Vivian and Trudy

  Its time to hand over the livestock guardian dog (LGD) duties to the next generation of dogs. Our new great pyrenees puppies will learn from watching Hazel and Bernice (our current dogs) guard the goat herd. Hazel and Bernice have been the most hardworking, loyal, loving and patient working dogs you could ever ask for. They will remain on the farm for their retirement and hopefully give up their duties slowly to the pups (more time for naps in their old age!).  Many folks have asked how these gentle giants protect our herd and farm so I thought I would share some information about this amazing breed of working dog and how we train them to work on our small farm.

First let me introduce you to Vivian and Trudy, two of the fluffiest pups around. Vivian has badger markings on her face and has a smaller head and frame.

We have had great success with Hazel and Bernice working on our farm over the past 7 years. Ideally, you want to obtain LGDs before you have an issue with predators on your farm. We knew that we had a coyote presence on our farm when we moved here.  We also had concerns about random and stray dogs that could wander onto the property and attack the herd. We routinely see and hear Bald eagles, bob cats, and foxes and they can also be a threat to goat kids and chickens. The role of the LGD is tokeep the predator threats outside the perimeter of your farm through their scent and loud booming bark.

Ideally you should have a pair of LGDs. If you have a pack of coyotes that end up entering your pastures the dogs will be able to work together to ward off the pack. One dog could not do this as the coyotes would work the dog from several angles. We have found that a pair of puppies will also have each other to play with and this in turn will burn off some of that awesome puppy energy! Hopefully, then they will have less energy to chase the goats. I spent a lot of time correcting Hazel and Bernice in the beginning to not chase the goats. This is the hardest when the goat kids are born! Bouncing baby goat kids are a huge temptation to the pups! Almost impossible to resist! We have made it a top priority for our LGDs to be raised around “their” herd from puppyhood. This helps to create a lasting bond between the dogs and their herd. It also helps to create a strong bond from the goats’ perspective as well. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing your LDG completely clean off a new born kid for a goat mama with multiple kids or let 20 baby goats climb all over them and never once growl or flinch. I have seen Bernice lay next to sick goats as if to comfort them. It truly is one of nature’s most beautiful and selfless relationships. 

I recently read about a LGD that was used to protect penguins on an island that were being killed by foxes. The LGD stopped it. These amazing dogs smell, hear, and see things at a distance that you as the farmer can’t always detect. You can’t be there with the herd 24/7 either. And no, we are not considering getting penguins!

We’ve had visitors in the past ask if our LGD’s are herding dogs. Herding dogs are quite different than a LGD. Herding dogs will help you move your animals from place to place. The herding dogs move in the same style as a predator. The obvious difference is that they would not harm the animals in the process. LDGs are completely non predatory in their behavior. Their brains are wired differently from most dogs in this way. Their instinct is to be a calm presence unless of course there is a threat. We’ve watched Hazel and Bernice go from a sound nap to sprinting to the other end of the pasture if a predator threat is present. 

Great Pyrenees were bred centuries ago to work with shepherds and herding dogs in the snowy Pyrenees Mountains, the natural border between France and Spain. Hazel and Bernice sleep most of the day and patrol the pasture at night. They always have access to a warm barn if they want it. Even with the bitter cold over the past couple of weeks, they preferred to be outside, curled up in snow drift. The Pyrenees coat is amazingly thick and weather proof. They have a long outer coat with a soft undercoat. We don’t ever shave them in the summer as the coat helps to cool them and shade them from the sun. They do need to be groomed and nail care is a must! We joke that we should spin their wool into sweaters! They even have double dew claws.

Vivian and Trudy are starting with short introductions to Hazel and Bernice outside of a fence. They will begin working with them in an area that the older two do not think of as “their territory” – more of a neutral territory. After several weeks we hope to incorporate them into the herd. They also need slow introductions with gentle older goats to learn how to behave around them. No chasing or nipping! It’s a gradual process that requires patience but it is beyond worth it to have a loyal and confident guardian you can count on for 8 – 10 years to watch over your farm.

