Ranch Life in Meadows Valley: Sheep and Dogs, Horses and Goats “My mom always had sheep. We brought some with us when we came here in 1997.” Taylor Richardson, now age 27, was just a kid then. Her mother Robin brought the family – and sheep – from Montana, moving onto a ranch off Cemetery Road in Meadows Valley that Robin’s aunt and uncle had purchased in 1996. “We’re still newcomers by New Meadows standards,” says Robin.
At age nine, Taylor used money earned from selling her 4-H lamb to buy her first horse, a palomino miniature named Jolly, who is now 20 years old. A few years ago, Taylor wanted to find a companion for Jolly. She was looking to add one mare, but ended up getting four mini horses in quick succession. In addition to the mare she sought – Buttercup – Taylor bought two mini horses who were thin and sick, in effect rescuing them. After restoring them to health, she kept one – Poppy – and sold the other to a good home. Three months later, the woman who sold her Jolly all those years ago called, wondering if Taylor wanted another mini horse the woman could no longer care for. Of course Taylor said yes, taking in Chevy.
Now, Taylor is breeding and selling mini horses. Buttercup gave birth to Porter, a 16-month old smoky-black male, and six months ago Chevy gave birth to Nova, a buckskin. Taylor’s hoping both Chevy and Buttercup will have babies in July; she’ll learn in December, when the vet comes to ultrasound the horses, whether either is pregnant.
Generally, mini horses under 34 inches at the last hair on their mane are “A” division under the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) rules, and those between 34-38 inches are “B” division. The AMHA organized in 1978 and developed an American Miniature Horse Registry in an effort to establish the mini horse as a recognized breed. The first small horses in the U.S. were imported Shetland ponies, arriving in 1861 and often used in mines after laws passed in 1842 prohibited children from working in them. Long before that, however, miniature horses were developed in Europe in the 1600s and often seen as pets of the nobility. Some look like ponies – short, stout legs, elongated body – while others appear more horse-like. Poppy, for instance, has a more Arabian-type head. “They’re all hairy,” says Taylor. “The birds are very happy in the spring!” Mini horses are bred to be even-tempered and good around people. Jolly has entertained children, taking them for rides.
It was this ever-growing collection of mini horses I noticed driving by the Richardson ranch almost daily that led me to ask Robin about visiting them. Quickly pointing out that “Taylor is the guilty party in the mini horse acquisition,” she added an enticement I couldn’t resist: “You may want to also talk to her about her goat dairy as she makes chevre and feta from her goat milk. She also just started making goat milk soap.”
In for a Goat, In for a Herd The first goat arrived at the Richardson ranch when Taylor was 25 years old. Robin’s long-time friend, Martha Carstensen, lives outside Billings, Montana. She has dairy goats and makes chevre cheese. “Martha brought me Magpie as a surprise, and said, learn! Mom was like, ‘Oh great; a goat.’ I hoped Magpie would bond with the mini horses, but she didn’t, so of course I had to get her a companion.”
Magpie, a five-year-old Nubian goat, arrived in October 2016, and a month later, Taylor got Gertie, age 8, another Nubian. “I learned to milk them; it was a wrestling match at first!” The wrestling was made even harder for Taylor because she broke her collarbone in the middle of November. “I was trying to milk one-handed while still learning. It was also a heavy snow winter, making going to and from the barn a challenge. Not my favorite year.” Eventually Taylor had a platform built so that the goat she’s milking is elevated and distracted, eating grain from a bucket while Taylor sits on a stool to milk.
According to Taylor, Nubian goats are popular for both meat and dairy. They have long ears – referred to as pendulous – and are talky. “They talk all the time,” says Taylor. “Magpie is very talky, and a good guard goat. A buck I leased got through the fence and fell into Goose Creek behind the barn. Luckily it wasn’t too deep, but he couldn’t find his way out. Magpie stood and baa’d and talked until I finally came out to see what she wanted, and she led me to him. If something’s not where it’s supposed to be, she lets me know. That’s why she’s named Magpie!”
Today, Taylor has six goats. In addition to Magpie and Gertie, she has 6-month-old female twins Mumps and Nanny McPhee who came originally from Council but were acquired from someone in New Meadows who discovered to their dismay how noisy Nubian goats can be. Last spring, Gertie had triplets; Taylor kept girls Gretel and Maple and sold their brother as a companion pet to people in Weiser.
The goats are all curious and friendly, although the younger ones are shy when first greeting a stranger. A few gentle scratches on their foreheads and they warm up to me, enough to start sampling the taste of my jeans leg. The goats tend to follow Taylor around their pen, especially if she has treats. But goats are also known in general to be escape artists. Remember hearing about the herd of goats that got loose in Boise last summer and helped themselves to several landscaped yards before being corralled and returned home? Taylor’s goats have escaped their area a few times. “Mostly they just come looking for me, or eat mom’s garden,” she says. “They don’t try to run away.” The worst danger, should they get out, is vehicle traffic on Cemetery Road. Or possibly carnivores, like coyotes. “When we first moved here, we needed guard dogs for the sheep, but now the coyotes around us don’t bother us,” says Taylor.
