Is there any more joyous experience than seeing the face of a goat kid smiling up at you?
I think not.
Goats always seem pretty happy...
...even from behind bars.
I'd already managed visit a couple of goat dairies in Southern California—where I've held a baby in my arms and even hiked with some babies...
...but this was the first time I'd seen a mama goat ready to pop.
Of course, having babies is essential for goats at a dairy like this one in California's Inland Empire, known as Drake Family Farms.
But the babies get first dibs on the mother's milk—and once they're weaned, the milk can go towards making goat cheese.
Drake has been continuously in business and run by six generations of the family since 1880, making its original location near Salt Lake City a Utah Century Farm.
The Southern California location is their second—founded when the founder's great-great-grandson Dan Drake brought a herd of 143 goats over from Utah to Ontario, CA.
"Dr. Dan" (a nickname he earned while working as a local cow veterinarian) has a secret to making the best goat cheese: Keep your goats healthy and happy.
Those are the goats that will make the best milk.
The Drakes actually consider every single one of their goats a pet—and, like dogs, they each have their own names.
And while the goats may be cute and cuddly and each have their own unique personalities, ultimately they've got a job to do.
Unfortunately, while some factories are run like farms, a lot of farms are run like factories. It's hard to disentangle the two. And some of it is just out of necessity. Hence, all the equipment in the milking room, a repurposed cattle barn from the 1940s (located in what's still considered the "dairy district" near the border of Ontario and Chino).
While the cheese is considered both "farmstead"—made on the farm with milk from the farm's animals—and "artisan"—produced by hand in small batches—it's just not possible to milk all those goats by hand, too.
And they've chosen not to go for organic certification, since that means they can never give any of the animals any antibiotics, even if they're really sick and really need them. They do, however, make sure the milk stays very cold.
The current herd at Drake Family Farms' California location consists of a few dozen mature females (does) who are able to produce milk and who come from an award-winning lineage.
There's a small handful of mature males (bucks) there to impregnate the does, but you won't get any milk from those boys—so their usefulness is somewhat limited around the farm.
And when the does get pregnant and have their babies, most of their kids end up getting sold off, to keep the farm's herd more about quality than quantity.
I guess that means that the goats that do get to stay get all the love and attention they need and have plenty of food to eat (which consists of hydroponic barley fodder grass, alfalfa hay, Bermuda grass hay, barley grain, and whatever they can graze off the trees on the property).
But how happy can they be without their babies? Well, if the deliciousness of the cheese is any measure of the spirits of the goats, then they must be pretty darn blissful.
The ashy "Mt. Baldy," a soft blooming mold-ripened cheese, is pretty amazing. And all of the flavored varieties of chèvre are good enough to turn around even the staunchest of goat cheese haters.
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