Farm Profile: Does' Leap Farm

Since moving to Burlington last year, I haven’t yet ventured too far off the main highways.  But, finding a need to do a farm visit for one of my classes, I was forced to find a livestock producer who would let me visit his/her farm to take pictures and ask a million prying questions.  Luckily, Kristan, one half of Does’ Leap Farm, was willing to let me stop by their farm in East Fairfield, about an hour northwest of Burlington (and a little way off the main highway).

(Photo from Does' Leap Farm)

I was familiar with some Does’ Leap products, as we sell their (delicious) goat cheese and kefir at City Market.  But, I still wasn’t sure what I would find when I pulled up the steep, winding driveway to their farm.  As I stepped out of the car, Kristan, her husband George, and a neighbor were chatting in the driveway, and I was immediately greeted by several of the family’s friendly dogs.  Kristan and I stepped into the house to conduct the interview and then we headed outside for a tour.

First stop was to visit the horses.  Kristan and George do much of the farm work with their draft horse team, decreasing their reliance on fossil fuels (also wood heat, not gas, is used to pasteurize the goat milk).  Horses also play an important role for pasture management, since goats and horses prefer different types of vegetation and don’t share the same types of parasites.  Therefore, the horses follow the goats through pasture rotations, “cleaning up” pasture that the goats recently vacated.  The health of the pastures is vital, as the goats rely entirely on pasture and browse during the warm months, which add variability to the taste of their milk and cheese.  In fact, the farm participated in a two-year USDA funded study on this practice.

Walking down to where the goats were pastured for the day (the family milks their 56 goats twice a day and moves the goats’ pasture after each milking), we passed a group of pigs rooting through a recently cleared woodland.  The pigs are a useful addition to the farm since they are great at helping clear new land for pasture and they eat whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking.  As we walked further from the house and barn, I asked how the goats are moved from pasture to pasture (especially since they move twice a day!).  Kristan pointed ahead of us at her two collies that were leading us toward the goats, obviously ready to do some herding.

(Photo from Does' Leap Farm)

Moving goats isn’t the only task that the family relies on their dogs to help with.  As we neared the pasture, I asked Kristan if they have much problem with predation of their goats.  The answer is no, thanks to their Great Pyrenees guard dog who stays in the pasture with the goats and keeps coyotes and other possible predators at bay.  Sure enough, as we stood a little ways from the electric fencing (it was about an hour until milking and Kristan didn’t want us to get the goats too excited and have them try to follow us back to the house), on a small hill we could see their guard dog perched looking down at us.  Just then, the goats spotted us and started bleating and moving toward the fence, so we turned to head back to the house.

On the way back, Kristan explained that they have been utilizing a practice called “milking through.”  What this means is that instead of breeding their whole herd every year, they breed half of their herd every other year.  Those goats continue to produce milk, but less so than if they were bred.  While this may decrease the amount of product the family could potentially produce, it’s healthier for the goats (as kidding uses a lot of the mother’s energy) and it provides enough milk to continue at least some cheesemaking through the winter.

After thanking Kristan for the tour and getting back on the road towards Burlington, I reflected on what I had learned.  Kristan and George seem to be taking a commitment to sustainability seriously—not just to increase their economic viability (by decreasing energy and input costs), but also environmentally (less fossil fuels, rotational grazing) and socially (keeping their product local, which in turn helps bolster the local community/economy).  It seems to me that Kristan and George have figured out a winning way to make the world a little better place while also providing us (their customers) with delicious cheese.  What could be better?