This is an unusual sight in the Philadelphia suburbs, but these guys are even better than a lawnmower (and much less noisy) for cutting (or eating) grass.

This is an unusual sight in the Philadelphia suburbs, but these guys are even better than a lawnmower (and much less noisy) for cutting (or eating) grass.

by Jacqueline Rupp

What do you call an artistic goat with one ear? Van Goat!

Here’s the story of a midwife and a female carpenter who met, fell in love, and of all things, began Shady Apple Goats, a goat farm, right in our community on West Mill Road in Flourtown.

Lisa McCurdy, 61, and Laurie Jenkins, 49, moved from Mt. Airy to Flourtown a few years ago, and it didn’t take long before they were taking full advantage of the extra space. “We thought we were moving to the country,” says Jenkins, who works as a midwife at the University of Pennsylvania.

It is definitely a team effort for this couple, with Jenkins making the goat milk cheeses and soaps and McCurdy building the sheds, barns and chicken coops. “She often wonders how we got all these animals and how she ended up milking in the freezing cold on these dark mornings!” said Jenkins.

Of course there is no typical day for this power farming couple. Winter time is especially challenging. During the last snowstorm the water froze in their barn, which meant the couple had to carry all the water from their house — in the snow, of course, while shoveling nearly a foot of snow to let the animals out.

But on a good day, you’ll find the ladies waking up early, milking by 8 a.m., then tending to the chickens, cleaning the coop, cleaning the goat barn and making batches of cheese and soap, weeding, planting and tending to flowers (in the warmer months), canning, checking on the beehives, walking the dogs, phew … then with McCurdy off to her carpentry projects, Jenkins preps and packs the cheeses and soaps, all before the 6 p.m. milking and closing in of the chickens and goats.

After that, you’d think it would be time for bed or some prime time TV, but for Jenkins it’s time to get ready to head to work at the hospital for the night. “We never go away overnight,” she explained, “unless it’s in February or March because we have to milk the goats … every day … twice a day. It’s hard work, but we love it — unless it is 3 degrees outside, and then we like it less!”

At the heart of the farm are the goats: large LaManchas and small Nigerian dwarf goats. “The Nigerians are smaller and are sometimes a challenge to milk. But they take up less space, and it’s easy to find homes for the babies every year. The large goats are a joy to milk, but they don’t fit very well in the back of a car. And it’s very hard finding homes for the wethers (castrated male goats).”

McCurdy and Jenkins came up with a novel use for these boys: lawn care! “We have these lovely sweet amazing wethers. They love to eat and eat a lot, so we decided we would offer the goats as grazers.” Turns out the goats are like furry weed whackers, naturally nibbling out invasive weeds and vines. “As we grow our herd, we will grow the business. It makes us feel great to give these boys a job and to help the environment at the same time.”

Lisa McCurdy, 61, and Laurie Jenkins, 49, moved from Mt. Airy to Flourtown, where they love having so much extra space.

Lisa McCurdy, 61, and Laurie Jenkins, 49, moved from Mt. Airy to Flourtown, where they love having so much extra space.

But the main product that comes from the farm is the goat’s milk and subsequent cheese. The farm boasts a 40-person “Cheese Plus” CSA. (For 25 years Community Supported Agriculture {CSA} has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer.) Each month, subscribers receive a pickup of hard and soft cheese and dairy items like goat butter, goat yogurt, seasoned goat milk caramels, chevre truffles and cajeta, a traditional Mexican goat milk caramel sauce.

“The cheeses range from simple chevre with fresh herbs or a drizzle of our honey to a baby blue soft goat cheese to a Jack rubbed with cocoa, espresso, sea salt and honey to an aged mold-ripened stinky cheese,” explained Jenkins. The CSA runs from June to December, and more information on subscribing can be found on their website: shadyapplegoats.com.

The goats bred on the farm go to homes that are looking for a dairy goat, as well as to people looking for a pet or a companion to another farm animal. Being herd animals, the goats like to live in groups. “We have always found good homes for the females but still struggle to find homes for the large wether LaManchas, who are the sweetest of the batch!”

If you can’t buy a goat from the farm, non-CSA members can still buy farm products like cheese, soap and canned goods. And the couple welcomes visitors to stop by and experience the farm first hand. (The best time is the early summer just after the babies arrive in May!) Just make sure you call beforehand to arrange a time with the ladies; this is a working farm and their home, after all!

When asked about life lessons from the farm, Jenkins had this to say: “It is hard to make good cheese. It is sometimes hard to sell good cheese (government regulations, etc.). It is A LOT of work raising a dairy animal and involves a daily grind of milking, using the milk, cleaning and caring for the animals. There is heartbreak. There is the most tremendous satisfaction. It is not the job for someone who wants to have nice hands!”

But the goats make it all worthwhile. “Goats are amazing. Smart. Kind. Curious.” And despite the popular notion, goats do not eat anything, as the couple have learned the hard way. “If they do not like it, they will not eat it,” says Jenkins. “They will pull it out of the hay bin and sniff it and step on it and pee on it, but they will not eat it.”

In the end this is a love story, a love of farming, of animals and of McCurdy and Jenkins for each other. “All we have done, we have accomplished together,” says Jenkins. “Only the two of us really know what it is like to carry our beloved Petal up the yard to bury her in a deep grave in the middle of summer. It is important to share the burden. To share the load. To have someone around to laugh with and who celebrates the small victories. We have grown closer because we share this all together. I cannot imagine doing it all without Lisa. I am really not sure I could …

“We do this because of a passion that runs deep. We want to know where our food comes from. We need to bear witness to the cycle of life. We want to learn — and then in turn pass on — the wisdom and the craft of all those who came before us.”

For more information, call 267-207-7830, visit www.shadyapplegoats.com or email northfortyfarm@verizon.net.