There is nothing quite like a baby goat for cuteness—maybe it’s something about the abandon with which they seem to jump, dive and bounce off anything and anyone available.
At the Pearlstone Center, an educational farm and retreat center in Reisterstown, MD, this year’s baby goats were born just around Passover, right on time to maximize public exposure and engagement. “We try to breed our does so they give birth right around Pesach,” said Emilie Schwartz, the animal manager at Pearlstone. “It really feels like it connects us to the rhythms of the Jewish year.”
While the origins of the Shavuot-dairy connection vary depending on whom you ask, the holiday is in perfect alignment with the realities of goat husbandry.
For fresh, sweet goat milk, you need to start with a pregnant goat. When the goat kids (gives birth), you wean the kid off the doe and then continue milking the doe.
While different breeds of goats differ slightly in terms of coming into heat, most goats are bred in the late fall or early winter. The gestation period of goats is 145 to 155 days depending on breed, so a goat bred in December will give birth in May. Thus, Shavuot generally coincides with the first milk that goes to humans. What better way to mark the first fruits holiday than with the first fruits of the udder!
As more and more people become concerned about industrial agriculture, particularly with regard to animal products, excitement and demand for pastured, ethical dairy products are on the rise. Many people drive out to Amish farms or connect with other small, countryside farms to find pastured dairy. However, some intrepid urban homesteaders are opting for goat co-ops.
One of the least appealing elements of goat husbandry is that you can’t take a day off. Those cute little buggers need to be fed and milked every day no matter the weather or your social calendar. With a goat co-op, on the other hand, the members take turns with the chores.
Schwartz points out that while it seems great, goat co-ops, at least regarding people’s access to raw milk, are currently illegal in the state of Maryland. “There are actually laws prohibiting the co-ownership of animals for the purpose of making raw milk accessible to consumers,” she said.
Regardless, the idea is really catching on: several people buy into the goats and then share the care and products. In Boulder, CO they have established a program called Beit Izim through the JCC, which collectively owns, milks and cares for a handful of goats that live at the Boulder Jewish Commons.
But while distributing raw milk may be illegal in Maryland, as far as urban homesteading, in Baltimore, you are allowed to have two dwarf or pygmy goats on an average half-acre-sized lot.
In Pikesville, Baltimore, two Orthodox families, who asked to stay anonymous, are engaging in cooperative goat husbandry. One of them bought two goats, Patsy and Mavis, and built their living area in the other family’s backyard.
“Eventually we hope to have three families that share in the chores and the milk,” the first man shared. “The goats will eventually rotate between the families’ yards allowing for pasture regeneration and convenience of chores for each family.”
The second man, a rabbi, says the goats allow him to retain a rural feeling even while living in the city. “They are also a nice educational tool for the neighborhood kids,” he said, “They sensitize them to animals and teach them where food comes from.”
“I wanted goats for two main reasons,” explains the first one, who mixes his own locally grown, organic and kosher-for-Passover feed. “For my children to learn responsibility and caring for other life forms, and to supply the freshest cholov yisroel, organically raised, lovingly nurtured goat products.”
For production goat farming, you need Saanen, Alpine or Nubian goats; large production varieties can yield as much as two gallons a day. City dwellers however are limited to Nigerian dwarf or pygmy goats. Nigerian dwarves are about half the size of production goats. They are easier to house, cheaper to feed and fence and come in all kinds of colors and patterns. They are also hardy, friendly and very entertaining. A good dwarf milking doe will yield as much as a quart of rich creamy milk per day. Nigerian dwarf goat milk is higher in milkfat then other breeds and known to be sweeter and more delicious as well.
While the laws around raw milk consumption are in flux and exciting developments in the state of Maryland may be on the horizon, for now the best way to access the amazing health benefits and flavors of raw milk is…to get yourself your own cute, little goat.