By Valerie Baldowski
Milk drinkers looking for an alternative to the usual beverage on the supermarket shelves have another choice, courtesy of a small, goat, dairy farm tucked away on a dirt road in McDonough.
The Robinson Family Farm and NYRLE Real Goats Dairy, operated by Yvonne Robinson and her husband, Jeff, sells state-licensed, raw goat's milk.
When deciding on the name of the business, Robinson said the "NYR" in the business name came from the initials in her name.
The milk is sold directly to customers willing to make the trip to the farm, located at 230 Eskew Road. It is also sold at local farmers' markets. Also, Robinson will deliver milk to customers who order a minimum of five gallons.
The farm supplements its goat's milk sales with sales of rabbits, and eggs from its flock of 35-40 chickens. The 11 breeder-rabbits the family owns produce baby rabbits, which are sold for their meat, said Robinson.
She said the farm puts out a steady supply of goat's milk.
"We milk every 12 hours, just as any standard dairy does," said Robinson. "The average lactation for one animal is 10 months, but we stagger our breeding, and our kidding season -- which is what it's called when they actually give birth -- which means we can have milk year round."
The lactation period is when the goats are able to produce milk, she said. The goats producing milk at the farm are bred for their easy-going, sweet-tempered dispositions, she added.
"A goat is not a goat," she said. "There are dairy-specific goats, there are meat goats [and] there are fiber goats. There's a number of breeds of dairy goats, just like there's a number of different breeds of dairy cattle."
The dairy goats the Robinsons own are Saanen goats, a breed imported from the Saanen Valley in Switzerland.
"They are known as the Holstein [the finest] of the diary goat. They produce the largest volume [of milk] per body weight," she said.
A Saanen goat with good bloodlines can produce between 1.5 gallons and 2 gallons of milk per day, for 10 months, continued Robinson.
The business has been at its present location since 1990, and despite the slow economy, Robinson said her business is "booming." She credited the strong sales of her goat's milk to public awareness of the need to eat well, and maintain a more healthy lifestyle, which began to rise several years ago, before the economy soured.
The quality of the milk the goats produce depends on the food they eat, and Robinson said her goats are fed high-quality feed.
The idea that goats will eat anything is a myth, she said. "A lot of people think they eat newspapers and stuff like that, [but] that's silly," said Robinson. "They'll chew on just about anything, that's just the nature of the animal."
In reality, she said, goats are pickier eaters than most people realize. "If their hay falls on the ground, even though it's still clean, they won't touch it," she said. "If a doe doesn't eat all of her grain, you can't give it to her again the next time the feeding goes around. She's already stuck her nose in it, and she won't touch it again," Robinson said. "You have to give them fresh food each time."
In addition to being served in a glass, goat's milk is also an important ingredient in food preparation, said Frank Hancock, agriculture and natural resources agent for the University of Georgia's Cooperative Extension Service.
"Goat milk is used in a lot of cheeses," said Hancock. "In the Taste of Georgia contest last year, one of the goat cheeses won first place."
More and more small goat farms are starting up, he added.
"Goats are gaining popularity," he said. "People can raise goats, and not just from a dairy perspective. From a home perspective, you can have your own milk, [and] your own meat, depending on what kind of goat you're raising, and they don't take as much land as cattle."
Goat, dairy farms are following a reverse trend from cow dairy farms, said the extension service agent. "There's a lot of interest in goats," he said. "It's not on the decline, it's on the increase, but it's a lot of small operations. Dairy farms in Henry County are extinct, we don't have any cattle, dairy farms."