By Kelly Yandell
Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo
In an increasingly competitive and corporate-driven milk world, some Texas farmers are turning to the hardy, versatile goat for their dairy production. Goats are famous for tolerating arid climates, and they browse instead of graze, which means that while they do like a variety of plants in their vicinity, they do not need, nor want, vast expanses of rich grasses—making it possible to operate a successful dairy on a smaller piece of land.
Goats are smaller and easier to manage than larger animals. “Our average female goat is a hundred and twenty-five pounds,” says Mark Burow of Wateroak Farms goat dairy in Robertson County. “You can move them, and when one is sick, you can pick her up and take her to the barn and treat her.” Not so with an 800-pound cow. And goats also have a higher feed-to-milk conversion ratio and are known to have a pleasant disposition. “Cows will kick your knees out,” Burow says.
But in a dairy culture dominated by cow’s milk, many Texans have never even tasted goat’s milk. Or if they have, it may have been canned, powdered or ultra-pasteurized—processes that destroy the unique and clean taste of fresh goat’s milk. But a rise in goat’s milk’s popularity, coupled with increasing availability, could change all of that.
Cow’s milk and goat’s milk share a lot of similarities; however, their differences are important. Goat’s milk has smaller fat particles and a smaller curd, which make it easier to digest. Since it contains less of the sugar lactose than cow’s milk, many with lactose sensitivities are still able to enjoy it. According to the American Dairy Goat Association, goat’s milk contains more riboflavin and phosphorus than cow’s milk. And it’s also “higher in calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, copper and selenium,” notes LeeAnne Carlson of Swede Farm goat dairy in Waller County. “But those are just numbers,” she adds. More important to her are the many lactose-intolerant customers who say they are thrilled to be able to drink real milk for the first time in decades.
Consumers might be warming up to goat’s milk, but in a state of 26 million people, Swede Farm and Wateroak Farms are the only two goat dairies licensed to sell pasteurized goat’s milk in retail outlets and farmers markets. And while out-of-state concerns do sell goat’s milk in retail stores, it’s of the ultra-pasteurized variety, which negates many of the health benefits people seek from goat’s milk in the first place. “Low-temperature-pasteurized milk is a totally different product from the ultra-pasteurized version,” says Swede Farm’s Tim Carlson (LeeAnne’s husband). When asked why there aren’t more goat’s milk dairies selling in the Texas marketplace, Tim points to the costs of complying with state regulations, the time required to build a large and regular clientele and one other factor that might not occur to the average consumer. “Unlike cows, goats are seasonal breeders,” he says. “So at times, there is no goat milk at all.”
A goat dairy would need to have a rather large milk production volume to justify complying with the layers of regulation imposed on retail sellers, but goat dairies tend to be smaller operations. If a farm milks only a dozen or so female goats, it might make more sense to market raw milk. Raw goat’s milk falls under the same set of statutes in Texas as raw cow’s milk. This means a customer must obtain the milk at the farm from a farmer who has been licensed by the state to sell raw milk. Yet, only 14 farms in Texas are currently licensed to sell raw goat’s milk at the farm to the public. And according to Tim, many of the licensed farms don’t consistently sell raw milk because of the seasonality issue and the fact that, at times, there just isn’t enough milk to sell, given the smaller sizes of the operations.
Mark and Pam Burow of Wateroak Farms began producing goat’s milk for family consumption in 1992 and quickly learned just how prolific goats can be. Two mature female goats produced three female offspring, and within three short years, the farm had a herd of nearly 50 goats. Having grown attached to their animals, the couple began producing milk for sale. Formerly a building contractor, Burow now works on the farm full time, and the family produces both raw and pasteurized goat’s milk, as well as farmstead cheeses. He attributes the “funny” taste that some associate with goat’s milk to the way the product is handled. “We only handle the milk using glass and stainless steel,” he notes. While they bottle their milk for sale in new plastic containers, he contends that any reusable plastic containers such as buckets or tubing can retain fat particles that can throw off the flavor of all subsequent milk produced using those implements. “Goat milk will pick up flavors,” he says, and goat dairy farmers typically do not keep male goats near the milk-producing females because they give off powerful scents.
To allay any preconceived notions about goat’s milk, educating consumers is key. LeeAnne says that many of their customers seek out goat’s milk for the first time because they’ve been advised to do so for the health benefits. At the farmers markets, some regard the potential taste of the milk with dread. “They’ll pick it up with a shudder,” she says. But most happily return in the following weeks for more, and ask the Carlsons if they’re sure that it’s goat’s milk they’re selling. The free samples at the markets help dispel any unfair assumptions as well. “We are educating the public one sip at a time,” LeeAnne says.
Of course, the production, packaging and sale of goat’s milk aren’t necessarily in line with optimizing income from goat farming. There’s a much stronger market for cheeses and other value-added products made from the milk, like yogurt and kefir (a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains). Also, goat’s milk costs more than cow’s milk for consumers, leading some to become dissuaded from buying it even though they’re accustomed to paying more for goat’s milk cheeses and artisanal products. It’s a financial bind, but both Swede Farm and Wateroak Farms believe so strongly in the health benefits of drinking goat’s milk that they’re committed to reserving at least part of their total production as milk. “Our backbone is cheese; our passion is milk,” says Tim.Currently, both farms are operating with demand for their products outpacing supply, and both see a bright future in goat farming. “This is not a short-term fad,” says Burow. “This is a lasting trend. [Goat’s milk] is becoming much more widely accepted and sought out.” And, while there might not yet be a wide variety of goat’s milk options in your grocery store’s cooler, there are goat dairies in Texas providing high-quality milk. The next time you encounter fresh goat’s milk at the farmers market or hear about a goat dairy in your area, perhaps it is time to ask yourself, why not?
CENTRAL TEXAS GOAT MILK DAIRIES
Blue Heron Farm