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Friday, May 20, 2011

Bay Area Baby Goats: Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Tour

Harley Farms produces goat's milk chèvre, ricotta, feta and fromage blanc.

I first heard about Harley Farms and their American Cheese Society and international World Cheese Show award winning, farmstead goat cheeses last summer but didn't make it over to the coast to tour the farm until just last week.

About the Farm


Located in Pescadero, CA the dairy and farm look just like what you'd imagine a goat farm would look like. There's a sheltered barn area for the goats, a milking barn plus a store and private dining loft area for hosting intimate dinner parties.

A tip, there are two ways to get to Harley Farms:
  1. The first is the very (and I mean very) mountainous, winding and curving HWY 84
  2. The second is from HWY 1 which runs pretty much in a straight shot along the coast.
If you suffer from motion sickness do not take HWY 84 without Dramamine, wristbands or a motion sickness patch. You will regret it, as I did.

In the top right is Cadbury, a retired stud goat who hangs out with the does.

Once there my queasy feeling took a while to dissipate but it did thanks to some gorgeous weather, fresh air and plenty of adorable and well socialized goats that wanted to be petted. They were all friendly. You could literally walk up to any goat and pet it. Some come over seeking attention. They're like giant cats who love to have their heads scratched with your fingernails. IMO this was the most fun part of the day and definitely a reason to get out of your house and take the tour yourself.

The Bedding Eventually Becomes Compost

Harley Farms raises American Alpine Goats. They are pasture raised but have access to the  loafing barns (sheltered areas) during bad weather as goats need protection from cold and rain. They are also fed supplemental grains and nutrients in the barns as they are not able to get all of the nutrients they need from grass and weeds.

In the pastures they are protected by llamas who protect them from stray dogs and coyotes. The llamas will round up the goats then spit and kick to ward off predators who threaten the herd.


Our tour guide Connie gave us an in-field demonstration of how easy it is to milk a goat. She shot out this stream on her first try.


To milk the goats at Harley Farms there is a modern milking barn. The milking process begins with the goats going up this ramp from the loafing barns.


They are hooked up to the milking machine twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. The pairs of white tubes are placed over each teat/nipple as the goats stand in a row. The high tech milking system takes just minutes to milk each goat. In each session the goats produce 1/2 gallon of milk which means they produce one gallon of milk each day. BTW it takes one gallon of milk to make one pound of cheese.


The goats are held in place with a wooden frame called a stanchion and are fed grain in the white trough as they're being milked.

 The goat's heads go through the slats of these stanchions.

Harley Farms really cares about their goats. Some interesting psychology has been used to improve their quality of life.

There used to be a wall on the other side of these stanchions. It made the goats more anxious during milking because they were separated from the other goats. The wall was removed allowing them to see into the loafing barn and out to the pastures. The goats immediately calmed down because they are herd animals and just being able to see their companions helped them to feel more comfortable.


After all of the goat petting and the milking tour we washed our hands with some lavender scented soap and headed to the pasteurization and cheese making room.

The Pasteurization Machine


The curds and whey are separated and are the curds are mixed with a non-animal rennet (a coagulant) and become the cheese.


A bowl of fresh chèvre (pronounced "chev") the french name for goat cheese.


We were treated to a demonstration of how to make the beautiful collage style chèvre using edible flower petals.

First a pan is lined with cellophane wrap and the flower petals are carefully placed in a face-down pattern.


A layer of cheese is placed over the flower petals, some dried herbs are sprinkled on the cheese and second layer of cheese is placed over the herbs. The plastic is wrapped around the cheese and the cheese is lifted out of the mold. Beautiful!


We were able to sample the cheese from the bowl. It was neat to know that we had just spent time meeting the goats whose milk made the cheese we were eating. We were able to see how well cared for, healthy and friendly they are.

Fresh Chèvre with Herbes de Provence

We took the cheese out to the garden and sampled it there which was all the nicer because the weather was perfect! Blue skies, a nice breeze, sunny but not too hot.

From the garden we could see our next stop, the restored hayloft.


We walked through the garden and up the stars. There we stepped into this beautiful and rustic dining loft. The high backed chairs are hand carved and made using wooden nails. You really have to go see them for yourself. They are so neat!

The dining area is used in two ways: Harley Farms hosts dinners that you can purchase a ticket to attend, or you can rent the loft to host your own event. Click Here for more details.


We also learned about the grain silos, their rainwater storage system, I spotted an herb garden over the fence and of course there's a store where you can purchase more than just goat cheese...


