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‘Goats are really hip these days:’ Bloomington-area farm expands goat services



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A baby goat chews on feed Friday at the Goat Conspiracy farm. Approximately 60 baby goats live on the farm. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

The Goat Conspiracy started with 11 girls.

Farm co-owners Tonya Plachy and Josh Jackson named most of their original Nigerian dwarf goats after herbs and spices that pair well with goat cheeses. Then they bought their first male Bo, short for Bodacious, to grow the herd.

“Luckiest buck ever,” Jackson said.

Four years later, nearly 150 goats the size of small border collies hop around the farm east of Bloomington. Male goats, or bucks, share space with about 80 chickens. Bo has fathered about 90 kids, and another buck named Rambler has fathered 60.

The subsequent generations have been named in the family tradition set by the matriarch goat.

Coconut leads the nut family. She is the mother of Pistachio and Hazelnut.

There’s also a pepper family, which Cayenne and Chili belong to. Habanero will likely be next.

Sometimes a goat’s personality or physical features call for a name unrelated to their family’s theme. Porter is Cardamom's kid. Porter's kids are now named after drinks, like Stella, for Stella Artois, and Bad Elmer, for a porter made by Upland Brewing Company.

The co-owners of Goat Conspiracy discuss their farm.

In recent years, popular culture has become obsessed with goats. Screaming goat videos went viral in 2013. Fainting goat videos followed suit. Lainey Morse is credited with founding goat yoga in 2016 in Oregon.

The Goat Conspiracy farm runs an operation inspired by this popularity.

“Goats are really hip these days,” said Nicole Schonemann, one of four farm owners.

Some of their goats work landscaping jobs, eating honeysuckle or poison ivy in thick areas hard to reach with human equipment. The farm will offer yoga classes beginning Sunday, and high tea with goats is in consideration. Schonemann expects to sell goat yogurt, cheese and meat at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market by mid- to late-May.

Schonemann proposed opening a goat creamery to Plachy and Jackson in a meeting over goat cheese and wine. Schonemann was ready for a change of pace from her job at IU, and Plachy and Jackson were looking to leave their jobs at Bloomingfoods.

None of them knew a thing about caring for goats or making goat products, Schonemann said.

One of Schonemann’s friends said the plan sounded like a conspiracy.

Plachy and Jackson bought their first female goats from Caprini Creamery, a goat dairy about 40 miles east of Indianapolis. A little more than three years ago, Plachy, Jackson, Schonemann and Mark Veldman purchased the land east of Bloomington that became the Goat Conspiracy.

Plachy said she keeps developing theories about what exactly the conspiracy is.

“I think it’s ultimately the goats,” Plachy said. “They’re in charge. We all are just working for them. That’s the conspiracy.”

Plachy is responsible for goat care. She typically milks the goats around 9 or 10 a.m. Goats like routine.

A typical goat produces one gallon of milk per day. It takes about eight Nigerian dwarf goats to make the same amount, and Plachy can only milk two at a time. It usually takes her at least three hours to milk their 30 milker goats.

Though inefficient, they’re worth it for the Goat Conspiracy. Nigerian goat milk has higher butterfat, which makes creamier cheese.

The farm does not yet have the capacity to process much milk anyway, so kids stay with their mothers overnight to make even less milk available for the farmers.  

All this will soon change. After one-and-a-half years seeking approval from several government agencies, the farm is scheduled to debut its creamery in the next three weeks.Plachy will be able to milk eight goats on a stand at once . Schonemann will be able to make cheese more efficiently, too.

When mothers give birth next March, 300 goats could populate the farm. The farm partners are developing options to manage the herd and avoid an invasive concentration of goats.

They sell some goats as pets or herd-starters. They bring some males to the butcher and send others on landscaping jobs.

Female goats who do not have much milk to offer become yoga goats, tasked with jumping on people as they move through regular yoga poses. It’s supposed to be calming.

On a recent afternoon, a goat propped itself onto Plachy’s legs and nibbled on her shorts.

“You’re gonna be a great yoga goat, aren’t you?” she said.

Plachy and Jackson have a 2-and-a-half-year-old son named Bear. They also have a farm dog named Badger and a goat named Squirrel.

Bear is comfortable with the goats. He ran into the pen of baby and mother goats with arms wide open, commanding the space at about twice the animals’ height. He easily scooped the goats into his arms.

Goats are friendly animals. They bond and communicate similar to dogs, Schonemann said.

They are also undeniably cute. But it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why people are so enamored with goats.

Maybe it’s a conspiracy.

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