If you think you saw a herd of white baby goats gathered alongside Route 25 in Aquebogue in the past few weeks, you weren’t hallucinating.
Hal Goodale’s Goodale Farms has been producing goat’s and cow’s milk for about four years on a small section of his family’s 60 acres on the north side of Main Road. This spring is proving to be his busiest yet, as his goats have been experiencing a baby boom. Sixty babies have been born as of last Friday, with more on the way.
“I knew there would be in the neighborhood of 80, but some had triplets,” Mr. Goodale said as he walked the farm Friday. “There were 28 goats born on St. Patrick’s Day alone.”
The baby goats are a cross between long-eared, brown Nubian goats, whose milk has a high butterfat content, and white Saanen goats, a European breed known for the high volume of milk they produce.
Mr. Goodale is hoping the cross-breeding will give him the best of both worlds in terms of quality and production, though it will be 18 months until the newborns they are old enough to produce milk.
“It’s nice to have as high a butterfat content as you can,” he said. “It will produce creamier cheeses.”
Mr. Goodale said he’s never seen any research on this particular cross of goats, though it’s not uncommon for farmers to cross-breed their dairy animals.
Not everyone sees the goats as the foundation of a business. He said many constantly stop by and ask if they’re for sale as pets.
He plans to make them available once they’ve been weaned, in about three months.
“I’ll pick the 25 nicest females,” he said. “Male goats give off a strong odor. It’s nasty, but it goes away when they’ve been neutered.”
When Mr. Goodale first got into farming four years ago, there were some cheesemakers with dairy animals on the East End, but nobody was bottling milk. The last dairy in Riverhead, owned by Geraldine Nugent, was taken over by Suffolk County in 1956 to make room for the County Center.
“Now we have waiting lists of restaurants and markets,” he said. “We can’t get enough quick enough.”
Though he’s using just a couple of acres of his family’s property and has room for more animals, he says the real challenge will be finding space for pasteurization, not for pastures.
Right now, he’s using a 35-gallon vat pasteurization machine that heats the milk to 145 degrees for 30 minutes to kill bacteria.
Using that system, he’s able to pasteurize two batches of milk per day, seven days a week. He says he’ll soon he’ll need to buy a larger pasteurizer, which can cost up to $100,000.
But it’s his goal, always, to keep the farm small enough that his animals have room to enjoy their lives. He has three interns working the farm, two from Oklahoma and one from Wisconsin, who hope to go home and open up their own small dairies once they’ve learned the ropes.
“The small dairy has pretty much disappeared,” Mr. Goodale said. “Huge dairies are horrible. The animals are milked three times a day, and they never see daylight. Their lifespan is 2.5 lactations, or five years. I hope to be milking my goats until they’re in their 20s.”
Lane White, 21, who has been interning on the farm since August, grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, but was working for a nonprofit in New Jersey when he found an advertisement last summer to work on the Aquebogue farm.
He milks the cows and goats in the morning, works on vegetable plots in the afternoon and makes jams and jellies at night.
“I don’t want anything to do with the typical dairy farm, with 300 cows who never see the light of day,” he said. “You can do a lot with a small, 10- to 20-head herd. If I were to go into a community and help them to establish a sustainable farm, a small dairy herd would be a part of that.”