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No kid-ding, goats provide a livelihood for Bainbridge farmers | Kitsap Week
For Beverly and Steve Phillips, raising goats is more than a full-time job. It’s a lifestyle.
“We haven’t been out to dinner in 20 years,” Steve said during a recent visit to their dairy farm on Bainbridge.
Beverly is quick to point out that is not entirely true. They’ve actually gone out once.
But forget about vacations.
“When you have all of your life-savings tied up in the livestock, you can’t risk having some well-intentioned person do the work for you,” Steve said.
The Phillipses are tied to the goats’ schedules. The goats need to be milked every 12 hours, otherwise their milk will dry out, or they may become sick. Owing a heard of 80 goats, and milking 60 of them twice a day, translates into quite a time commitment. Routine care such as feeding, cleaning and socializing takes time as well.
All of their goats have names and, according to the Phillipses, they all have individual personalities. Walking through the barn, the goats run up to the fence to bleat a “hello” and, if lucky, get a head-rub from Steve or Beverly.
THE JOURNEY TO DAIRY FARMING
Port Madison Goat Farm and Dairy started in a round-about way. The Phillipses, wanting to grow their own food, started with organic vegetables in 1987.
When Beverly made an omelette for Steve using eggs from free-range hens, the taste of fresh eggs made Steve switch gears to raising poultry. A month and a half after tasting the omelette, Steve had over one hundred chickens, 40 ducks, geese, quail and partridges.
Steve was raring to go, but financially, the poultry business didn’t pencil out.
All the while, they had been raising a few goats, something Beverly had done much of her life. The goats began to produce more milk than she could use.
Next they decided to try their hand at raising pigs, feeding them excess goat’s milk. And although Steve loved raising pigs, there wasn’t enough of a market.
Finally, they decided to focus on the goats and milk production and cheese-making. Nowadays, they sell their cheeses at local farmers markets and to Whole Foods and Metropolitan Markets.
“The reason we are so successful is because Beverly is an excellent, excellent goat-keeper,” Steve said. “She raises healthy babies who in turn, give excellent milk.”
Beverly said part of being a good goat-keeper means being a good midwife. Goats need a lot of help when giving birth. It’s not uncommon for goats to have twins or triplets.
The gestation period for goats is five months, almost to the day. The Phillips say they don’t begin worrying about the mothers until a day or two before the due date.
If the babies haven’t been born a few days past their due date, then the Phillips begin to worry.
One of Beverly’s goats was number seven in the country in protein production. Just what does that mean?
The American Dairy Goat Association sends out inspectors to measure how much milk a goat produces. A typical Nubian goat produces 1,500 pounds, or 200 gallons a year. Beverly’s goat, Eloise, produced over 4,000 pounds.
The Phillipses were ecstatic. If they could get more goats like Eloise, they would only need about 30 to run their dairy farm. Needless to say, they never had another Eloise. Although, they’ve had many 3,000 pound milkers.
“They broke the mold with Eloise,” Steve said.
Eloise became the foundation of the herd. And every goat is related to Eloise in one way or another.
Making your own cheese can be a fun hobby and you don’t need your own goat. There are many cheese-making kits available and you can buy the milk you need at the grocery store. Like any hobby, Steve said having the right equipment makes a difference. Cheese-making classes are taught through the WSU Kitsap County Extension office as well.
For the Steve, when he is making cheese, his goal is to bring out the different qualities in the goat’s milk. Genetics, diet and environmental stress play a big part in the taste of cheese. If a goat is stressed, the adrenaline produced from the stress has a powerful flavor and stays in the goats’ bloodstream for 12 hours. Because of that, the Phillipses try to make the goat’s lives as pleasant as possible.
“Our lives aren’t stressless, but the goats are,” Steve said.
Beverly said she bottle-feeds all the babies so the goats will bond with her. That way, no one has to chase the goats when it’s time for milking. The goats think of Beverly as “mama” and will cooperate nicely when milked.
Like any animal, check your local regulations before bringing goats home as pets. According to Steve and Beverly, goats are pretty easy to raise. You will need:
- a fenced area to keep dogs and other animals out
- a lean-to or shed to keep the goats out of the wind and rain
- dry bedding
- good quality alfalfa for protein
- clean water
- because they are herd animals, they are happiest with at least one other goat
Although a perk of having goats can be to clear brush, that shouldn’t be your motivation.
“Having goats to clear brush is like having children to take out the garbage,” Beverly said. “Get them because you love them, not because they are going to do the work for you.”
Also, be cautious about what goats eat. Rhododendron and Bracken ferns are toxic to goats.
It’s important to know that you cannot sell milk from your backyard goats said Beverly. Selling milk requires thousands of dollars worth of proper equipment and licensing and regulations through the state.
Before the Phillipses got into full-time farming, Beverly was a systems analysis for the phone company and Steve was a furniture designer.
“I always planned to grow my own food,” Beverly said. “I just didn’t plan on growing anyone else’s.”