Monday, May 17, 2010

They don't let sleeping goats lie

Having owned a number of goats for many years, when Jon Dorman and Della Williams contemplated a change of careers, they determined not to let sleeping goats lie. Their goats had been kept as pets; it wasn’t that it was getting their goats that the animals weren’t pulling their weight, or anything like that – they simply decided that they could be making more use of their talents.
Can you say cheese?
Williams and Dorman are both board-certified neurologists who returned five years ago this spring from a long and happy practice in Dubai. They went to work building their small herd of Oberhasli goats, and a year later they obtained a farmstead cheese license from the state and started selling fresh goat’s cheese locally at farmers’ markets in Danville, Virginia (six miles from their farm) and Hillsborough, near Greensboro (about 35 miles south).
Today the herd of goats, mostly Oberhasli, numbers over 50 and grows by ten or so every year, on the 160 undulating acres of SleepyGoat Farm in Pelham. A variety of cheeses is sold online and at markets across the region, including the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market.
The farm was, until 1989, a working tobacco farm. Della and Jon bought it that year, snuffed out the growing of tobacco and bought their first goat, Ethel, a French Alpine. Without company of her kind Ethel bonded with her owners to the point that it was almost impossible to leave her alone. She learned to open the back door and barge in; she recognized her owners’ voices on the telephone. She was joined within six months by Liza (why not Lucy?), who still survives as grande dame of SleepyGoat, although with arthritic knees. (Ethel died in 1994.)
A few years later they bought two Oberhasli milk goats, and with the help of some bucks – “Billy” goats – the does begat the beginnings of a milking herd, or flock. When the docs returned after a decade in Dubai, they purchased two premium goats (of Swiss stock) from California, Thun and Sonja, who weathered the 18-hour cross-country trip none the worse for wear – in fact, Thun took straight to the task at hand and impregnated 10 of 11 goats within the first 10 days of his arrival.

By the end of the following April, 22 kids had arrived, all named after Harry Potter characters. After two months of feeding the kids their mother's milk, the cheese making began.
Cheeses produced at the farm have been dubbed Degas, Cezanne, Picasso, Rousseau, Cassatt, Alexander the Feta, and Goat Blue. The operations proceed with the help of retirees who work several hours a day, from one to four workers daily, at feeding, watering and cleaning the barn. Bucks are kept in one field and doelings in another, until mating season is over. (Doelings aren't mated until their second year.) Does are mated in the fall and start delivering about January. From January until the following fall, milking, pasteurizing, feeding and being there to help with deliveries keeps the crew busy, sometimes 14 to16 hours a day, especially during the two-month period when the babies are straggling into life.
Visitors are welcome at the farm, and the main attraction, the goats, love people, especially when they get raw peanuts, which are kept on hand. (And early in the season there is often a baby goat or two running around looking for attention.) Cheese is made on the days of open houses (second Sunday of every month May through August, 2-5 p.m.). Vacation rentals are available, with accommodations in a rustic cabin (but with all the modern conveniences) with a deck and a view, at a mere $100 a night. If you want to learn how to make cheese and find out everything about goats you’ll ever need to know, there is an extra $50-per-day fee.
If the goats are sleepy, it’s because there’s always something going on at the farm. You can just watch, or take part by feeding and milking the goats and making cheese. There are other fascinating sites to see within a goat’s cry of the farm. So take a trip to the farm – they’ll toast your arrival with a warm glass of goat’s milk.

SleepyGoat Farm is at 7215 Allison Road in Pelham (just south of the Virginia/NC border). Call 336-388-0703. Visit, where you’ll find pictures of the farm and the goats, descriptions of the cheeses and an online store, among other information.

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