As several goats wander around their barn, eating hay under the watchful eye of three Great Pyrenees dogs, Brian Lendrum takes a few moments to enjoy the sunny and balmy winter day.
Soon he will be able to enjoy the hot summer days outside, working on his Lake Laberge farm, something he hasn’t been able to fully do for a long time.
For 15 years he has fed his goats, taken them to grazing land and milked them. Then he would spend days inside his house’s cheese room making fresh goat cheese.
The farm he and his wife Susan Ross run has been the Yukon’s sole local supplier of fresh goat milk and cheese for 15 years.
But there won’t be any goat milk or goat cheese for sale at the Lendrum Ross stand this year at the Fireweed Market.
“It’s time to move on,” Lendrum said. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”
Lendrum saw it coming: the labour-intensive work of taking care of the goats and making cheese was becoming harder as he grew older. But he also cares about the goats — after all, he’s spent almost every day of the past 30 years with them — so he couldn’t simply sell them to another farm.
In 2009 he and his wife decided they would be gradually winding down their operation.
“You don’t want to be in a position where you’re too old to look after your goats. That wouldn’t be good for the goats at all,” he said.
Making cheese is a time-consuming activity. For hygienic reasons, when Lendrum started a batch of cheese he had to devote himself entirely to that task.
“That was a big factor in me deciding that I’m missing all my summers because I’m spending my summertime in the cheese room,” he said.
“I’m missing the beautiful sunny days of summer.”
In a way, the farm will bow out of dairy production at the peak of its success.
Lendrum first purchased goats 30 years ago from a man in Carmacks. At that time many people were getting out of the goat business, he said, so people started giving him their goats when they realized he already had goats.
In 2005 Lendrum and Ross decided to take it a step further: they got more goats, built a proper cheese room and started selling at the Fireweed Market.
In 2009 they crafted their “goat exit strategy.”
The four years that followed were the farm’s best years for milk production and for success at the market. While at first Lendrum struggled to sell the cheese at the Takhini River gas station, once he moved to the Fireweed Market, it was an instant hit.
At the peak of production, the farm had 72 goats, with 17 producing milk.
Today there are nine left, the youngest being eight years old. With goats living up to 12 to 13 years, Lendrum’s girls, as he calls them, are enjoying their last few years.
Working with goats over 30 years taught him a lot — including that the popular stereotypes of vicious grumpy goats trying to bite people and butt them with horns are false. As long as you take care of them properly, that is.
“They’re not interested in people very much, they’d rather eat plants and interact with each other,” Lendrum said. “When the weather is good, they wander far and wide, they climb hills, run around and jump. When we confine them, they are grumpy.”
There was one goat, though, who had been abused by the time Lendrum got her.
“She confirmed all the stereotypes,” he said. She would usually stand by Lendrum and push away anybody she felt challenged her status.
“(One day) somebody came to visit and at exactly the time I said, ‘goats are not as bad as people say,’” Lendrum said, “she was eating the registration stickers off (the visitor’s) car.”
Goats don’t like dogs either, except for Lendrum’s three Great Pyrenees.
“These dogs are so placid, who could not like them?” Lendrum said. “The goats don’t notice them, I think.”
During the interview, one of the dogs, Stitch, a furry white-coated male, nudged my leg for a pat, before rolling over on the snow and letting out long, loud snores.
Lendrum got the dogs in 2009, after bears and coyotes kept attacking baby goats. Since then he hasn’t lost a single goat to wildlife.
Despite their furry and adorable teddy bear appearance, the dogs are always watching.
“If a coyote howled in the bush or if a bear appeared on the ridge, then they’re really in business,” Lendrum said. “They never attack but they bark a lot. They kind of puff out their hair and look really big and really fierce.”
Lendrum and Ross will continue to grow vegetables, even more so now that the goats are taking less of their time.
He is satisfied with his work making goat milk, and thankful for the support he’s enjoyed in the community.
The end of the commercial dairy production at the farm will leave a void in the Yukon food scene and Lendrum hopes somebody will fill it.
“I hope somebody else will also find the right combination of factors and be able to do it as well.”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org