Took a Leap Farm brings Nigerian Dwarf goats to Aroostook County

12 years ago

Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Joseph Cyr
BU-CLR-Leap-dc1-pt-22NEW FARM — Robert Lawless, left, and Kathryn Harnish of Houlton recently opened Took A Leap Farm, a Nigerian Dwarf goat farm, at their home on the B Road. An open house is set for Saturday, June 2, and Sunday, June 3, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

By Joseph Cyr
Staff Writer

HOULTON — Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.
    That is the reasoning behind a decision made by Kathryn Harnish and Robert Lawless to open Took A Leap Farm, a Nigerian Dwarf dairy goat farm located on a 5.5-acre parcel of land on the B Road.
    “We’re originally from Chicago, but moved to Maine nine years ago with the intentions of raising goats that first year,”  Harnish explained. “We got here and spent some time getting to know the area and the next thing we knew nine years had gone by.”
    “Last spring we decided it was time to start this dream,” Lawless said. “We got our first five goats and it has gone on from there.”
    An open house is planned for Saturday, June 2, and Sunday, June 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A number of demonstrations will be held with the goats. Chicks, ducklings and rabbits will also be on site. Ark Animal Sanctuary will also hold a bake sale at the event. A cooking demonstration with Laura Schultz, a blogger for the Bangor Daily News, will also be held.
    There are currently 18 adult and 16 baby goats on their farm. Some of the younger goats have been sold, since there is a limit on how many goats the two can reasonably manage.
    “We also were not sure what the market is going to be for our product, so we don’t want to have 40 animals on hand and milk we can’t sell,” Harnish said.
    “We had 18 babies born on the farm this year, eight females and 10 males,” Lawless said. “The market that we do not want to get in is the meat market. None of these animals are going to any freezers.”
    All 28 goats have names and are registered with the American Dairy Goats Association and American Goat Society.
    “They are really sweet and personable,” Harnish added. “They make great little pets.”
    At 60-75 pounds, the full grown goats are no bigger than a family dog.
    Lawless said the fresh goat’s milk is far different from the milk found in cans at various stores.
Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Joseph Cyr
BU-CLR-Leap-dc2-pt-22HUNGRY — Kathryn Harnish feeds one of the many baby Nigerian dwarf goats on their farm in Houlton.

    “This milk is very rich and has no bitter, lactic acid taste,” he said. “Our goal is to open a micro-creamery, selling different types of fresh goat cheeses. There is also the possibility of selling raw milk and yogurt.”
    In the startup, Took A Leap Farm will offer gourmet cheeses such as feta and cheddar cheese curds. By next season, they hope to offer aged cheeses as well.
    Their products will be available for sale at Houlton’s Farmers’ Market throughout the summer. In addition, a farm store will be set up for on-site sales.
    Since the farm is starting out as a hobby, with the hopes of becoming a bigger business, Harnish and Lawless have regular jobs too. Harnish works from her home for a library software company that is based in Columbus, Ohio. Lawless was a quality assurance manager at Naturally Potatoes in Mars Hill for six years and is currently working on his nursing degree.
    “We are going to start out small, which is something everyone has encouraged us to do,” Harnish said. “Getting started is a pretty big investment.”
    Inspections by the Houlton Code Enforcement Officer and a permit from the town council were needed before the farm could open. The state Department of Agriculture will also be inspecting the property, Lawless said.
    “It’s a two-step process,” Harnish explained. “First you have to be certified by the state as a commercial dairy farm. Secondly, you have to get a food retailer and processor license. Because we are doing cheese, we have to do all these steps.”
    Getting the farm ready to be certified began in March. A milking room was added to the barn and a separate cheese room is being created. About two and a half to three gallons of milk a day is generated.
    “Right now we are milking by hand,” Harnish said. “We have 10 goats that we are currently milking. The milking process isn’t so bad. It is the chasing the goats part that takes the most amount of time. It all depends on how cooperative they are.”
    So how did the couple decide on Nigerian Dwarf goats?
    “We did some research and learned Nigerian Dwarf goats, though smaller in size, have a higher butterfat and milk solids content,” Lawless said.
    The couple used Sharon Peck, a dairy goat farmer from Willow Moon Farms in East Plainfield, Vt., as a mentor for their business.
    “We have grown our herd off her progeny,” he said.
    Harnish explained with cow’s milk or other goats there is only a 10 percent yield of milk to cheese ratio. With the Nigerian Dwarf goats, the yield is much higher, coming in at about 20 percent.
    “They are also much easier to handle,” she said. “If one needs to see a vet, we can easily put it in a vehicle and take it to them. We spend more time driving around with goats in the backseat than we do people.”
    For more information, contact Took A Leap Farm at 532-7618.