For most people on the Key Peninsula, Himalayan blackberry bushes are a minor nuisance.
For Farrell and Laurie Timlake, they were a major problem.
When the couple took over the former Steiner Nursery in Lakebay in December 2018, the invasive plant stood 10 feet tall and took up more than 85% of their 3½ acre property.
“We thought about renting goats, but surprisingly it was cheaper to buy some,” Ferrell said.
They found a pair of goats for sale on Craigslist — an Oberhasli male they named Samson and a Nigerian Dwarf female they call Delilah — and drove them home in the back of their Audi wagon.
And when the goats got to their new home, they ate, and ate … and ate. They ate through the blackberry vines intertwined with the Steiner Nursery’s well-known heirloom rhododendrons. They ate so much the goats revealed a 15-foot round pond toward the back of the property. Their appetite helped the farm reclaim a large, grassy open space surrounded by beauty that dense blackberry thickets kept hidden for nearly 30 years.
As the number of blackberry brambles shrank, the goat-family grew. Much to the couple’s surprise, Delilah was pregnant and within two months of her arrival, she delivered her first babies during the February 2019 snowstorm.
Change of plans. What went from bringing a dilapidated flower nursery back to life, turned into Grateful Goat Farms.
After four years of newborns, the Timlakes had up to 13 goats at one point last year. And for many Deadheads, names like Rider, Cosmic Charlie and Iko might start ringing a bell. The farm name pays homage to the Grateful Dead band, and all the goats are named after the group’s songs. Farrell has followed the Grateful Dead, literally while they were on tour, since the 1980s and converted Laurie to a Deadhead soon after they met.
For Farrell and Laurie, everything they know about goats is self-taught. It kind of had to be since they didn’t know they were getting into the goat business. It even took a year for Farrell to learn how to keep them penned up. “They’re insane escape artists,” he said.
But the biggest revelation for the new farmers is all the uses for goat milk. Farrell learned how to make goat milk-soap and the business is now cleaning up, so to speak.
“You can make a lot of goat milk soap with a little goat milk,” Farrell said, adding that he only takes the necessary amount of milk, about 20 ounces per batch, leaving the rest for the babies. He produces natural, hand-made soap using Pacific Northwest-inspired essential oils and herbs, like cedar wood and lavender. It takes Farrell about 45-minutes to make a batch of soap and each batch makes about 45 bars.
The Timlakes stress the benefits of goat milk soap since the milk contains a large amount of lactic acid, which serves as a natural exfoliant. It has a similar pH balance to human skin, so the milk helps the skin absorb moisture. Farrell mentioned it’s great for people with eczema and forms of psoriasis.
While a lot of small businesses are going online-only to save on costs, Grateful Goat Farms wants to get more involved with local businesses. They are already selling their soap at Purdy Cost Less Pharmacy, and they hope to expand. The Timlakes even participated in their first Key Peninsula Farm Tour last October, where nearly 2,500 people stopped by. Naturally their stop on the tour was Grateful Dead-themed, complete with a drum circle, a tie-dye shirt-making station, and the band’s music blasting over the speakers. But the highlight of their part of the tour was the goats.
“It was a great experience. We bonded with our community through our goats,” Farrell said.
The couple has big plans for the farm. In addition to the soap, Farrell is branching out to make goat cheese. They also plan to put more effort into bringing the rhododendron part of the farm back, though there’s plenty on the property already to make it standout. Grateful Goat Farm also is available for larger events, or smaller groups for what Laurie calls “goat togethers.”
“I just want people to find peace here and have a Zen experience, because the world is so crazy right now,” Laurie said.
“Make cheese, not war!” is one of their mottos, together with “Be goatful for what you have.”
Learn more about the farm at www.GratefulGoatFarms.com
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