“That’s Saffire,” Molly Kroiz explained, nodding at the goat who’d turned to look us over. “She used to be the queen, but there was a coup d’etat last summer, and Hannah deposed her. For a while she was depressed, and her milk production dropped, but eventually they formed a kind of coalition government, and now she seems okay again.”
Saffire had apparently retained the right to look at strangers before anyone else did.
She wasn’t looking for danger. Threat-management fell to Conway and Loretta, the two Great Pyrenees who met us at the gate, sliding their enormous paws under the yellow wire that ran above the fence line at the height their noses reached when they stood on their hind legs.
“Loretta’s a jumper,” Molly explained, as she opened the gate and ducked under the electrified wire, with nonchalance I admired, since she was carrying Mabel, a three-month-old human being encased in a down garment that Molly referred to as a sausage suit.
It was cold. Georges Mill Farm sits on hills that fold in toward each other, forming a chute that accelerates wind from the north, and we were standing in the middle of that chute. Fortunately, the dogs, who had stood down from the gate when they realized that we intended to enter, were leaning against our merely denim-covered legs, great white lap rugs.
Saffire and Hannah govern a flock of 23 does, each of which produces a gallon of milk a day in lactating season, from the end of March through the beginning of December. “We don’t milk them while they’re pregnant,” Molly explained. The first newborns are due on February 28, with the others arriving on a schedule of deliveries staggered over the next six weeks.
“We’re expecting forty to fifty babies,” said Sam, Molly’s husband. “Some of the does will have twins.”
Sam traces his lineage back to John George, who leased 240 acres from George William Fairfax in 1786 and built a mill on Dutchman’s Creek, the Potomac tributary closest to the German Settlement. Fairfax required that George should “plant upon the Demised Premises one Hundred good Apple Trees and two Hundred Peach Trees at least thirty feet Distance from each other, and the same will enclose with a good sufficient and Lawfull fence, and keep them all well pruned; and that he [John George] and they [his family] shall and will Erect and Build a good Dwelling house twenty feet by sixteen, and a Barn twenty feet square, after the manner of Virginia Building.”
Those trees and that barn were the beginning of a stewardship tradition that reaches the ninth generation of the George family in the person of young Mabel.
The barn where Sam and Molly milk their goats and make their cheese was probably built by Samuel George, John’s grandson, around the time of the Civil War. The barn cuts into a hill, so that its lowest level is exposed to the south but protected underground to the north, creating a shelter that’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The goats eat and sleep there, and twice a day they clamber up a ramp to the milking parlor on the second floor, where a milking machine serves four goats at a time. Ten goats are the most that it makes sense to milk by hand, Molly explained; once you get to eleven, the machine is more efficient, even though cleaning it after each use takes a lot longer than washing a pail.
The Kroizes started their flock in the spring of 2012, with two does and two doelings. Last year their small herd produced roughly 3,500 gallons of milk, which Sam and Molly crafted into about 2,000 pounds of high quality cheese in five varieties. They sold some of it to the finest restaurants in the area, and the rest went to members of their small CSA, which will partner with Great Country Farms this year to offer our members a cheese add-on.
So how does goat’s milk compare to cow’s milk?
“It’s similar in composition to cow’s milk,” Molly said via email, “except the fat globules are smaller, which means that the cream doesn’t separate, so goat’s milk is naturally homogenized. I find goat’s milk to be slightly sweeter than cow’s milk, but it doesn’t really have any more lactose (sugar) than cow’s milk does. Because of the difference in fats, many people find goat’s milk easier to digest. The proteins are also different, so people who are allergic to cow’s milk can drink goat’s milk — but people who are lactose intolerant can’t.”
Unlike cows, goats maintain a complex social structure. “I could tell that Hannah had taken over because she started pushing Saffire around,” Molly said, “things like making her get up from where she was lying, or pushing her away from food. There is the added complication that each queen goat seems to have an ‘enforcer’ who does a lot of dirty work — sort of like the vice president, or something. For Saffire it’s a goat named Fiona, and for Hannah it’s a goat named Meg. So when Hannah took over, Meg was really mean to Saffire, physically meaner than Hannah was.
“It was really interesting to see Saffire’s behavior when she was deposed because the non-dominant goats are used to being pushed around and they know to get out of the way. But Saffire’s always been dominant in our herd, so she didn’t know how to deal with it — she vocalized a lot of complaints every time she was forced to get up or leave the barn or whatever, and she sulked.”
Relationships among different species on the farm tend to be more harmonious. The goats give the dogs a chance to practice their instincts for guarding and herding. The chickens eat bugs and parasites that might otherwise afflict the goats. The pigs eat the whey that separates from the curds that go into the cheese Sam and Molly make.
“We are committed to building a sustainable farm ecosystem,” they write on their website. “By providing our goats with high quality feed and forage and keeping them healthy, we ensure a supply of milk that makes fantastic cheese.”
To secure a share of that cheese for the up-coming season, contact Sam and Molly at Georges Mill Farm.