There are lots of opportunities to visit the farm this spring to meet Vivian and Trudy and the rest of the farm crew! You can purchase tickets on our website for goat hikes and baby goat snuggle sessions. Check out www.grettasgoats.com for more information and click on events.

Goodbye 2020!

Goodbye 2020!

I am also very glad that 2019 is in the rear view mirror too! 2020 has been filled with anxiety, hardships, sickness, and loss for so many people. I haven’t talked about it much but the last few years have been pretty tough as I have been recovering from Neurological Lyme disease. In addition to dealing with illness we have been dealing with the fallout of challenges that COVID-19 created on our small farm and business. Neurological Lyme disease and/or Chronic Lyme is an unfortunate condition that happens when you are not aware that you were ever bitten by a tick. This is what happened to me. I never knew I had been bitten by a tick. I never had the telltale sign of a “bullseye” rash that most people get. This gave the bacterial infection time to take hold of my body. I think I had the infection for several years before being treated at the end of 2019. Most of my symptoms were in my brain. Symptoms like severe brain fog, trouble concentrating, depression, anxiety, blurry vision, word retrieval issues, and profound crippling fatigue.

Check yourself for ticks especially if you are outdoors a lot! Most of the time if you find the tick and treat yourself right away with antibiotics the infection will not turn into a chronic one.

Please keep reading as this story has a happy ending! I received multiple misdiagnoses (too many to list here). When I was finally tested with the IGENEX test (the best test for lyme) for lyme disease and received a positive test my doctor knew lyme was to blame for my issues. It all made so much sense. I spent most days in long grass rotationally grazing animals and outside on my farm. The treatment was brutal to kill the long standing infection that I had. I could barely get out of bed for most of last winter, almost 4 months. The only time I really got up was to drag myself to my weekly doctor appointments. I could barely walk up the stairs of my house and my thinking was so fuzzy. I was scared and worried, not only for my health, but how would I be able to farm? Mama goats had already been bred and spring babies were on the way whether I had the physical strength or not. The farm was not about to stop moving just because I was sick. I was terrified for the financial future of our business. As I began to recover slightly in March, news of COVID-19 hit. Our busiest time on the farm is typically the end of March through June. So much of our on the farm tourism activities had to be canceled. Farmer’s Markets were up in air. We didn’t know if we could withstand another hit. We started coming up with a Plan B to sell animals and equipment and then eventually the farm. My heart and spirit were broken.

It all seems like a bad dream now. My health continued to slowly improve. My eye sight was no longer blurry and I had some improved energy. I was able to help more with the chores and be up with the mama goats and assist with kidding like I do every season. Friends and customers donated to the farm. Our online store doubled in sales from previous years with more folks shopping from home. Where there was lack of income from markets, our wholesale accounts helped to make up for the losses. As things began to open up again and people felt safe to venture out we introduced goat hiking on the farm as a new agritourism activity. Goat hikes were a big hit with our customers as most sold out. The goats loved it too being able to forage for all sorts of new and tasty treats in the woods. The hikes helped to connect people with animals and nature at a time they needed it most and helped us to bring in some income for the farm to replace some of our other activities. As my health continued to improve, I was able to start running again (slowly) which really improved my energy and spirit. I started to remember why I farm and why I love farming so much. I started remembering some of those original goals that got buried in sickness, sadness, and frustration. I even started laughing everyday again like my old self! Laughing at myself, the crazy antics of all the animals, and just laughing at the sheer joy that we were making it through some crazy years. I feel like myself again. And with this return to self, I am overcome with immense gratitude. I am filled with gratitude to still be here and making our living from farming on this land. I am filled with gratitude for my health, friends, family and all of you who make up our farm family. Even more so now I want to give back. One of the goals when moving and expanding the farm in 2013 was to offer educational programming to students on the farm with visual impairments and blindness. My background is in blind rehabilitation and education. Eric and I both volunteered and taught at a blindness organization in Romania right before we started the farm. We would like to support Light Into Europe, an organization that delivers essential services to children and adults who are blind across Romania. We believe in their mission and I have a connection to the area as my dad was born in a rural village in now northern Romania. The goal of donating proceeds of sales has proved to be a lofty one. Especially, with all of the costs of starting a farm from scratch in a new rural location, and growing and learning about how to run a dairy. What we have found is where we lack cash, we more than make up with ever increasing energy and cute fuzzy animal experiences! This got me thinking! We can donate ticket sales from some of our future goat hikes this spring! I will let you know on our website and social media which hikes are slated to be donated. Before this blog gets any longer here are the three groups will be donating to in 2021 and hopefully beyond.