“Goats are born trying to die,” laughs Taylor, alluding not only to their propensity to escape enclosures, but how they’re born with virtually no body fat and need warmth to survive. Perhaps that’s why goat milk has such a high butter fat content. They do like people. “Goats are like dogs, while sheep are like cats,” says Taylor, who has lived with plenty of dogs and cats over the years; mom Robin breeds and trains border collies and they also fosters kittens for MCPAWS. “Goats just want to be your best friend. Sheep couldn’t care less.”
Goat milking occurs twice every day, except when there are kids nursing. When the kids are two weeks old, Taylor starts milking again but just in the evening, letting the kids nestle in the barn with mom and her milk overnight and separating them during the day until they’re weaned at about 12 weeks of age. Then Taylor’s back to twice-per-day milking. Currently Taylor has two goats in milking; she hopes to have four soon, to supply enough for all of the milk, cheese and soap she wants to produce and sell. Gertie is eight now, so Taylor is looking to replace her milk supply with that of one of her daughters soon. Goats typically live 8-14 years; it’s time for Gertie to retire to an easier life.
Raw Goat Milk and Cheese Products Taylor obtained her raw milk license in March 2017 and created her business, Goose Creek Farm. She’s versed in how to safely handle raw milk, and is subject to regular inspections of her goats and her products. Having gotten the raw milk – roughly a half gallon per day per goat right now, and as much as a gallon per day per goat at peak production – Taylor first filters it to remove any stray hay or hair. Then she freezes it; because it’s not pasteurized, freezing ensures no bacteria can survive. About 20% of the milk obtained is sold as milk; the rest is devoted to making chevre and feta cheese and soon, soap.
Utilizing videos on YouTube, following a couple of Facebook groups and photos on Pinterest, but mostly learning through books, Taylor has taught herself how to make chevre and feta cheese. “I got some recipes and away we went!” she says, displaying the sense of adventure and pluck that makes her successful. The chevre cheese (“chevre” is French for goat cheese) takes 24-48 hours to make, the process going a bit faster in summer when it’s warmer. “I heat the milk and add the culture, about five minutes of work, then it sits for 12-18 hours while the butter fat separates and the watery part turns into whey,” says Taylor. During that time the cheese is naturally allowed to curdle. Taylor takes the cheese curds and allows them to drain and cure by hanging them in cheesecloth for another 12-18 hours. Then she adds salt and flavoring. For example, she has made chevre flavored with garlic and white wine, sundried tomato and preserved lemon. The feta cheese Taylor makes takes a bit longer; after hanging and draining the curds they sit in a brine for a week.
“I made people try my cheeses,” says Taylor with a laugh. “I’d take it to the Kahili Club in New Meadows on steak night and give out samples. People started to buy it.”
Asked to describe chevre cheese, Taylor says, “It’s like feta and cream cheese had a baby. It’s not as thick or rich as cream cheese, and has a tang more like feta but not as potent. It’s great to throw in casseroles, on crackers with salami, or on pizza.”
Both chevre and feta cheeses have been around since ancient times, goat and sheep milk providing some of the earliest cheeses made by humans in part because of their simplicity. Noting that their house has an old root cellar, Taylor hopes someday to turn it into her cheese cave so that she can expand her cheese production to include types that need months to cure in a cool place, like cheddar. For now, she freezes the chevre and feta until they’re sold.
Taylor admits that learning to make good cheese involves a lot of guessing. “It’s like a really fun experiment. Lately I’ve been wanting to learn to make a cheese called gjeitost – pronounced yay toast. It’s a Norwegian cheese made from the whey. It’s the most fun to cook; it smells like caramel. You add a little butter and cream at the end, keep cooking it down. It has a salty, sweet and sour taste. Norwegians put it on toast. It smells so good to cook. People either love it or say, ‘This is horrible!’” Taylor discovered this cheese in a book on regional cheeses. She likes to experiment, and such books are often where she gets her ideas. “Both of my attempts at making brie failed,” she admits. “It needs a certain temperature and humidity level. It’s challenging.”
So far, Taylor primarily sells her goat milk and cheeses through her Facebook page or in local shops. This past summer was the first time she tried selling her products at the Donnelly Farmer’s Market. The experience was good, her products popular. “I didn’t have enough to sell! And, I kept getting requests for goat milk soap,” says Taylor. Goat milk soap is prized because of the high fat content of the milk. “Making the soap is a real science,” she adds. “Lye levels, oils, super fats and experimenting with adding things like shay butter for extra lather, or scents. Right now, I’m experimenting with adding coffee grounds to make an exfoliating soap.”
One experiment leads Taylor to another and her goat farm’s list of products grows. All of this hard work – caring for and milking the goats and mini horses, while also experimenting with making cheeses and soaps – is on top of working full time as assistant manager of Wild River Java in McCall. That’s how you know Taylor’s venture will succeed; she has created a business that combines her love of animals with providing products people want and appreciate, devoting all her spare time to it, learning and experimenting and having fun all the while.
(Cover photo: Taylor with five of her six goats, plus Beethoven – far right in photo – a buck on lease to attend to the ladies. Photo: McCall Digest.)