How humane animal husbandry makes for happy goats and healthy dairy.
Between the months of February and May, as the snow sluggishly vanished, the ground thawed and greenery blessed the hillsides of Boulder, Mountain Flower Dairy was busy welcoming 20 baby goats. Once old enough, many of these kids will be passed along to other farms and four or five will be mixed into the herd, becoming permanent residents at this unique, urban goat farm in the heart of Boulder.
Mountain Flower Dairy (MFD) is a non-profit that promotes local, sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry within Boulder’s urban setting. The farm rents its modest acreage from the Long’s Gardens property in North Boulder, along with Growing Gardens and Iris Farm. These organizations labor this land together and share the desire to keep the farmland working as agriculture.
Through a combination of practices, Long’s Gardens, Iris Farm and MFD collaborate to decide what crops would be advantageous for both the land and the goats. MFD Farm Director, Michael Montgomery, a culinary school graduate with a passion for farm-to-table food practices, explains that “for the goats, particularly the milking does, we look for nutrient rich crops that are high in protein. Legumes, such as field peas and vetch, are often in the mix. These plants are also good for the soil by adding organic matter and helping to fix nitrogen.”
The goats’ waste is recycled and tilled into the fields where they’ve grazed and then used again for flowers.
“It’s a win-win for the animals and the soil,” says Montgomery.
Since its inception in 2012, the MFD has become an educational resource in stewardship and community, hands-on farming. The farm hosts a variety of tours and summer camps and aims to expose people to sustainable agriculture and safe, raw dairy production.
“Raw milk and raw milk products are challenging for farmers, but it’s a great starting point for small dairies and we want to show that raw milk can be done safely,” says MFD’s Co-founder and Executive Director, Taber Ward, a CU law graduate specializing in public health, food and agricultural policy.
According to Colorado law, people may only consume raw milk that has not been pasteurized (heated to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time) if they actually own a portion of the herd producing the milk. For MFD, this means distributing the milk to members of a co-operative or “herd share,” who pay for boarding dues and partial ownership and then receive product as a benefit. The milk and cheeses for MFD’s herd share program are distributed at Cured, Boulder’s acclaimed deli.
“We have around 120 families that get milk from us through our co-operative, and we are just milking about 14 goats right now,” says Ward. “So 14 goats can make a big difference.”
Ward points out that like other raw products, such as eggs or red meat, raw milk is not inherently dangerous if food safety is kept paramount in the production process. Under the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, the pasteurization of milk became required by law in the 1920s. This was during a time when dairy farms were becoming so large that farmers had a hard time maintaining adequate sanitation levels and animal health.
The MFD team has considered pasteurization, as it would mean a direct route to the retail market. However, investing in that level of equipment would require massive scaling of the company, which no one is quite ready for or necessarily wants. Small-scale animal husbandry is the appeal of the farm.
“That may be what’s wrong with the animal agricultural industry, is the scale, and that’s what we are trying to avoid,” says Ward, eluding to large masses of livestock, often kept in small spaces where animals aren’t able to express natural tendencies.
For Chef Michael Montgomery, the benefits of consuming raw milk over pasteurized milk are apparent.
“Because I am a chef, I must say that flavor is a huge benefit of not pasteurizing milk,” says Montgomery. “The lack of heat keeps the milk from having a cooked taste and allows the subtle grassy-sweet flavor of the milk to come through.”
He also explains that pasteurization often kills good bacteria, enzymes and vitamins that make milk healthful in the first place. MFD’s goats live on a diet that includes rotational grazing, organic alfalfa and donated juicing pulp from Wonder Press Smoothie & Juice Bar, one of MFD’s local partners. All of this contributes to the nutrient-rich milk, which could potentially be sacrificed in the pasteurization process.
Educational Coordinator and Herd Manager, Maddie Evensen smiles as she points out the various personalities of the goats, each with their own name. A young pair of kids press their faces against the other’s and simultaneously peep through the fence. It’s as if they’re smirking.
“They’re best friends,” laughs Evensen.
Some are shy and others are bold. Some lounge in the shade while others energetically move about. Each one seemingly content, and each one playing a big role on this little farm.