  1. Light Into Europe
  2. Frontera Farmer Foundation
  3. Global Lyme Alliance 

The Frontera Farmer Foundation is an amazing organization that supports so many Sustainable Chicagoland Farmers. The Frontera Foundation catapulted our business years ahead with their support of us building our farmstead creamery on our farm. Chef Rick Bayless is a huge supporter of local food and farmers. Visit www.rickbayless.com/foundation/ for more information

The Global Lyme Alliance is dedicated to conquering Lyme disease and other tick-borne illness through research, education, awareness, and patient services. Visit www.globallymealliance.org for more information

We hope to start hosting school groups again when it is safe. Our focus will be to host children with special needs and refugee children. 

In closing we would like to thank our amazing farm volunteers Tera and Jill. We could not have made it through 2020 without their support, kindness, and smiling faces (under mask, of course!) And to Ann our amazing beekeeper mentor and friend. Thanks to all our amazing customers. We would not still be here farming if it were not for you.  Keep believing everyone in a brighter future! We got this!

Welcome Marigold and Scout

Miniture Donkeys

Short Leg Farm feels more complete now. Before I started the farm 10 years ago, I used to pull over on the side of the road on my lunch break (I was in the car a lot for my old job) next to a horse farm and watch the donkeys graze with the other horses. I used to dream about what it would feel like to get to work outside all day and along side animals on a farm. I never thought the farm dream would become a reality but it has through a lot of hard work. Over the past 10 years miniature donkeys always seemed out of reach for one reason or another, especially this past year. Things finally fell into place when we heard about these girls needing a new home!

Marigold

Scout

Marigold and Scout are not only adorable creatures but they will serve some real purposes on our farm. Our plan is to start some multi-species grazing to help our soil health and keep parasite levels in check on the pastures without using chemicals. Multi-species grazing is just as important as the diversity of crops, forages, and soil biology on a farm. Pastures that are grazed with multiple species benefit the animals that are grazing and also the plants that grow there. Our goats love to nibble the top portions of plants and the donkeys don’t mind eating the lower portions of the forage that is available. This helps to break break the life cycle of parasites without the use of chemicals or mowing.

 

Marigold and Scout have a natural curiosity and really enjoy being apart of the social scene. Their favorite part of the day is the evening when we take them for walks on the trail around the farm. The girls are super gregarious animals and are never too far apart from each other. If one stops walking, the other typically stops walking too. Donkeys need the company of at least one  other donkey friend to be happy:) We can’t wait to introduce you to them on one of your next visits to the farm!

miniature donkey

A Love Letter to Our Farm

Hello farm friends! I hope everyone is doing as well as possible and staying healthy. I hope you are remaining hopeful and your spirits are up. This blog is basically a love letter to our farm. At first it felt strange to write a love letter to anything other than a person but I felt compelled to get my emotions on paper and then ultimately to you all. I am filled with gratitude for my improved health, friends, family, our customers and this farm community that we have built together over the past 10 years. This past year I was grappling with the prospect that we may lose our farm due to health issues that I was experiencing. On a deep level this past winter while dealing with these challenges I realized how much the farm meant to me.  As I was coming out of my late stage lyme disease haze and my strength and cognition were slowly coming back to me we and were hit with the news of Covid-19. These two events have been the perfect storm for our farm business to test our flexibility, creativity and resilience.
Grettas Goats

