January 21, 2016
The holidays are over. Americans have resolved to lose weight, and the demand for cheese is down, but farmer and cheese maker Gail Hobbs is busier than ever, getting ready for the birth of as many as 200 baby goats. To help with this year’s newborns, she put out a call for animal lovers to come and cuddle. The response was overwhelming, as Sandy Hausman reports.
Caromont Farm sits on a long, unpaved road in southwest Albemarle County – 25 acres of hilly, wooded land dotted with an assortment of buildings and hoop barns patrolled by four dogs trained to guard livestock, a couple of cats and three peacocks.
“We had one who just showed up one lucky day," says farmer Gail Hobbs. "He was in the chicken pen, and then a neighbor gave me a female, and then they have a son.”
Hobbs is the founder of Caromont, which she named for her home state – North Carolina – and the nearest town, Esmont. A former chef, she planned to produce fine goat cheese, and toward that end she now has a milking herd of about a hundred. All of those does are now pregnant. They’ll start giving birth at the end of this month and nursing their babies.
“They suck for 24 hours and get that much needed mother’s first milk, which is called colostrum," she explains. "Every mammal makes colostrum, and that gives the baby goat just good immunity, and she basically receives the mother’s immunity through that milk.”
But after 24 hours, Hobbs separates the kids from their mothers and begins feeding them cows’ milk by hand.
“This encourages bonding to us as humans, because they are the future generations of my company and my cheese. If you do not do that, you will not get your hands on them. They will be wild. They will kick, so thinking about the next 3-5 years we take them, we feed them, they bond to us, and then the mothers begin their role as the Caramont Gals.”
She has a several staffers and an intern to help, but Hobbs thought it might be good to have a few more people on hand.
“We’re a small farm. We’re artisan cheesemakers. We don’t have subsidies. We don’t enjoy a lot of what the bigger companies have, and so we have to be entrepreneurs as well.”
And she knew people would enjoy cuddling baby goats.
“They’ll jump in your lap and go to sleep. There is nothing more adorable than to see the sheer joy that they just have. They love to play. They don’t need to be cuddled. Somebody said a couple of days ago, “I think it’s the people who need to be cuddled and not the goats.”
What happened next seem to prove the point. Caromont put out the call on Facebook.
“It was quite possibly the most naieve thing we’ve ever attempted," Hobbs says, adding that the message went viral.
The schedule filled in the first hour with 165 people willing to fill four-hour shifts. A local TV station called to do a story, so did several TV networks, The Washington Post, Huff Post and Buzz Feed. Gail Hobbs was trending -- right up there with Michelle Obama. It was sad turning many people away, but Hobbs promised to accept new volunteers next year, and – in the meantime – offered this advice.
“I find myself wishing for everyone who wanted to come here from very far away to find that farmer close to you. Somebody called me today and said they had seen some other volunteer programs coming up. So I’ve inspired a movement.”
And for those who’d like to visit Caromont Farm, Hobbs offers free tours by appointment.