Innovative Attitude Guides Md. Goat Milk Farm

1/4/2014 7:00 AM
By Rick Hemphill Maryland Correspondent

GAPLAND, Md. — Standing quietly under an overcast sky, white Saanen dairy goats fill the paddocks at Caprikorn Farms, while rambunctious yearlings wait not so patiently in the petting pen for the onslaught of young visitors to reach out and touch.

It was the third year Caprikorn Farms participated in the Frederick County farm tour — Oct. 19-20 — even though they are just over the mountain in neighboring Washington County.

“It’s an open house today to give the people a chance to meet our goats, “ said Alice Orgechowski, who with her husband, Scott Hoyman, have been raising dairy goats for more than 30 years as owners of Caprikorn Farms. “We are also having milk-a-goat for kids and adults, feed-a-goat, and we are providing a lunch of grilled goat cheese sandwiches using our cheese, tomato soup and local apples.”

Although children especially like to feed and pet the goats, the adults come for the cheese.

“Typically, we are making cheese 200 pounds at a time,” Orgechowski said. “We make the fresh chevre and we do different flavors. Our cranberry horseradish is very popular. We make seasonal flavors like our pumpkin and our Christmas cheese will be a cherry, dark chocolate and port wine combination.

“We also have the hard cheeses — sharp cheddar, jalapeno cheddar, Gouda, aged Gouda and finally, feta.”

The farm has come a long way since the couple decided to market milk from their goats.

“Thirty years ago, the Division of Milk Control told us flat out that we would never be able to milk goats,” Orgechowski said. “We are the longest operating goat dairy in the state of Maryland, and we are the No. 1 in milk production. We show our goats and have won the American Dairy Goat Association Milk Production Award for the last three years, most recently in St. Paul, Minn.”

Orgechowski has years of experience in the care of her animals.

“As far as production goes, you have to keep your animals correctly,” she said, adding that the goats are free of caprine arthritis encephalitis, CAE, and are tested each year for the disease. She also vaccinates for Caseous lymphadenitis, or CL, “tetanus, enterotoxemia and for mastitis. My goats are not organic, although I raise them as naturally and healthful as possible. While they are in the milk stream, they don’t get any treatments. I do use Pepto-Bismol if they get a little diarrhea and 99 percent of the time it usually goes away. Cleanliness is the biggest thing.”

The farm includes a total of 110 goats, 50 of which are being milked.

“Our average production is about 10 pounds per goat each day and over half the herd is first fresheners,” she said. “We are trying to go to seasonal dairy, as I like having kids in January because they grow like weeds and they can be brought into production as yearlings.”

Orgechowski raises kids in her kitchen the first couple of days in order to make sure they are getting enough colostrum in their system.

“I also put yogurt in the milk for the babies so they get the probiotics and we raise them in groups of eight,” she said.

“I don’t come from a typical farmer background so I don’t have the farmer blinders on,” she said, explaining her willingness to try new or different approaches to things. “I have a hot and cold water hydrant in the lot to give the girls warm water in the winter. Our sheep and goat Extension person said on an 8-foot section of fence you can only feed one goat. We designed these fence-mounted feeders so the goats have to put their feet up and stick their head through the boards and one goat cannot monopolize 8 feet of fence anymore.

“Our new energy-efficient waterers use no electric, keep the water cool in the summer and do not freeze in the winter,” she added.

Her innovative attitude guided her participation in the Kathleen Mathias Agriculture Energy Efficiency Grant program this year. The program provides grants ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 to support the installation of energy-efficient measures to reduce energy costs by a minimum 15 percent per farm, according to the Maryland Energy Administration website.

The farm got money for an energy audit as well as money to install more energy efficient lighting and other measures.

“We replaced all the fixtures in our barn with dedicated CFL fixtures, which give added energy savings instead of just using CFL bulbs to save even more energy,” she said. “We have a standard pipeline system but installed a heat pump water heater and insulated the shed that houses our compressor pump so that this winter, we will capture that heat and use it.”

Orgechowski invested in a milk transport truck, certified by the state of Maryland, to haul her milk. It’s a one-of-a-kind truck, she said.

“The state made me build this building to wash the truck and house it. They come out and test my water every three years as a milk producer and every year as a milk hauler,” she said. “No one in Maryland is rated to sell fluid milk to the public, but I do sell milk to a Mennonite farmer in Pennsylvania.”

About 50 percent of the farm’s cheese is marketed through local farmers markets and the rest is marketed through a distributor to stores and quite a few restaurants in Maryland. That cheese starts with Orgechowski’s Saanen dairy goats, and they were the hit of the day during the October farm tour as children and adults lined up to milk a goat firsthand after a quick training course.

“Milking a goat isn’t hard but there is a technique to it,” she explained. “I make them practice on their finger and then they can try it for real.

“We don’t have a lot of heavy equipment here and the guys came and cleaned out all my pens and spread all the manure out on the fields yesterday,” she said smiling. “I just figured anyone from the city is going to get the full farm experience today.”

And that experience wasn’t missed by the visitors to the farm.

“We saw the goat cheese article in the paper a couple of weeks ago and we came for the goat cheese,” said Dr. Bruce N. Edwards, who was enjoying a grilled cheese sandwich but didn’t travel too far from the food tent. “It is a really pretty place, but I’ll stick with the cheese.”

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