I love my farm, I love my animals and I love the fact that my husband and I support ourselves on the products that we make from our land and the animals that our farm sustains. The beauty of our grass based farm is that the sun and healthy soil provide the nutrition to make nutrient dense cheese and good for your skin soap. The honeybees that we are stewards of produce immune supporting honey, and our pasture raised chickens provide eggs with bright orange yolks. Our chickens give us eggs and help to give us healthy soil. I even love the hundreds of hours of labor and daily care that goes into raising each animal. I love working to ensure their health and well-being. I love being an alternative for consumers in a broken inhumane food system. I am proud to be an animal welfare approved farmer. But most of all, I love seeing bouncing babies in the spring and happy and healthy goats grazing on green pastures the way nature intended. In this time of uncertainty, I do worry that we may lose this way of life. I worry too for our friends that are small scale vegetable growers and other small family farms that may be lost as access to markets shrink. I urge you to seek out your local small family farm and support them.

According to food tank – “This crisis, unfortunately, is only a glimpse of what is to come. Farmer’s continue to grapple with extreme weather from our climate crisis, and if we continue farming with our current practices, the United Nations say we have 60 years of farmable topsoil remaining. To secure the future of our food supply we need a drastic shift in regenerative organic farming practices, a shift to a resilient local food systems and a shift to prioritizing healthy nutrient dense food direct from our farmers.” PP

With that said lets take action together and fight for farms and good food for our families.

The passage below was Copied and Pasted from a Greener World www.agreenerworld.org

Unfortunately, though recent legislation was supposed to extend relief to farms impacted by COVID-19, independent farms and agricultural businesses are still waiting. While aquaculture enterprises, agricultural cooperatives, and nurseries are eligible, the Small Business Administration (SBA, which handles disaster loans) specifically excludes farms from accessing vital loan assistance from emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) programs.

Please click the link below to sign a petition to make sure farms are included in small business relief.

Sign our petition to make sure farms are included in small business relief.

The legislation just passed clearly said funds would be available to farmers. The impacts of COVID-19 have devastated many farm businesses and there is no end in sight to the market disruption caused by this deadly virus. With the mounting closures of restaurants and farmers’ markets, many farms serving these customers have seen their sales evaporate overnight. While $9.5 billion in funding has been committed for local food systems and specialty producers, there is no information about how or when this will be accessible. The Farm Service Agency has an existing loan program for farmers but it is not sufficiently adapted to the current market situation of COVID-19, and at the time of writing A Greener World could find no adaptations to allow farms to access critical funds at this time. The promise of funds is meaningless if they’re not accessible when farmers need them.

A Greener World’s statement:

“We’re calling on all of our constituents to contact their representatives and demand urgent action to allow farmers to apply for the same relief as other businesses through the Small Business Administrationor, to put pressure on the USDA to provide resources for these farmers to access much-needed emergency funds. Along with healthcare workers, grocery stores and logistical and utility workers, farmers are on the front lines in the fight against this pandemic. They are continuing to work through unimaginable schedules and conditionsmany times with no safety net and new demands of adapting to a pandemicto provide us the food we depend on. These urgently needed loans could be the lifeline for sustainable, cutting edge farms in the United States. While funds have been allocated by Congress, no steps have been taken to expediently get this money to those who need it. As an organization working with some of the most impacted farmers we are painfully aware that resources are needed now.

While the first priority in this unprecedented and challenging time is keeping people safe and well, we also need crisis management that doesn’t sacrifice our future. If we can’t show our independent farmers the same level of appreciation we do for a multi-million dollar widget-maker, we face the very real danger of losing these farms foreverand with them, the food security of this country. We call on everyone who farms or eats to contact their representatives immediately and demand clarity on how independent farms can access the resources so readily available to other sectors.”

Through these challenges this past year it has only reinforced my mission to farm humanely and sustainably. We will get through this together!

