Joe and Carolyn Hillman: Massachusetts Cheese Farmers

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Sydney Royal Easter Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By: Kevin Leland

This article is about a Massachusetts goat farm. It is owned and operated by Joe and Carolyn Hillman, and enjoys the generous and ambitious support of 36 wonderful milking goats. It turns out that his farm was conceived in much the same way as my eldest son…by accident. Maybe a better term than accident, though it kinda means the same thing, would be ‘serendipity.’ Maybe I could have come up with a better analogy…Sorry son. This scenic New England farm sprang to life when in 1995 Carolyn and Joe adopted two kid goats. Their intentions were not to start a goat dairy, it was just to have a couple animals, you know, just pets. For anyone who has kept an animal of any sort we know that for some reason there is an age-old and deep human satisfaction to be found in animal husbandry even when there isn’t the purpose of profit involved.

It didn’t take Joe and Carolyn long to find out that these animals are quite amazing. It didn’t take much longer for the two goats to develop into a mini-herd. Then…some home-made cheese entered the scene. After getting many compliments from friends on the taste and quality of this small farm cheese, by 1997 the couple decided that this would be an operational goat dairy.

Joe built a cheese cave, and after some licenses, other improvements, and another, not quite exponential increase in the herd’s size, the Hillmans and their goats were in the cheese biz (Not to be confused with cheese wiz) This is a working, paying ‘hobby’ as I understand it. Avocation instead of vocation, but with a very blurry line between the two definitions. It is like that with many owners of micro-farms. We plan to interview and post the stories of many more of these types of folks, here at Bangari.

The rest of this article was created during an exceptionally hard New England winter in 2009. One cold and stormy weekend, from my living room in the New England State of Rhode Island, I carried on the following email interview with Carolyn Hillman:

What kind of goats do you utilize for cheese production?

We have American Alpine and Nubian and crosses. Our bucks (those are male goats, a does being, you guessed it –female) have been French Alpine and Nubian.

How large is your herd?

We have 36 including our 3 bucks. (as this article was written about four years ago, I will update it after I contact the Hillmans again, to see where it stands now, herd-wise)

Has it always been in this range? 

No, we began much smaller.We started the first year with nine animals, and have had up to 45.

Do you get to know each individual animal? Is it common for them to become “pets” in a way?

Goats have a name and many of them know their own name, I guess it depends how much we have talked to them individually by name. We can tell you each one’s personality or attitude, family history and off spring. Our goats are respected, well cared for, and very friendly. They love attention. Some do become actual pets and live out there entire life on the farm. For instance, Betsy, who after a difficult kidding last spring, we nursed back to health, and is now retired.

Is Betsy now entitled to SSI benefits? Kidding (pardon the pun) What is this type of goat‘s life expectancy?

That depends on many different things; I imagine how many kids they have birthed plays a roll in it. Other retired goats have lived to about 12 years old.

What is the market price for a goat?

Young kids range from $60.00 to $80.00. Once mature, if we decide to sell any, will fetch a price in the range of $200.00 to $300.00.

Do you breed your own to increase or maintain your herd?

Each doe is bred in the fall and births from one to four in the early spring. Through careful selection, we keep about five kids from our entire herd to raise as replacements.

How much raw milk will each produce and what is the value, raw and finishedproduct?

It mostly depends depends on how you feed the goats. If you give them a lot of grain, you get more milk; less grain, less milk. We feed our herd a small amount of grain and our own organic hay. In the spring, summer and fall they get pastured, so they require much less hay. We get an average of 8 to 9 pounds of milk (aprox one gallon) from each goat, per day, split up between two milkings. We do not sell milk so the value would be from retail sales of the cheese at the farmer’s markets. Our cheese sells for about $14 per pound on average, retail. When we sell it at wholesale, in bulk, we get a little less.

What constitutes a good year in the goat herding business?

Any year that the kidding season is uneventful and produces healthy kids weaned before I start the Farmers Markets. That’s the best!

How does the herd fare during the winter months? We dry the goats off for the coldest part of the year. They are all pregnant but still go out, wandering through the snow.

What is the difference in your expenses to care for them during the winter, compared to the warmer, grazing season?

They eat more hay and are eating for two, three or four… but it is our own hay. We don’t have to purchase it from an outside source. They eat less grain in the winter also, when they are not being milked.

What are veterinary costs annually, and what kind of regular veterinary care do your goats need?

We have a Veterinarian that comes to do a herd check maybe once a year. The vet will check the doelings by ultrasound to confirm that they are bred, and answer questions we may have. We do most of everything else by ourselves; such as yearly shots, deworming, hoof trimming, and so on. We will use their services during an emergency. They are paid about $90.00 per hour, plus $40.00 for the call to come to the farm.

What is a day in the life of a goat farmer? When do your days start an end?

I will try to keep this short: Goats will adapt to your schedule. During the three milking seasons, we start about 7:00 in the morning. Our evening milking starts around 6:30 P.M.. We usually eat dinner after 9:00 PM. During kidding in the spring, we are at it just about around the clock for as long as a month. During haying time, the evening milking starts later. In Fall, things start to slow down but markets are still strong. We look forward to winter and with it -some much needed rest. We make our cheese every other day, but certain cheeses take some time and attention every day. On top of all this, there are always markets to prepare for, store orders to fill, soft cheese to blend into flavored cheeses, packing cheese into containers, aging cheese to care for and more cheese to make.

Do you do any online distribution of these specialty cheeses that you produce?

Yes. Visit our web site sales page.

This site is only for wholesale orders. We sell our cheeses for retail at the Farmers Markets or through local stores.

Where can I find some?

In Connecticut: Artisan Foods in Southbury They may still have some but I do sell out.


3 responses to “Joe and Carolyn Hillman: Massachusetts Cheese Farmers

  1. Wow! Great interview. I’m a cheese lover, but never had goat cheese. I’m a cheddar-holic lol.

  2. Pingback: Bangari Bucks: Understand? | Bangari Content Gallery

  3. Yeah! The sharper the better!

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