Here's looking at you, kid

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 10:54 AM

The neatly packaged rounds and slices of Prodigal Farm’s creamy goat cheese at the South Durham Farmers’ Market belie the commotion occurring back on their farm in northern Durham County. 

Spring is kidding season, and it’s a hectic time as their herd suddenly swells with young new members. To see the baby goats firsthand, I drove out to the farm last Sunday with a couple of friends and spoke with Dave Krabbe, who runs the farm alongside his wife, Kathryn Spann. 

When we first arrived, we wandered over to the little barn housing all the kids born over the past week. Inside, we were greeted by dozens of ridiculously cute baby goats. Some were sleeping in huddles, others were drinking from milk stations and a few were playfully charging about. One farmhand, Maggie Griffin, heated several bottles of milk and invited us to bottle-feed the kids that had been born the day before.

Prodigal Farm raises multiple breeds, so each of the kids were a jumble of colors, sizes and features. The Nubians contribute their big, floppy ears, the Alpines their erect ears, the Saanens their light, creamy color, and the Lamanchas (the only native American goat breed) their very tiny ears. They are all interbred for hardiness, as well as the quality and output of their milk. Of the approximately 160 kids that will be born this season, only 30 will be chosen for breeding.

After almost an hour, we tore ourselves away from the sated newborns, and Maggie walked us over to the paddock holding both the expectant does (female goats) and the does that had recently given birth. Inside the enclosure, three retired school buses offer shelter and shade. Throughout the year, the buses are rotated with the goats to different paddocks on the farm’s 97 acres of rolling pasture. They are ideal shelters, not only for their portability, but also because the hard surfaces are easy to clean of lingering parasites.

The pasture inhabited by the does was this year’s sacrifice field. During the spring, summer and fall, the goats are rotated almost weekly to prevent overgrazing and destruction of the grass; however, during the winter, when the fields are especially susceptible to damage, the does reside on just one field, where their diet is augmented with bales of alfalfa.

The does that had given birth over the past 24 hours still had their kids with them, so that the newborns could benefit from their mother’s nutrient-dense first milk (i.e., the colostrum). And, to ensure the quality and quantity of the milk, none of the does had been milked for two months.

Each of the does and kids ambling around us wore collars bearing their name. As is common practice on livestock farms, all of the goats born in a given year have names that begin with the same letter. This custom helps the farmer remember the age of each animal. This year it was H. There was Harvey and his sister Hannah, Honeysuckle who was still learning to walk, Haroldo, Heather, Hazel and scores more.

After visiting Prodigal Farm, I can understand how Kathryn Spann and Dave Krabbe fell in love with raising goats. And, as the only Animal Welfare Approved dairy goat farm in North Carolina, they manifest that love through the excellent care they give their animals.

Elizabeth Zander is market manager for the South Durham Farmers’ Market, which in winter is open 9 a.m. noon each Saturday at Greenwood Commons Shopping Center, 5410 NC Highway 55.