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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

goats of loire

Perhaps it's the country girl in my heritage, but I loved our visit to a Loire farm where goat cheese was made.

The city folks among our group of writers stuck their noses in the barn where Magali Legras and her husband keep their goats, and chose to view the operation from outside. The smell put them off. But I didn't find it bad at all.

It was almost milking time when we arrived and the 150 Alpine goats put up quite a ruckus as we came into the barn because they knew it was time. They are milked twice a day and produce 500 liters of milk each day from which the couple makes goat cheese.

Goats must give birth each year in order to produce milk, so the couple breeds goats as well, keeping a half dozen billy goats for that purpose. The goat family lines are kept separate so there's no interbreeding. To better do that, the goats are named and wear collars with their names. The Universe family of goats might be named Earth,Venus, Mars, Moon, while the Flower family might have names such as Daisy, Aster, Iris.

Baby boy goats are sold for meat when they are a few days old, although some females always are kept for future milk producers. They are bottle fed.

Magali showed us the sweetest little boy goat. We all wanted to take him home. He nuzzled her when she picked him up and even smelled sweet.

The goats live on a diet of hay that must be grown in the Loire area for it to keep its official AOC designation. More about that when I get back and do my Wednesday Food story on the subject of goat cheese.

When it's time for milking, they are herded down a ramp single file and into a stall on a circular milking platform that holds six goats and revolves. Suction cups are attached to each udder (two of them). Meanwhile Magali throws kibble into a feeding trough and the goats gobble it down as their milk is pumped out into sterile tubes which carry it into the cheese making area. Most goats are milked dry in one revolution of the platform. Older goats, which give more milk, might need two revolutions. As one goat finishes, it goes down an exit ramp as Magali guides another one into the vacated milking stall.

The goats actually seem to know what they are doing and are quite good natured about the process. Magali says it take about two weeks to train a goat for milking and that most of them know their names.

But like people, she said, some are smarter than others.


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