Dairy Dreams

‘This is what I will do someday’

It started with a stop at a coastal goat dairy farm in Pescadero, Calif., during college. “This,” I thought, while stuffing my face with samples of goat cheese after cooing at the baby goats, “this is what I will do someday.”
I was smitten with the cute barn-turned-cheese shop with the loft stylishly converted into a private event space. I could taste the quality of the creamy chevre—one mixed with homegrown chives, another fresh lavender and the prettiest adorned with edible flowers in intricate formations.

And the goats. I pictured myself waking up bright-eyed to feed and milk the goats that I’d named after herbs like Sage and Basil. I thought of the picnic tables I’d have on the property so that visitors could eat goat cheese (along with freshly baked bread and local wine I’d have in my shop, of course) with views of the farm.

Since that day, I’ve carried this romantic notion in my mind of what it would be like to operate a small-scale goat dairy. Seven years later and a handful of mostly serious threats to my husband about getting goats in our backyard, I figured it was time to remove the rose-colored glasses and take a practical look at my dream. Enter Randy Ramsley of Mesa Farm in Caineville.

“People say, ‘Oh, this is such a beautiful life,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, it’s heaven, and it’s hell,” says Ramsley, who purchased his 50-acre veggie farm in 1996 and added goats a decade later.

Ramsley rises between 4 and 5 a.m. every day and works until 8 or 9 p.m. He and his crew milk roughly 50 doe, which he breeds each year to start the production of milk. From 20 gallons of milk, he produces roughly 20 pounds of cheese a day.

“A goat is going to teach you patience, or it’s going to break you,” Ramsley says with a laugh. “… Goats are particularly good at the ‘grass is greener on the other side of the fence’—and they’ll find a hole through that fence.” Creating ways to keep your goats happy makes life easier, he says. He knows each goat by name and strives to “not take for granted any animal or lose sight of the fact that it is a unique expression of nature.”

His philosophy on farm life is every bit as romantic as my own—just with a healthy dose of practicality. “There’s no money in farming, especially small-scale local agriculture, so you have to love it,” he says. “It’s physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding. But those are all good things because the vitality of life is to be engaged in those three ways. It’s always a learning process.”

So, for every food-obsessed person who has thought wistfully of buying an old vineyard to bring it back to life, opening a brewery or perhaps purchasing an olive grove to produce small-batch EVOO, here’s hoping you meet your own version of Randy Ramsley before you hand over your nest egg. It’s good to know what you’re getting into. P.S. I haven’t quit dreaming my dream.

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