A few Saturdays ago we were up early and taking a foggy drive down the coast on Highway 1. Our destination was Harley Farms Goat Dairy to meet some goats and eat a little cheese. These goats are pretty spectacular. My last memory of a goat encounter was having baby goats attack my brother at a baby animal feeding-zoo-type thing. He had the bottle of milk, they all wanted it at the same time and they were a bit bigger him. There is still a hilarious photo of him lifting the bottle above his head, goats straining against him to get at it and a look of utter terror on his face.
This farm smartly keeps the adolescent goats away from people and only lets you in to pet the older mother goats. They are less likely to jump up on you and get rambunctious. The tour starts with a history of the farm from it's beginning in the early 1900's. The farm in it's current state has been around for 20 years. We get the lay of the land and then it's off to make friends with the goats.
Strangely, before visiting the farm, it didn’t cross my mind that there would only be female goats in the milking herd because only female goats could give milk, and milk is what a dairy is all about. So boy goats are sold as pets, as meat or as grass cutters. The farm currently has about 75 goats that produce milk and that number fluctuates to about 155 depending on birthrates and deathrates.
In the above picture you can barely see the chicken coops (look in the back right-hand corner and use your imagination) and the moveable chicken pens. The chickens when in the mobile pens are put into the goat fields to peck, turn up the ground and fertilize the soil. The goats get the added pleasure of playing king of the hill atop the pens.
Goats have amazing rectangular pupils in their eyes that being set on the sides of the head increase depth perception and range of vision, which in turn helps them to be aware of nearby predators. In the above photo you can also see the tiny flaps of skin hanging off this goat’s neck that are called wattles or dewlaps. It is the softest thing you will ever feel. People at the farm feel that in the future this feature, which has no recognizable purpose, will be bred out. But for now, if you meet a goat, reach out and feel the softness of this thing.
The milking parlor is where the goats are milked twice a day at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The milking set up you see in the below pictures is arranged so that the goat’s head is placed between two wooden boards and she is able to eat her feed while being milked with minimal possibility of malfunction. The suction machine milking takes about two minutes per goat as opposed to manual milking, which would take six minutes per goat. The milk is funneled into underground pipes that terminate in the dairy.
The goats are free to graze the fields during the day and are also given specially formulated feed in which the carbohydrate to protein ratio is manipulated depending on where the goats are in the pregnancy/birth cycle.
The dairy is small, clean and efficient. The main types of artisan cheeses made here are “goat” cheese in rounds and logs, goat feta, and a goat fromage blanc that has won worldwide competitions. We purchased different types of all three and I’ve never tasted something so fresh and deliciously cheesy. We sampled the goat cheese in the dairy and the cheese activated the flavor sensors on every part of the tongue. At the beginning of the tour the owner of the farm could be seen making cheese in the dairy and at the end of the tour she was in the shop making sales. It was apparent how much work and love went into the maintenance of this farm, the raising of the goats and the making of these kick ass cheeses.