farmophile

Field notes from California's North Central Valley

Just kidding

I used to think that goats, while cute, were intimidating, head-butting, unruly little animals. All that changed with a trip to Castle Rock Farm, just north of Vacaville.

Sarah Hawkins and Andy Pestana of Castle Rock Farm breed Nigerian Dwarf goats. They are–not surprisingly—small, less than 2 feet tall. They come in all manner of colors common of livestock: brown, black, white, speckled and spotted. Most impressive to me, they were just so friendly.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I could let my 2-year-old daughter, Lily, pet them.

“Oh sure,” encouraged Sarah.

Within 1 minute, Lily was surrounded with about 5 or 6 yearlings, who gently nudged her as she stroked their fur, giggling. Being goats, they did nip the zippers on our jackets and tug on my hair, but all very gently.

“Tickle your jacket!” said Lily.

“They’re like babies,” said Sarah. “Everything goes in their mouths.”

Nigerian Dwarf goats have a reputation for friendliness—though the bottle-feeding they get twice a day also helps warm them up to human handlers. Sarah said the bottle-feeding is not because the kids’ mothers don’t want to feed them, but to reduce risk of disease in the kids and mastitis in the mothers.

Sarah and Andy have been doing quite a bit of bottle-feeding lately. They’re right in the middle of kidding season. Since January, 25 kids have been born, and the season isn’t expected to stop until May.

Castle Rock Farm has been breeding goats for about 8 and-a-half-years on this 5-acre property. While the Nigerian Dwarf goat’s personality goes a long way, it has other favorable attributes.

Sarah was originally drawn to Nigerian Dwarf goats because their small size made them easy to handle and transport. The average doe weighs about 75 pounds.

“I don’t need help to wrestle these guys,” she said. “I always win a contest of will with them.”

And while, like most living things, you could eat them if you really wanted to, they’re most appreciated as dairy goats. Their butterfat is higher (4.5 percent – 9 percent) than most dairy goats (3 percent). Sarah said their sweet milk is particularly good for goat cheese, as well as goat milk ice cream, and goat yogurt, and of course, milk.

“This stuff, if you did a blind taste test, you’d think you were drinking half and half,” said Sarah.

Their size, and the large  amount of milk they produce relative to their size—up to a half gallon per day—make them a nice option for urban farmers, too.

“They’re a great size for a backyard,” said Sarah. “They don’t bark, and you can use their poop for fertilizer.”

Sarah started a side business making goat-milk-based skincare products. Soaps, scrubs, and lotions in a variety of scents are available as part of English Hills Soap Company, which she sells at the Davis Farmers Market.

And while goats take center stage at Castle Rock, the farm also plays host to a flock of chickens, a llama, a border collie named Stella and a very sweet Armenian Gampr dog named Minnie (Minion).

There are also boxes of bees in a bee garden, which is planted with California native plants propagated in the couple’s greenhouse.

“This is what we should look like, right here,” said Andy, referring to the region and motioning toward the bee garden planted with poppies, manzanita, sage, yarrow, sage, coffeeberry and other plants.

Sarah and Andy are trying to revegetate much of their property with native plants, particularly along a seasonal streambed that flows along the perimeter. These plants do more than prevent erosion on the streambed—they’ve also noticed a significant increase in beneficial insects since planting them. It’s a nice sign as they continue the slow work of improving their soil, which is recovering from years of herbicide use by previous owners.

Our last stop on the farm was the kidding pen, which has taken over Sarah and Andy’s garage. This is where the newest kids spend their first weeks. Warm under a lamp, amid scattered hay. They were given a bottle—the subsequent sugar high going straight to their feet. They’d hop, all four legs in the air—seemingly surprising themselves with their ability. They approached us by their gate, small pink noses poking through the holes to say hello. No nipping, no biting. Just a friendly, “hey ya.” Apparently these kids are born nice.

We say our goodbyes and return home. I walk into our backyard, grass growing too high for its own good, and consider, at least for a moment, trading in the lawn mower for something far cuter.

 

THE NUTSHELL

Castle Rock Farm breeds Nigerian Dwarf goats on its 5-acre farm in northern Vacaville, CA. It also sells eggs, herbs, seasonal vegetables, and runs English Hills Soap Company. For more information, visit www.castlerockfarm.net.

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2 thoughts on “Just kidding

  1. Auntie Maggie on said:

    I love reading your stories – you and I should collaborate and write a book – preferably one for children about nature and all the good things in this world – lord knows we some of those. I have a great artist (Jessica) who could be our illustrator!

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