Milk: From goat to gelato

Tamara Scully for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 February 2018
Andrew and Blake Place and family

Hidden Pastures Dairy, a dairy goat farm, recently received top honors in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Husband and wife Andrew and Blake Place, owners of the 100-acre goat dairy in Glenfield, New York, were given $10,000 for winning the “Best Local Product Start-up” category. Their plans for a value-added goat milk creamery were selected as one of the 10 winning finalists from more than 500 entries in the competition.

The dream of building and operating their own on-farm creamery is now coming true for this young couple, both from dairy farming families. The ultimate goal is to raise their two small children on a profitable, working farm that can be passed on through the generations.

By taking the milk from their goat herd and adding value via processing, the family is seeking to establish a market for a high-quality, niche product, produced at an affordable price: goat milk gelato.

Milking goats

Both Places were raised on cow dairies, studied agriculture in college and found work in agriculture. A chance purchase of a few “overpriced show goats” led to the 250-plus head of mixed dairy breed goats that now roam the pastures of their farm, which they purchased in 2015.

The goats are outdoors, grazing on pasture, primarily when the weather is fair and the temperature range is between 30ºF and 60ºF. Outside of those parameters, the goats prefer to stay in the barn.

“We work with several veterinarians and utilize our deep animal science education backgrounds to ensure we are doing everything to keep our goats healthy and nurtured,” Blake Place says. “We want our goats to feel loved, to be healthy and to have the opportunity to exercise their natural behaviors on our farm landscape. We want them clean and not to be stressed or pushed. To us, this is important.”

Mixed breed dairy goat herd comes in from the pastures for milking

The herd consists primarily of Saanens, but Alpines, Toggenburgs, LaManchas, Nubians and Oberhaslis – joined by a lone Nigerian Dwarf – are all a part of this family’s herd. With 130 milking head and 40 more set to freshen in February, the Places have a lot of goats’ milk.

But why a goat dairy and not cows?

“Knowing the cow dairy market has no room for another farm to set up shop, we decided to try a goat dairy, as there are fewer of them, and we had hoped – maybe – more of a demand for the raw product,” Place says.

Just like with cows, the herd’s milk is monitored for fat and protein content. They keep milk testing records on all does. Breeding, to select for the quality traits they need in the herd, is ongoing.

Marketing goat milk

Currently, the Grade A milk the herd produces is sold and shipped to a creamery located several hours from the farm. But the couple has decided they want to capitalize on, and maintain control of, the raw milk, taking it from goat to the final product of gelato.

Andrew Place in the milking parlor

“Having our value-added product is really the ultimate goal because as the farmer you are completely in control of the product,” Place says. “This would allow for us to be able to maximize our profitability if we are successful marketing and selling the product. From start to finish – or from the birth of the kid until the sale of the gelato – and then repeat.”

Andrew designed and built the dairy’s milking parlor. Adding a creamery of their own, where the gelato recipe they are perfecting can be processed on-site, is the next step toward reaching their goals. They’re also planning to add an on-farm store where the gelato can be sold directly to the consumer.

This will allow them to connect directly with customers. A key component of Hidden Pastures Dairy’s business plan is providing customers with an educational experience where they can learn about the animals that provided the raw ingredient as well as the people who crafted the food.

The Places are currently in the product development stage of making their gelato a reality. Gelato – rather than the ice cream or cheese they’ve also considered – will be their flagship product and is the key to the entire creamery concept.

“Really, for it to work, it needs to be an affordable product people are willing to try,” Place says. “We run into people who love goat products – and those who don’t love goat products. Through education and sampling, we need to get folks who are not in favor of goat products to give our gelato a taste because it isn’t what they would expect, and they would love it.”

With the money from the Farm Bureau award, the Places can purchase the needed processing equipment. They’ll be visiting more creameries to finalize their own creamery design plans and will work with their New York state Department of Agriculture and Markets advisers to implement those plans to process and market their own goat milk gelato.

“This is also a huge hurdle as we learn about how to market and create a demanded product,” Place says. “When a consumer picks our product, I want them to be able to feel good about eating it. Knowing a farmer raised the animal and also made the product and can tell you all about it is key. We love talking about our product, and we do have some experience with sales.”

The Places’ business plan includes eventually selling to local restaurants and grocery stores, as well as having their gelato available through vendors in New York City. But the on-farm creamery and storefront is the essence of their plan.

They selected their land both for the pasture and for its prime location along a major roadway in their rural community, realizing early on direct marketing would be a primary component of their dairy.

“If we are successful, we will be operating a creamery and farm store on-site. We would need to scale back with our day jobs and probably also hire help to make all of this possible,” Place says. “We don’t really know how big it could become, but we hope it grows into a business our children can have an opportunity to be a part of and raise their families from the farm.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Andrew and Blake Place with their two young children.

PHOTO 2: The mixed breed dairy goat herd comes in from the pastures for milking. 

PHOTO 3: Andrew Place in the milking parlor, which he designed himself. Photos courtesy of Hidden Pastures Dairy.

Tamara Scully, a freelance writer based in northwestern New Jersey, specializes in agricultural and food system topics.

The video the Places produced as a part of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge entry can be viewed at: YouTube for “Hidden Pastures Goat Dairy.”

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