Dairy Diary

Cypress Grove settles into McKinleyville, with nearly 200 knocked-up goats



On a glistening green pasture at the far northern end of McKinleyville, goats leap and jostle as they run toward the man who is managing their sex lives.

They are a soft creamy white, or a dozen combinations of brown or black edged with white. Many bear the telltale smear of chalk that is the dairy goat equivalent of a scarlet letter.

The bright red or blue or aqua chalk comes from the harness of a buck. It is color-coded proof that a doe has had a close encounter with one of the four males busily trying to impregnate 194 females in the start-up herd of Cypress Grove Chevre Inc.'s new dairy.

The dairy is here, on rolling pastureland bordering Dow's Prairie Road, partly because some neighbors were aghast over plans to establish it instead in the Arcata Bottom, where Cypress Grove now makes gourmet cheeses.

So the cheese maker walked away from a pending land purchase near the Arcata city limits last year, and instead bought 37 acres in McKinleyville. The new dairy is now home to Saanen, Toggenburg and Alpine goats, mostly purchased from Washington state. They are the founding mothers of a herd that could grow within a few years to 800 to 1,200 goats, or perhaps even more.

Dairy manager Ryan Andrus has settled the animals into six corrals where they are browsing on vetch and rye grass, as well as steadily nibbling away all the bark they can reach on trees earmarked for removal.

Andrus is the one who feeds them more nutritious fodder, scratches their heads and makes sure each buck spends time productively in a pen with a small harem of does.

The animals, who have learned that people likely mean food, trot up to him whenever he comes by. They nibble at his sleeve and bump up against the fence for petting.

Goats, he says, are as friendly as dogs but sporadically as aloof as cats. Andrus nudges one away in mid-nuzzle as she gently samples a visitor's hair.

Next month, when these does start bearing kids -- two or sometimes three per mother -- Andrus' wife will bottle feed them to make sure they're getting enough nutrition. And the milking will begin.

The male kids will be quickly sold off to be raised as meat animals, and the females will be old enough to breed in less than a year.

Bob McCall, sales and marketing director for Cypress Grove Chevre Inc., figures it will take around three years for the dairy to hit its preliminary target of 800 female dairy goats. At that point, he said, Cypress Grove will assess how many more animals it wants at the dairy, where two gigantic, plastic-topped barns have already been raised and more could be built.

Cypress Grove's vision of its future in McKinleyville is an open-ended one, full of promises that the dairy will be humane-certified and that best practices will be evaluated as the herd grows.

Sean Armstrong, one of the loudest voices in keeping the dairy out of Arcata, remains convinced that unless regulators step in, the place could grow into a monster, a disease- and pollution-spewing factory farm.

Armstrong tried unsuccessfully to persuade the county to demand an environmental impact report for the dairy. He insists on calling it a feedlot instead of a dairy, even though state law clearly defines feedlots as places where 500-plus cattle are raised for slaughter, and dairies as places where animals are in lactation. He wants to know where the wastewater used to wash down the facility will go, and where the goat poop will go.

"They've been playing hide the ball," Armstrong says.

Let's just say right here, plenty of people think Sean Armstrong is annoying as hell. He makes up his own definitions, hypes any goat-borne disease he can find on the Internet and peppers regulators with emails that may or may not be germane to any current law or regulation.

Even so, it's hard not be a tiny bit sympathetic, because McCall can be awfully vague on some details. That might be the best strategy for a new dairy that plans to stay nimble as it goes along, but "we just don't know yet" is an answer that leaves room for paranoia.

McCall says no one knows yet how big the dairy will get eventually, although Cypress Grove suspects this land may top out at around 1,200 goats.

And the dairy's water quality permitting status remains unclear.

Cypress Grove plans to meet with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board later this month to talk about what sort of permit it might need.

Lisa Bernard, a sanitary engineering associate with the water board, said if the dairy plans to discharge any kind of waste, it will need a permit. If it gives goat poop to a third party for composting -- which is what McCall says the dairy is doing now -- the third party should have a permit. If the dairy composts onsite -- which McCall says it might do later -- it will need a permit for that.

For now, there's not much vibe of a Frankenfarm, out there in green, rain-sparkled McKinleyville, where Andrus is scritching his goats on the tops of their heads, and neighbors have dropped by with tangerines and cookies.

And if that's a just fa├žade, well, one thing seems certain.

Sean Armstrong will be watching. And he'll email everyone with updates.



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