For the love of goats
by Hannah Majewski
June is National Dairy Month, and that includes more than just the cows. Hickory Nut Farm is doing its part for the dairy industry on their dairy goat farm.
Located in Lee, NH, Donna Lee Wood and her husband Philip Tambling milk approximately 40 goats. Starting in 2000 with some small livestock, the couple quickly fell in love with milking goats. Since Donna Lee was a child, she had always wanted a farm. After she and Philip retired from their careers as architects in York, Maine, at 54 years old, Donna Lee decided it was time to start her dream farm. Previously, the farm was home to retired police horses from the Hampton Beach Police Department. The name of the farm comes from the hickory nuts continuously falling off the trees scattered around the property. The mission of the farm is simple: Supply and educate the community about the benefits of goat milk and create a venue for agricultural education.
There are several unique aspects to this farm, one of them being that it includes all five breeds of dairy goats (Saanen, Nubian, Toggenburg, Oberhasli and Alpine). This gives their milk an advantage in taste and quality compared to solely milking one breed. Goat milk is healthy for humans because of its alkaline properties from the diet of the goats. The lactose in the milk is also more easily digested compared to cow’s milk, meaning a lactose-intolerant individual may be able to consume goat milk.
The milk from this farm has several uses, the largest being cave-aged raw goat milk cheese. Different from the traditional chevre goat cheese (with pasteurized milk), which is soft and spreadable, this cheese is hard and sold in wedges. While it does use raw milk, the aging process has certain criteria to meet, including being aged for two months in a cave at 54º F and 84% humidity. Through this process, any harmful bacteria are killed as they would be in the process of pasteurization. Other products sold include fudge, yogurt, Waddle syrup (caramel sauce), soap, cleaning supplies and raw milk for sale upon request. You can find these products at area farmers markets, their farm store, restaurants and in wholesale quantities.
With 120 total goats on the farm, the kidding season makes for a busy time of the year. Goats are considered “short-day breeders” and come into heat from September through January. At this farm, they breed their goats in October, so that with a five-month gestation period, the goats kid in February. They use a buck for two years to breed all their does before finding another one. This enhances their crossbreeding goals on the farm. Similar to a dry period for cows, all the goats stop being milked two months before kidding. Their lactation will last a full 10 months. Donna Lee noted that this past kidding season, they had 84 kids born over a week and a half.
The goats are milked twice a day on the farm and make on average three-quarters of a gallon. Hickory Nut Farm can milk 12 goats at a time in their parlor, and it takes approximately two to three hours to milk the entire herd, starting at 6 a.m. The goats all know to wait for their peppermint treat after they are milked before returning to the barn. The rest of the day is spent making products, cleaning stalls, feeding the herd, giving the kids milk, hoof trimming and doing wellness checks. The health and well-being of the goats is always the top priority at Hickory Nut Farm. Goats are prone to calcium and iron deficiencies, especially while lactating, and watching for signs such as cold ears can help avoid more serious complications. The farm also teaches people who want to learn more about dairy goats. It has multiple housing setups for its dedicated helpers to work in exchange for a place to live on the farm. Volunteers are always welcome as well.
Hickory Nut Farm is open to visitors of all ages. Donna Lee and Philip have made it a priority to educate their community not only about the benefits of drinking goat milk but also the importance of the entire agriculture industry. Throughout the year, the farm will see almost 700 students come through their gates to learn about milking and caring for dairy goats. In the springtime, when there seems like endless amounts of goat kids to feed, visitors can feed bottles of milk to the babies. Additionally, visitors can meet the chickens, cats and guard donkeys that live at the farm.
The future of Hickory Nut Farm is to simply keep operations running as they are and to take good care of the animals and business they have acquired. The goats are treated with respect, and therefore will live long and happy lives. To learn more about this farm, look it up on Facebook, Instagram, their website (hickorynutfarm.com) or stop by to visit.