In health, love, and strength,

Gretta

Baby Goat Yoga and Meet Laura

Hi All,

My name is clover. I’m almost 2 years old. I’m a miniature nigerian dairy goat. When I was born, I had 3 older siblings. You see, I was born last. My mom, like other goat moms, only has 2 teats. My older brothers drank so much milk. Mom always saved me some. Needless to say I’m pretty small. I’m a little bigger than that Nugget who was born last year. He has to wear a bell and is so annoying. 

Clover and Laura

Gretta is a human that takes care of me and the other goats. She asked me to write about one of my most favorite human people. Her name is Laura Yougblot. She teaches yoga classes to humans. Laura loves to carry me around. It’s nice because I don’t have to walk as far sometimes. She says out loud that I am her favorite. This always makes Nugget and his brother Marty furious! 

In addition to being my friend, Laura also is a licensed massage therapist and a registered nurse. She knows alot about how human people are put together. Laura has found that teaching yoga is a way to link allopathic and holistic medicine with her varied clientele. She connects western medicine and eastern medicine through mindful movement and breath control while teaching yoga.

Laura and Baby
Laura told me that she enjoys teaching baby goat yoga at Short Leg Farm, because it connects mindful movement with animals and nature. Each participant is challenged to find a balance in being present and having fun with us goats.

Laura says that I am sweet and very playful. I think that Laura is also sweet and sometimes bossy when I try to do my own thing.

Please check out Gretta’s website to learn more about yoga with baby goats and all the other fun things that we do here.

That’s all from here. Have a super week and I hope to meet you at the farm sometime soon.

Best,

Clover

Eric’s Favorite Cheese Recipes

Hi Everyone, I am Eric and I make all of the cheese here at Gretta’s Goats. When we started our farm it was fun to steal some milk from the soap making business and whip up a batch of fresh goat cheese. Cheese making seemed to be a logical yet daunting addition to Gretta’s Goats. While making a small batch of cheese for a cocktail party or to share with friends was relatively simple, the task of making a batch of cheese that could be sold to our customers was a long process.

We worked for nearly 2 years planning and working with the health department to build out and ultimately license the creamery on our farm. We poured our savings, our sweat and generous grant contributions from Frontera Farmer Foundation to make it all happen.

Our creamery is seasonal. We tend to see a decrease in milk production on the same day that I scratch my head in late August and wonder where all of the day light has gone! We continue to milk until the end of October or so. This provides a nice break for the goats and the farmers too.

Our creamery was licensed in the late summer of 2016. We began making a very simple farmstead chevre or goat cheese. We use milk from our goats, pasteurize that milk, culture it, drain it, whip it with a little salt and off it goes to market.

Over the winter of 2018, we began experimenting with a recipe for feta cheese. In our life before goats, Gretta and I spent 2 weeks in the mountains of Romania. Each morning for breakfast we were offered farm fresh products. The Pension were we stayed made a simple feta cheese. It was creamy, salty, and a little funky. I was hooked.

After making numerous batches of less than perfect feta, I cracked the code for that cheese that I devoured most mornings in Romania. Our feta uses only goat milk. Most feta made in the US is made with milk from cows or sometimes a blend of cow and goat milks. The cheese is semi firm, and is brined for 7 days. 

At markets customers ask how we like to use our cheese. That is often a tough and varied answer. Either cheese is great by itself. Serve it with some fresh vegetables, a simple cracker or a rustic piece of bread. Our good friend and farmers market neighbor Tamara thinks its best eaten with a spoon!

The chevre seems to shine when heated and paired with cooked tomatoes. Finish a plate of pasta with red sauce with our chevre. Dollops of the cheese will take a wood fired pizza to a new level. We have it most days in a simple frittata made with our pasture raised eggs. Our friend Tracy whips our honey into the cheese to make a delightful dessert. 

The chevre is soft, spreadable and is an empty canvas. During scape season, we dice garlic scapes and mix them into the cheese. If you can source some black garlic go for it. Mash the black garlic gloves into a paste and then mix them into the cheese.

