Well Versed in the Act of Goat Farming
This story originally ran in the Summer 2014 (V8I2) edition of Yukon, North of Ordinary.
If farming is a kind of poetry, then the Lendrum-Ross Farm on Lake Laberge is a haiku—small, economical, and complete. From the goat herd to the vegetable garden, from the capacity of the barn to the milking shed, the whole operation is carefully calibrated to sustain a certain yield.
The herd-management system is unusual: the babies stay with the mothers after they’re born, roaming and learning to forage on the 80 hectares of spruce, aspen, and alpine meadow to which Brian Lendrum and Susan Ross have grazing rights. The herd returns to the farm in the early evening. Mothers and babies sleep separately, and the mothers are milked once, in the morning.
The common practice is to separate babies and mothers right after birth or weaning and milking twice a day for greater yield. Following this regime, the Lendrum-Ross Farm could produce far more than its current 210 litres of milk per week and $18,000 a year in cheese sales. But it wouldn’t work for them.
“We would have to have a separate management system for the babies,” Lendrum explains. “Do we send them to a different farm? Do we keep them here on the farm but separate from the mothers? For us it’s just more efficient to take the hit as far as milk is concerned; get less milk, but have the mothers do the mothering—the management—of the babies.” And, he adds, “It seems so much more natural.” The kids are healthy and well-adjusted and the herd is happy. When it’s time to butcher, Lendrum says, “The kids are strong; the meat is good. They’ve had all the forage and the milk they want.”
If the farm increased production, Len- drum explains, “We’d have to rebuild our [dairy] and retool it completely, and that would be a quantum leap.” That’s the kind of leap that can bankrupt a farm.
Lendrum and Ross have developed their system by trial and error; there are few northern role models to follow. Lendrum bought the land in 1986, Ross joined him in 1993, and they got serious about farming in 2000. That year, for the first time, they produced more vegetables than they could eat and started making cheese. Now, they sell vegetables, halloumi, chèvre, feta, and sometimes goat-milk-yogurt fudge (made from Ross’ grandmother’s recipe) from May to December, at the Fireweed Community Market and the Alpine Bakery, both in Whitehorse.
Volunteers from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms help with the vegetables, and three shaggy, friendly Great Pyrenees help with the goats. The dogs don’t herd. They guard.
“Where the goats go, they go,” Lendrum says. “They don’t appear to be doing anything, but they’re always alert and always moving. Very slowly, though, very placidly, so as not to disturb the goats in any way.” When a bear or wolf intrudes, the dogs chase it away and follow the animal a great distance to make sure it’s really gone. They’re not interesting in catching it. Just in keeping the herd safe on this small poem of a farm. Y