CARLTON, Minn. — Andrea Johnson had 40 acres and a lot of brush.
On the hunt for brush eaters, she tried goat’s milk for the first time. “At that moment, I could care less about brush eaters. I just wanted to start raising little goats and milking them,” she recalled.
Johnson launched her dairy goat farm, Andy’s Acres, about four years ago outside Carlton, about 20 miles southwest of Duluth.
Today, she has about 20 Nigerian dwarf goats — all with short, stubby legs, some with spots and tufts of hair on their heads, some with wide “hips” and long “mustaches.”
Johnson makes cheese, yogurt and pudding that she turns into ice cream. She even makes even soap with their milk.
Johnson’s dreadlocks bobbed in a tall ponytail as she walked through her grounds. Her granddaughter, Iris Swanson, 4, stepped up onto a shelf in the barn — she knows her way around.
“We’ve got Shylah, Sassy, Jinxy, Summer, Butterscotch, Trixie and Phoebe and DeeDee and Sparrow, and Pearl and Irene. These are all the girls,” Johnson said pointing to the does.
Goats have a tight family unit, and they keep that bond forever.
They eat hay — alfalfa hay when they’re milking — and grain. They live about 14 years, and they’re not born milkers, so year one with a new doe is all about getting them accustomed to milking.
Johnson breeds them one at a time, and 145 days later, kids typically come in groups of twos or threes.
Goats are stubborn, funny and food-motivated. They’re also sensitive to your energy. They won’t go near you if you’re anxious or worried, so you have to leave that at the door.
“They’re like my little zen animals, my therapy,” she said.
Johnson’s income from soap covers hay. She also sells neutered billies and does, and reinvests that money into new sires, milking machine gear or barn improvements.
In the milking room, Johnson led one of her does, Deedee, onto a wooden platform.
Deedee’s head went between two wooden planks, and she leaned down to eat grain from a bucket. Johnson wiped her udder with a warm washcloth to prevent infection. She emptied the first squirts into a can; it won’t be used because it could contain bacteria.
Johnson attached Deedee to an electric milking machine. With a steady hum, the milk made its way through long tubes into a sterilized Mason jar.
Deedee yielded about a pound, which Johnson placed in a nearby fridge, already filled with a week’s worth of milk. It doesn’t go sour like pasteurized products, and it eventually turns to cheese, another venture of hers. Johnson has made chevre, mozzarella and farmer’s cheese from her goat’s milk. It takes about a gallon of milk to make 2 pounds of cheese, she said.
Andy’s Acres is a one-woman show. Her husband built a fence and helps with stacking and transporting hay, but she’s in charge of the milking, chores, cheese- and soap-making.
It’s a physical hobby, uploading hay, cleaning pens and milking. Johnson said she looks forward to the end of the day, sitting with “the ladies” when the chores are done.
“They all come up, and they’re rubbing up on me, and this one’s trying to eat my hair, and this one’s eating my shoe. I do like you guys," she says to the goats. "You’re a lot of work, but it’s alright.”