There are a lot of small farms around here — also a lot of large, industrial farms — but many people are making a living from small farming. One woman, Jennifer Knoblauch, runs the Laz Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy. Jenny, a retired science teacher from a small town school here in Colorado, has a small goat farm — well, a small dairy farm. She makes cheese from goat milk, the milk of her cows (one of which is a Swiss Brown), and her yak, Yak Yak. It’s all applied science now. Yesterday I finally learned how cheese is made.
She faces all the problems of a small business. Her business amounts to a 24/7 job caring for animals, milking, making cheese, book-keeping, marketing, toting her wares around to the stores that sell her products and to open air markets as far away as Taos, New Mexico (2 hours).
The herd is guarded by three Great Pyrenees and a llama named Al. I didn’t see any herding dogs at all — but the animals are so friendly that I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow they didn’t come when they’re called.
My friend L and I toured the farm yesterday. Because the animals are milking animals, it’s important that they are well socialized, like being petted and have no fear around people. As a species, I really like goats and have a lot of respect for them so it was fun for me to be around something like fifty goats of various ages.
My introduction to goats came from Peter Mathiessen’s book, The Snow Leopard, but my love for goats came from George Schaller’s book, Stone of Silence. It is the story of a journey he made to study goat-antelopes in the Himalaya and Pamirs in which he comments on the distinction between goats and sheep — essentially that goats are smart and individualistic and sheep are stupid. But the high point of my visit to the Laz Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy was visiting the yak cow, Yak Yak.
Yak Yak had recently been gored by the bull yak and was healing from an abscess in her leg. On antibiotics and Bute, she wasn’t going anywhere, but I had a feeling she was a pretty relaxed animal anyway. She’s a cow, but a very small cow. She comes up to just above my waist. Her calf is about the size of Dusty. Yak’s have fluffy tails that they actually use to express themselves saying things like “Hi! Feed me!” and “I’m happy.” Their fur is softer than the fur/hair on a cow and the people of the Himalaya use it for weaving rugs, tents and clothing. As I was hanging out with Yak Yak I thought of all the books I’ve read about Himalayan explorers using yaks to carry their loads and the uncountable moments when “The yaks refused to go any further.” In every instance, reading those words, I knew disaster was ahead for the explorers and that they SHOULD listen to those yaks. I thought of how for millennia the yaks have been domesticated, providing pretty much everything needed by the people on the Tibetan plateau. I was filled with respect for this little cow who was calm, small, even a little affectionate, leaning her head against my leg.
The cheese from Yak Yak is delicious, soft and sweet. When we sampled Jenny’s cheese products, it was my favorite. Obviously, with Yak Yak under the weather, they’re not making yak cheese right now.
Once upon a time I dreamed of retiring in Montana and getting goats and making designer cheeses to sell to yuppies. Having seen Jenny’s farm, I realize there’s no way in the world I could ever have pulled that off, but I’m very happy someone has.