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Heron Pond produces specialty goat cheeses, pork

Thu., June 27, 2013

Every morning at 5:30, Lorie Arnold, 46, gets out of bed, grabs an apple and heads to the barn to milk her goats.

“I don’t have to be pretty,” she said. “The goats don’t care what I look like.”

It’s not the future she imagined for herself as a child in Spokane. She lived in the city, but had relatives with a farm. She remembers butchering chickens when she visited, but went on to become a property manager.

That changed when her partner’s mother inherited almost 20 acres on East Jamieson Road. Arnold and Shannon Meagher fell in love with the land and have turned it into Heron Pond Farm, a small business that specializes in artisan goat cheeses and heritage pork. This is their fourth year of licensed production. While Meagher holds a day job at Kiemle & Hagood, Arnold operates the farm.

“It was not in my life plan,” Arnold said.

Arnold makes cheeses using milk from 11 goats at Heron Pond. The goats are milked twice a day, then she pasteurizes the milk and turns it into a variety of cheeses, including chevre, cheddar, gouda, feta or one that’s similar to Manchego called Tower Mountain.

Last year, the farm produced 1,000 pounds of cheese. Arnold expects to produce 1,500 pounds this year. For every gallon of goat milk, Arnold can make a pound of cheese.

A lot of work goes into making cheese, on top of the milking and actual cheese-making process. Arnold must care for her goat herd, which includes 11 milk goats, two 2-year-olds who didn’t get pregnant last fall, five yearlings and nine kids.

The goats gave birth to 20 kids in February. Each fall, Arnold rents a buck to come to breed with her goats. After they give birth they begin producing milk until the next fall, when the cycle starts over.

Arnold is there when her goats give birth, twins are common, but they can also have a single kid or triplets. She bottle-feeds each kid – for the first week or so, she makes sure each kid receives milk from its mother. Bottle-feeding allows Arnold to bond with the goats and helps to keep the mother’s udders healthy.

Arnold said she and Meagher looked at several options when they decided to start a farm. They thought about beef cattle, meat goats and pigs.

She fell in love with Nubian goats, which can be used for either meat or dairy. Goat meat is popular in many places throughout the world, but not so much in North America, so they decided to make cheese.

“I’m not going to eat anything I bottle feed,” she said.

They did, however, begin raising black hogs, a heritage breed, about a year after they were licensed to produce cheese. A byproduct of cheese making is whey, which they mix with feed for the hogs. Black hogs produce a rich, red meat, and they are sold by the half or whole pig.

Arnold said an important part of making delicious cheeses and meats is making sure each animal is well-taken care of and loved.

While she started out small – with two goats – business has grown enough to hire a farm hand to help.

Corey Zalewski, 21, is a graduate marketing student at Whitworth University. He’s been working at the farm since the beginning of the month and now milks the goats using the milking machine in the afternoons.

Zalewski said he’s gained a bigger respect for the food he eats by working at Heron Pond. Along with milking, he mucks out the barn, paints the buildings, feeds the hogs and does odd jobs here and there.

“This is not glamorous at all,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, Arnold and Zalewski worked together to milk the goats, although it takes just as long to milk them with one person as it does with two. There are two stations and goats are brought in two at a time for milking, with the exception of Aliviah, a 3-year-old goat who doesn’t like to fight her way through the herd to get to the milking station.

The two wash the goats’ udders using a mixture of tea tree and lavender oils, Dawn dishwashing liquid and Betadine while the goats are distracted with food.

“They’ve got a terrible sweet tooth,” Arnold said.

They hand milk a couple of shots into a canister to make sure the milk is the right color and then hook them up to the machine. You can see the milk collecting in the hose and when it stops, they take off the machine, but there is always more milk left in the udders, which Arnold or Zalewski hand milk.

When they are done, each goat is given an animal cracker and sent back to the barn. Each milking station is wiped down before the next two goats come in for milking. The whole process takes about 45 minutes.

After the pigs are fed, Arnold can take a break for a few hours before a last feeding at the end of the day, usually around 9 p.m. She said other than milking, she sets up her own schedule every day, whether that’s cheese making, calls about deliveries or giving tours of the farm.

“There’s always something to do on the farm,” she said. “I love what I do.”

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