The Lands at Hillside Farms raises Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW)…
In the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountain Range, Lucas Farrell and Louisa Conrad raise 45 Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW dairy goats on Big Picture Farm in Townshend, about 17 miles north of Brattleboro.
Coming from varied locations and career backgrounds, Lucas and Louisa have grown to adore the life of a goat farmer. Louisa, who grew up in New York City, and Lucas, who was raised in Colorado, made a life together in Middlebury, VT. Louisa worked as a photographer, an artist, and a teacher, while Lucas, also a school teacher, wrote poetry to supplement their income. But when the couple decided to take a farming apprenticeship at nearby Blue Ledge Farm, a goat dairy and cheese operation, the experience opened their eyes to the wonder of sustainable agriculture. As Lucas says, “After a few months of living and working with the animals, making cheese, and falling into the rhythm of farm life, we knew we were hooked and wanted to start a farm of our own.” In 2010, they started Big Picture Farm and have never looked back.
Big Picture Farm is home to 45 dairy goats of mixed breeds: French alpines, Saanens, and Nubians. The goats graze 100 acres of pasture and woodland. During the summer months, they enjoy plentiful shade from the local hardwoods and brush, grazing and browsing on fields of clover and timothy, as well as raspberries and blackberries and other brush and shrubs. The goats also delight in the outcroppings of bedrock found on the property, on which they like to climb and play.
The farmers employ a rotational model of grazing, limiting the goats to foraging on one section of land each day, before moving them (and their solar-powered electric fencing) to another plot. Lucas and Louisa explain the three main benefits of this rotational grazing model: “One, there is an evolving diversity of forage and plant matter which yields a varied diet for the goats, rather than a monotonous one. Two, the goats don’t see the same stretch of grass or woods for eight weeks or more, which reduces the internal parasite population. And three, it’s easier on the land; the goats are only in one area temporarily, so the plants have plenty of time to replenish before the goats graze that area again.”
As to why the farmers decided to apply for Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW certification, Lucas and Louisa explain that: “Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW appealed to us for a number of reasons, not the least of which because of the high standards it sets for animal husbandry. The audit process is extensive, thoughtful, and tracks every aspect of goat care, from diet to health care to living quarters. I guess we just really wanted to join an association that is committed to the same things we are, and whose certification would properly reflect and acknowledge the quality of our farm and animals. We love our goats enormously, and the quality of our products is a reflection of them and their quality of life.”
The goats are milked twice a day, which requires a steadfast commitment to sanitary practices and careful observation of the goats’ udder health and behavior. Lucas and Louisa then transform the milk into award-winning goat milk caramels. Big Picture Farm has been awarded four Good Food awards, and five gold SOFI’s for their confections.
In the future, Lucas and Louisa aim to continue growing as vibrant, exciting, socially responsible, and financially profitable Vermont goat dairy and farmstead confectionery. Big Picture Farm’s Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW goat milk caramels are available in over 1,200 retail outlets nationwide. For more information, visit the farm’s website. Follow Big Picture Farm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for news and events.