The happy goats of Rancho Avellanas Dairy Farm
If reincarnation is real, I think I’d like to come back as a baby goat at Rancho Avellanas.
Here on a tiny farm just a few bumpy kilometers from Playa Avellanas, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, you’ll find what are perhaps the cleanest, happiest, sweetest and – above all – most affectionate little goats on the planet.
These impossibly cute creatures live on a postcard perfect 20-hectare farm with other delightful animals: grass-fed Jersey cattle, pastured pigs, free-range hens. With tails wagging, the cows and goats produce nutritious milk for 100 percent natural, preservative-free dairy products. Milk, yogurt, Greek yogurt and butter along with mozzarella, pinilla and gouda cheeses (and occasionally even ice cream) are just a few of the many artisanal goods made here each day.
Rancho Avellanas’ livestock is happy because farm owner Carlos Carranza has an understanding of animals from a veterinarian’s point of view – one that comes from years of working with wildlife. “We try to treat them really well – not like they’re just animals,” noted his wife, Hilda. “We respect and look after them, and they have plenty of space to live happily.”
A Farm is Born
High school sweethearts since age 15, Carlos and Hilda moved to the U.S. for a few years after marriage. Then Carlos went to vet school in Brazil. In 1980, the couple purchased the property upon which Rancho Avellanas now resides, living there for several years without electricity. As a result, they started out making mostly dry, aged and smoked cheeses that didn’t need refrigeration – and an Italian neighbor taught Hilda how to make mozzarella.
They planted sorghum to feed the pigs and the animals and began reforesting the area with native trees like mahogany and cedar. They also planted teak, melina and neem. The kids grew to be teenagers, and they moved to San José for schooling. Their farm dream was on hold.
During the family’s time in the city, the children always referred to the farm fondly as “the ranch,” which is how it got official name. When their kids graduated, Carlos and Hilda moved back to the countryside permanently. They began reading up on all the benefits of goat milk – particularly Carlos, who had developed a gastrointestinal problem that was worsened by lactose products.
“If you have lactose problems, goat milk doesn’t affect you,” he said. “The chains on the fatty acids are shorter, so you metabolize them more quickly. It’s all I drink. They say that it maximizes your immune system.”
For centuries, the goat has long been thought of as an all-in-one domestic animal. Providing both milk and meat (and even fibers and goatskin leather), goats have proven to be well-paired with humans.
Many argue that goat milk is better adapted for human consumption than cow milk. It’s extremely nutritious, full of riboflavin and easily digested. Zeus drank it in Greek mythology, and charity programs encourage donating a goat to a family in Africa to transform someone’s quality of life.
Carlos jokes that if it was good enough for Zeus, it’s good enough for him.
Because of the many health benefits, Carlos aimed to encourage his neighbors to look into keeping the low-maintenance animals as a source of milk. He noted, “For many years, people lived naturally. Not just thinking of urbanization, condos and hotels. Everyone had their hens, their pigs, their cows … And we were losing that. I thought it would be interesting to bring that back.”
Nowadays, Rancho Avellanas is still promoting the back-to-basics “Eat Local” movement that has become popular in the U.S. and Europe. The idea is that buying in the neighborhood bolsters local economies, cuts back on carbon dioxide emissions by eliminating long-distance transport, and ultimately results in healthier, better-tasting food.
“A person can come once a week again and again to buy their products, or come to the market each Saturday. Like the old days. We’ve lost that a bit because society wants things easier, faster, to use your credit card at the supermarket.”
They now have 80 goats and 15 cows, producing 40 and 100 liters of milk a day, respectively. All of their artisanal dairy products are regulated by the National Animal Health Service. Everything is crafted in a traditional fashion with high quality milk that goes through a pasteurization process (although you can also obtain for raw milk on request – a live food that offers many similar probiotic benefits to yogurt).
Farmhands experiment with various species of protein-rich bushes, legumes and pasture grass to see what works best as a base to feed the animals – and try to stay 100 percent self-sustaining. For example, the plants are fertilized with goat manure, which is very rich in nutrients; all of the pens are constructed of branches from the property; and they feed the pigs leftover whey. (For those who’ve only heard of it in nursery rhymes, whey is a liquid byproduct of cheese making.)
But Carlos is clear that he doesn’t want the operation to grow too much – just enough to maintain the farm comfortably. “Honestly what I’d like is to reach the point of equilibrium, to break even … Maybe 100 goats and 30 cows,” Carlos said. “Nothing more than that. I want that other people in the zone understand how to raise goats, as an introduction. The idea isn’t to be too much. The idea is to live in tranquility.”
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