The Goat Man Cometh

by Claire Cella • Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo

If you happen to stumble upon the herd of goats while roaming the sun-drenched pastures of Windy Hill Foods, you might be surprised by their quirky personalities. Goats are curious and lively creatures—quickly halting their fervent, head-down grazing to lift and cock their scraggly, knobbed heads, then stare unblinkingly at the newcomer. They’re adventurous, creative and unfettered, too—infamous for fearlessly consuming whatever crosses their noses and for mischievous fence-bounding, among other things. And with only the best intentions, one could safely say that farmer Ty Wolosin’s character is remarkably similar to these animals he raises and sells across Central Texas. As owner and operator of Windy Hill Foods, Wolosin has had to exude equal parts ingenuity, stubborn perseverance and an unbounded perspective as he’s grown this small ranch into a viable business—especially in a state that’s as steadfastly loyal to beef as Texas is. It’s not easy changing mindsets, nor is it easy breaking through barbed wire fences, but he and his goats have done so all the same.

It all started 18 years ago under the prowess of Wolosin’s mother and stepfather, Jan and James Williams, who moved from New Mexico to a 600-acre ranch in Goldthwaite, Texas, which also happened to be home to a huge Angora goat herd. Almost overnight, the Williamses found themselves raising goats in Mills County—the “Meat Goat Capital of America”—though not selling them for meat yet.

Wolosin, still in high school at the time, joined them a few years later and began helping on the ranch and working at a feed store. Soon, he was off to college at Texas State University, but during his sophomore year, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and faced surgery and radiation. “After the surgery,” he says, “most people gain a lot of weight, and I did, too. I was bigger than I wanted to be, so I started exercising and eating healthy. Because I was eating so much produce, I switched to organic and started shopping at farmers markets. That experience really spurred my insight into what I was eating and where it was coming from.”

Later, as a graduate student at the University of Montana, Wolosin’s thesis on political ecology and landscape change reflected a growing curiosity about who controls the food system. “I started questioning everything,” he says. “And since my parents had the ranch, I saw it as a great opportunity to do something—to really combat this big agribusiness.”  

In 2008, Wolosin moved back to Texas to his parent’s new and smaller ranch in Comanche and started digging in the dirt—and into new ideas. He took classes on sustainable agriculture and started growing and selling produce at farmers markets in Brownwood, Comanche and soon after, Abilene and Dallas. While he was selling produce, he was also learning more about goat meat. Texas raises 70 percent of the country’s supply, yet 90 percent of it is shipped out of state. Goat is a very healthy red meat, and Wolosin became more and more curious about why it was so rare to find it on menus in Central Texas.

During 2011, when the drought set in and the cost of hay and feed skyrocketed, Wolosin decided to downsize by butchering part of the herd. He tapped into his growing network of food-growers and providers in Austin, put out the word that the meat was available and landed his first local customer: Sonya Coté, then at East Side Showroom. From there, Wolosin worked hard to get the meat into other restaurants, and his efforts were so successful that he could no longer sustain his markets. He converted his business model to a co-op, and set out to find like-minded farmers and ranchers who grew organic produce, pasture-raised their animals humanely and avoided the use of antibiotics, hormones, GMOs and soy products. “As a realist, you have to know that one small farm can’t do it all,” he says. “But if a lot of smaller farms and individuals come together, you’re bigger.”

It wasn’t hard to recruit participants—Wolosin pays market value, saves ranchers the auction fees for selling animals and saves farmers the expense and time of delivery. In his refrigerated van, he offers farm-to-restaurant distribution services in Austin, Dallas and, hopefully soon, San Antonio. To local businesses such as Whip-In, La Condesa and Max’s Wine Dive, Wolosin has become the veritable “goat man.” He also doles out eggs to Dai Due, boxes of figs to Bufalina and summer squash to Searsucker. “My ethos from the very beginning has been ‘Texans feeding Texans,’” he says. “We live in such a unique state where we can raise and grow a lot of things sustainably—whether it’s citrus in the Valley or goats in West Texas. We’re lucky to be in that situation and that’s my goal: to support that and spread that.”

Wolosin says that Austin’s rapid growth has helped—bringing in dozens of new restaurants and increasing culinary experimentation and flair with menu items such as goat-meat pizza, goat tacos and goat burgers. And he loves when people tell him how much they like the meat once they try it. His favorite aspect of the job, though, is the satisfaction he gets from working with the other producers. “The other day, the egg vendor stopped to tell me how much our partnership was helping them out,” he says. “It means a lot to me. It means that I’m doing what I set out to do.”

For more, visit facebook.com/WindyhillTX or call 254-979-1988.