brambles, which goats love to eat).
I made my case to Joel, if we want/need more goats we should get some does currently in milk, then in a few months we could re-breed them, and by next spring we would have more wethers for the woods, and almost the whole time I would have delicious milk to be made into cheese.
So, that is what we did! In subsequent blog entries I will show how the goats are working for us by
1. Making milk (cheese, soap)
2. Clearing the woods of invasives without the use of pesticides, or poisons all the while feeding themselves and having a great time.
3. How the does in milk are helping with the weeds in the sheep pasture.
4. The differences between sheep and goats, why I love them both, and why we need them both.