The first things I spotted as we walked into the store were some cookbooks including Simply Organic which I was very tempted to purchase, fresh artichokes, farm fresh eggs and even some Goat Milk Fudge on the counter.


And then there was the cheese. So many kinds to choose from! I purchased the little button of chèvre with dried cranberries and walnuts. I has it on toasted pieces of sourdough baguette that night with just a bit of raw honey smeared on the bread before I added the goat cheese. Other options included honey-lavender, dill, garden chive and pepper chèvre, and tomato basil fromage blanc.


The shop also offers local honey, cooking oils, vinegars, berry nectars, berry preserves and even skin creams and soaps made from goat's milk.

About the Goats


This one photo shows two of the most odd things about goats: Their horizontal bar pupils and the small wattles that hang from some of their necks.

Wattles: The wattles are basically hair covered skin tags that serve no purpose whatsoever. According to this web page on the Dairy Goat Journal website some breeders remove the wattles at birth while others leave them on.

Eyes: Our guide Connie explained that their eyes are a different shape because it gives the goats better peripheral vision. For any prey animal seeing a predator before it gets too close is crucial to their survival so their eyes have developed to allow them to spot danger and flee.

This was just cute. I was watching this goat drink and each time she dipped her mouth in the water she would lick her lips after each drink. LOL so my goal in the moment was to catch a picture of goat tongue. Success!

Beards: I was surprised to learn that both the male and female goats can have beards, not just the billy goats.

Horns: Almost all goats are born with horns. At Harley Farms the horns are removed for both the safety of the goats and people. There are two ways to remove horns from goats. The best is at infancy when they are disbudded by cauterizing the horn buds. This stops the horns from ever growing out. When done correctly the procedure takes seconds. In the UK anesthesia is required but not here in the US.

The second sounds pretty awful and is a full blown surgical procedure to remove them as adults. The horns are part of the skull and are full of blood vessels and nerves, which makes their removal a job for a veterinarian with anesthesia, never a hobbyist with a hacksaw.

And then there were the kids. Baby goats are just too cute! As you can see in the pictures above they try to eat everything! They will nibble on your purse, your pants, your shirt and your hair.

Cuds: They also chew on cuds like other cloven hooved animals like cows and sheep.

Sexes: Did you know female goats are called does, intact male goats are called bucks and neutered male goats are called wethers?

Odor: A friend warned me that goats smell really bad and didn't understand why we would want to go see them. We didn't notice any smelliness so after the tour I hopped online and learned that typically only the intact male goats used for breeding carry a strong odor both from a scent gland at the base of their horns and from a rather unpleasant practice of spraying on themselves when they relieve themselves. Turns out the does often prefer smelly males over unscented ones. At this time of year the farm's three breeding bucks are kept in an adjacent pasture far away from where the tour goes so I'm happy to report that odor was not an issue at all on the tour :)

Eeeek! So cute!

When I read on their website that over 200 baby goats had been born this spring I thought that meant we would come to the farm and see all of them. But most of the babies are moved offsite to another property. But there were around a dozen little ones that we could pet, scratch and even pick up and carry after Connie showed us the proper way to carry a baby goat. 

Baby Boys: When milking goats have babies they usually have twins. A dairy will have a good sized herd so they may end up with dozens or hundreds of babies. Half are usually male but only female kids are retained to be raised as future milkers. So what happens to the boys? The males are sold. Some may become farm animals or pets, 4H goats or weed eaters in a rent-a-goat grazing program. When these avenues are exhausted they may be sold for meat production. In this instance they will most likely be raised and slaughtered before they are a year old.

I found this very informative blog post on the Wild Roots Homestead blog that gives the question about what to do with the boys serious contemplation.

Retired Milkers: The does are part of the milking program at Harley Farms for eight to ten years. As they age and their milk production lessens they are retired. Initially they were moved to a neighbor's property to graze. On their blog I can tell that the farm's goal is to produce a team of weed eating goats that can be rented to clear brush and weeds giving them a second career doing what they naturally do best.

Our guide told us that every effort is made to rehome goats that are no longer needed but it isn't always possible for every goat (both male babies and retired milkers) to find a safe, forever home. So in brief I think it's fair to say that for however long the goats are part of the Harley Farms herd they are very well treated and cared for.


The top photo above is the view of the farm from the hayloft balcony and below you can see two of the llamas (I think Haley and Ruby) keeping watch over the goats and farmstead as we drove away.

The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour is fun and informative. If you're interested in taking the two hour tour just CLICK HERE to view the schedule on their website. Space is limited so you'll want to register ahead to guarantee your spot.

The cost was $20 per person. Kids under 5 years old are free. (Current pricing in May 2011)

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