The feta is lovely on a fresh green salad or cube it, add some olives, garlic and some mediteranean spice and a bit of olive oil. Or how about topping a grass fed burger with a couple of generous slices? Slice it into wedges and serve it on a charcuterie platter.

 

Below are listed a couple of easy favorites.

Herbed Goat Cheese

¼ pound Gretta’s Goats Farmstead Cheese

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

4 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 chives finely chopped

¼ cup Parsley finely chopped

 

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and blend completely. Form mixture into a ball and place in refrigerator for 3 hours to allow flavors to blend.

Allow cheese to warm to room temperature and serve with crackers, bread, top burgers, or dip veggies.

 

Simple Tomato Cucumber Feta Salad

1 Container of cherry or grape tomatoes – sliced in half

1 small red onion – sliced

1 english cucumber -sliced

¼ pound of Gretta’s Goats Feta – crumbled

¼ bunch of cilantro – chopped

Dressing

2 Tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 cloves garlic – minced

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cumin

  1. For dressing, add ingredients to small mixing bowl and whisk together
  2. For salad – add prepared ingredients to medium mixing bowl and combine.
  3. Drizzle dressing over salad ingredients just prior to serving.

 

Thank You For An Amazing 2019 Farm Season!

Thank You for an amazing 2019 Farm Season!

We close the 2019 farming season with a big thanks to all of our customers, dedicated volunteers, friends new and old and to the animal crew of Short Leg Farm that make it all happen!

2019 was a busy year for us at Gretta’s Goats. We made a lot of goat milk soap, Eric produced some of the freshest and most delicious batches of our chèvre and perfectly salty and funky feta with the milk from our dedicated herd of goats. We harvested almost 200 pounds of honey, made beeswax products, and sold over 80 dozen pasture raised chicken eggs per week. Along with producing farm products we taught numerous soap and cheese classes and are looking forward to expanding our class offerings in 2020.

We saw Gretta on tv as the goat yoga craze swept over our farm:) We began a delightful partnership with certified yoga instructor Laura Youngblut, who led numerous goat yoga classes that weaved relaxation with lighthearted fun as the baby goats stole the show. We will be posting our 2020 baby goat yoga schedule in February on social media and our website.

Our June farm open house was attended by 800 of our friends, neighbors and super loyal local food loving customers. Steven from Generations Brewing in Freeport helped out to quench our thirst and Ryan from Veebo’s Wood-Fired Pizza in Rockford fed us all with amazing wood fired goat cheese pizzas.

We had a great farmer’s market season. Thanks to our loyal Libertyville, Lake Forest, Logan Square, Chicago, and Rockford customers! Our farmstay cottage was booked for most of the spring, summer, and fall and we met so many unique folks from all over the midwest and even Canada! We enjoyed offering creamery tours and introducing school groups to small scale agriculture.

We hosted a wonderful late summer farm to table dinner in August attended by an eclectic group of 50 interesting people from diverse backgrounds.. Los Angeles based chef Natalie from Path and Provisions and her crew sourced local vegetables from Iron Creek Organic Farm, Sourdough bread from Madison Sourdough, mushrooms from River Valley Ranch and beef from Dietrich Ranch to create a dinner that was absolutely beautiful. Wine was carefully paired and donated by Chicago’s Meta Wine and Generations Brewing provided 3 different beers to pair with each course. Eric whipped up blueberry goat milk ice cream to top it all off, along with black garlic chèvre and other cheeses that were used throughout the menu from our farm.

During the 2019 season we were so lucky to began working with two super volunteers, Jill and Tera! Jill has a big heart for all animals. She gives Hazel and Bernice (livestock guardian dogs extraordinaire) the extra care and attention they deserve by grooming them and giving them lots of love (living with goats makes for a messy coat:). She also washes eggs, wrangles baby goats during yoga classes, labels soaps and keeps us in the know regarding all things small town Pecatonica.

