Love of goats sparks creation of Goshen micro dairy

GOSHEN — On a gorgeous day in May, Goshen farmers Chad and Morgan Beckwith are taking their goats on a walk. The small herd follows along through the woods like a happy pack of large shaggy dogs, browsing on everything in sight. Partway through the walk, Morgan hears an urgent bleating that can only mean one thing. Calliope — a one-year-old French-Alpine “show goat” from New Hampshire and the newest addition to Ice House Farm — is about to kid for the first time.
Morgan tears off for the barn and is soon crouching alongside the expectant mother, crooning words of encouragement.
“Morgan’s the goat midwife,” says Chad.
The 24-goat “micro dairy” produces raw goat milk, goat milk products (soap and soon yogurt), and honey, which they sell through the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. Previously they also sold through the online yourfarmstand.com. They plan to expand during the coming year, selling to local natural food stores.
The Beckwiths began farming three years ago, first renting an acreage in Addison. The “ice house” in the farm’s name was a historic structure on the Addison farm, where blocks of ice cut from Lake Champlain were once stored. They moved operations to Goshen last September.
Their focus on goats grew out of a love of making homemade cheese and yogurt.
“We just kind of fell in love with the idea of being able to make fresh cheese at home for ourselves,” said Chad. “When we first moved to Addison, it was hard to find raw goat’s milk to make cheeses at home.”
Added Morgan, “We just figured we’d get our own goats to make our own stuff, and then we were like. ‘Goats are awful fun; maybe we should sell raw milk because people can’t get it very easily,’ and it just snowballed.”
But for all of the sheer joy that the Beckwiths bring to farming, they also bring equal portions of organization, rigor and elbow grease. (The barn in which “Cal” works to give birth is spotless — indeed far, far cleaner than my kitchen could ever hope to be.)
The Beckwiths’ goal is to develop a small herd with top productivity and vigor. The flock is mostly Alpines because of the breeds’ high milk yields, but they’re also introducing Nubians because of that breed’s higher butterfat and proteins. Chad plans to crossbreed some “Nupines” to get the best characteristics of both.
They purchased some of their flock from a farm that tracked the milk content and productivity of each animal.
Ice House Farm recently won Certified Grassfed accreditation (click here to see that story).
The Beckwiths switched to grass-fed/browse only (no grain in the goats’ diet) because they believe it’s more economically viable, and better for the goats and for the environment. But as they were making the decision, it was challenging to find other goat producers to compare notes with.
“We started asking people about it, and they were like, ‘Well, you can do that but your production might drop,’ or, ‘Sure, they’ve done it with cows but no one’s done it with goats around here,’” said Morgan.
Then Morgan found a dairy goat farm in Tennessee that successfully moved to grass-fed only.
“That was like an inspiration,” she said. “If they can do it, we can do it.”
Goats will eat grass but prefer to browse on plants, shrubs, young trees (even bark) that are at least six inches high.
“Pretty much they will eat anything,” said Morgan.
The list of what the Ice House goats will gladly nibble on includes young black locust, buckthorn, sumac, willow, feral apple, dried leaves. They like burdock and milkweed. They’ll even eat poison parsnip before it matures.
But they’re picky, too.
Before deciding which farm to source their hay from, the Beckwiths bought bales around the county and then let the goats choose.
“Luckily Addison County has some of the best hay producers in the area, so it’s worked out really well for us,” said Chad.
The hay they purchase is a mix of legumes, clover and timothy.
“I really like that because the goats really love it,” Chad said.
Chad’s path to becoming a farmer grew out of a summer keeping bees with his dad.
“I kind of fell in love with it and thought it was so much fun to be outside enjoying the outside and enjoying the environment,” he said. “It’s quite a passion, once you get into keeping bees. We’re always trying to come up with new ideas for keeping them better each year.”
For a long time, though, he worked a desk job as a music software audio engineer, keeping bees part-time on the side.
But he finally realized that what he really enjoyed was being outside.
“When we moved to Addison the idea of farming full time became more of a reality,” Chad said. “You get seduced by the land and the soil. It gets into your veins. And you realize that you can try to do something unique and try to create something that’s viable, something that works. So I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Morgan grew up in Idabel, Okla., and came East to study painting at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, Conn. She met Chad while working for his mother, who does art conservation framing.
“She kept telling me I had to meet her son,” said Morgan, who noted she wasn’t too keen on the idea until she finally did meet Chad.
The two were married in 2013.
The Beckwiths feel happy, they said, to have found their farmstead on 16.5 acres off Hathaway Road in Goshen, after searching statewide for a place with the right balance of land that could provide both browse and pasture and “some start on outbuildings.”
“This place was perfect,” said Morgan.
Back in the barn, Calliope finally births her kid. It’s a boy, called a “buckling” in the goat world. Although bucklings often end up as pets or roast, this one will be kept as a stud, given his pedigree.
Calliope answers the newborn’s first bleats with low grunting snorts and gently begins to lick him clean. Morgan stands him up and helps him latch on to his mother’s teats for a first drink of colostrum. He sucks noisily.
They’re still thinking about names, which at Ice House follow thematic lines based on the doe. (There’s a June Carter-Johnny Cash-Maybelle Carter line, a Linden-Willow-Poppy line, and a Juno-Carl Sagan-Neil deGrasse Tyson line, among others.)
As this article goes to press, Morgan emails: “The new buckling is just fine, doing great. Since his mom’s name is Calliope, his name is Estey after the Vermont organ company.”
Ice House Farm can be reached at [email protected], through the icehousefarmvt.com website, or at 802-247-1443.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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