Jon and Della are both board-certified neurologists who found themselves contemplating a career change. Since they had had goats on a small scale for many years, it was natural that they thought about doing something with the goats. Goat cheese was the next step. The goats had been kept as pets; caretakers and family drank the fresh milk and made cheese and soap until 2003 when the commercial cheese scheme started taking structure.
When the doctors returned from a long and happy practice in Dubai, UAE in May of 2003, they set to work building their small herd of Oberhasli goats and working toward getting a farmstead cheese license from the state (NC). They were licensed on June 23, 2004 and started selling fresh goat's cheese locally at the farmer's markets in Danville, Virginia (just 6 miles north of their farm) and Hillsborough, NC (about 35 miles south of their farm). The first summer was full of learning experiences and a lot of hard work.
The farm was, until 1989, a working tobacco farm. Della and Jon bought it in that year and stopped the growing of tobacco on the farm. It was that year that they bought Ethel, their first goat. She was joined within 6 months by Liza to keep her company. About 1994, they bought 2 Oberhasli (Obie) milk goats and from those two and a few new bucks (‘Billy' goats) a milking herd (some call it a "trip") was started. When they returned after 10 years in Dubai, they purchased two goats from Redtail Ridge in Bonny Doon California. Colleen Monahan (the owner of Redtail Ridge) had been to Switzerland to the place where the Obies originated and retrieved semen, which she used to inseminate her does thus strengthening the breed. Jon and Della went to the Charlotte, NC Airport in October 03 where they picked up Thun (a 6 months old buck) and Sonja (who had been bred by another Redtail Ridge buck) when they arrived on Kitty Hawk Airlines from California. The 18 hours it took them to get from the West Coast was nerve-wracking on both ends. It took a lot of planning. It was not until they were safe on SleepyGoat Farm, eating and drinking and appearing to have suffered no ill effects, that everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
Not only did Thun not seem to suffer any lasting effects, but he went straight to work and impregnated 10 of 11 goats within the first 10 days of his arrival. Since he was only six months old and was smaller than most of the does (Nannies), it was assumed he could fly. By the end of the following April, 22 kids arrived (9 females), all named after Harry Potter characters. After feeding the kids their mother's milk for 2 months, the cheese making began. In the fall of the year, the goat's are ‘dried off” (milking is stopped), they are mated and start the 150 day gestation period which results in the birth of the kid and ‘freshening' … they start giving milk again.
The first year of making cheese was hard work but rewarding. The kinds of cheese were limited to a fresh one (chevre) and a surface-mold-ripened (Boucheron) one with a few pounds of feta and 3 large 'Tomme'. At that point, it was unclear if it were success or ‘the inability to get out of it' which prompted the preparation for the second season (2005) of making goat cheese. Meeting people who buy goat cheese was a wonderful experience for both Jon and Della. They have made many new acquaintances in the process.
People who work on the farm enjoy themselves. Joe and Erica were indispensable the first year but moved on to continue their studies in the southwest. Joe (an Air Force Pilot) is an ex-marine and a first class milker! Erica, a special education teacher, could do anything asked of her but was especially good at handling and feeding the babies. Without Joe and Erica the project would not have been possible. In October Darleen and Mike joined us as part-time workers. Both of them are pilots, he a commercial pilot and she a flight instructor. Richard is a retired physics professor who loved working some on the farm. Johnny came by when he could; he finds that work with the animals helps to keep him healthy after his multiple by-pass surgeries. Harriet, a long time friend, found that she loves the goats and the work enough to embrace the lifestyle totally. Jeremy moved onto the farm to try a new lifestyle. Rob, Jean and Carol help with various aspects of the busy schedule. Della makes informative color-coded assignment schedules.
Each day, 1-4 people (depending on who is available) feed, water, milk, make & package cheese, and clean the barn. The bucks are kept in another field and the doelings in still another field until mating season is over; then they join the adult females. (Doelings aren't mated until their second year by design). The does are mated in the fall and start delivering about January. From January until the following fall, THERE IS NO TIME: milking, pasteurizing, feeding and being there generally to help with deliveries keeps everyone busy 14-16 hours a day for at least 2 months … longer when the babies straggle into life over a 2 month period.
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