Tera is a cheerleader first and foremost. She keeps us going with her never ending enthusiasm for the farm. She never stops encouraging and always keeps us smiling. She has the keenest eye for decorating the farm for events and loves to snuggle a baby goat or scratch Hazel, Bernice, and Aubrey’s heads.

Late fall brought the departure of long time employee Eryn. Eryn was with us in the early days when we milked just 4 goats at our original farm and made soap in our kitchen. Eryn left to start her own farm in Iowa and returned to Gretta’s Goats two years ago. Eryn was always up for anything the goats threw at her. Hobo, our soap workshop kitty was Eryn’s sidekick and shadow. She is a trusted and loyal friend to our farm and will be missed.

Eric and I would like to close by saying, thank you. Thanks to all of you that continue to support small animal welfare approved family farms. Together we are the change for a less industrial food system. Thank you to our family and friends that continue to support us even when we are kept close to home to care for critters. Thanks to our customers that attend markets when it’s hot or cold, rainy or fair, we can’t do it without you. And lastly, thanks to our herd of mischievous goats, Great Pyrenees, Hazel and Bernice, Aubrey, the corgi, our flock of hens and our hardworking honey bees.

We look forward to being your farmers in 2020! Happy New Year!

 

Meet Your Farmer, Gretta


Good Morning! My hope with this very neglected blog is to connect on a more regular basis with our loyal customers and friends! I have been asking a bunch of you what you would most like to see here and we have come up with an awesome list of all things farm life! Before we jump into our first farm topic I thought I should introduce myself to some of our new customers. I’m Gretta:) The Gretta behind Gretta’s Goats. I grew up in the lower peninsula of Michigan on a small hobby farm. My dad was a dentist and my mom helped run his practice. My mom raised chickens and a flock of sheep for awhile when I was really little. There were also rabbits, cats and a goat named Sundance. Sundance often “joined” us for dinner by mostly staring at us through the sliding glass door that was next to our kitchen table. As a little kid, I thought this was pretty funny thing for Sundance to do. This was my first lesson in goats; they need strong fences and a farm buddy, preferably another goat! My dad raised alaskan huskies for sled dog racing. He is still out there mushing at age 76, which is pretty amazing. I raced my first “team” at age five – really it was an 100 yard dash with one very fluffy reddish colored Siberian husky. I was hooked.

Soon, I was racing six dog teams with my dad all over Michigan on the weekends. I got used to caring for animals in all kinds of weather. The swoosh of the sled runners on the snow combined with the breathing of the dogs while they ran became a form of meditation. The meditation of hand milking a goat in the dim morning or evening light has always felt similar to me. I resisted using our milking machines for the longest time as our farm grew because I loved that quiet connection with the goats! I loved working with the dogs and appreciated their athleticism and enthusiasm for running. I grew to love running as much as they did. In my opinion there is nothing that a run in the woods can’t fix.To this day, I still run multiple times a week and love to sneak in trail runs whenever I can. During college, I dreamed of a way to make a living working with animals outdoors but that soon gave way to working towards finishing my degree and starting grad school. I worked for 12 years teaching children and adults who are blind and visually impaired in hospitals, schools, and offering home therapy in the Chicago area. Throughout my teaching career, I always felt that I wasn’t quite where I was supposed to be. I dreamed of open space, animals, nature, and old farmhouses. I was drawn to the Prairie Crossing Conservation Community in Grayslake, IL because of its working 100 acre farm. I felt like the neighborhood was an oasis surrounded by suburban sprawl with its running trails and working organic farm. We moved there around 2006. I had known of the farm’s incubator program for aspiring farmers but felt intimidated to apply. This voice in my head just kept saying, “what do you know about being a farmer, you are a blind rehab specialist?” Happily, the voice that kept saying, “you could try this, give it a shot Gretta” grew louder! Before getting the courage to apply to the farm program I took classes on soap making, cheesemaking, animal husbandry in my spare time. I studied everything I could get my hands on and spent hours on the internet learning about goats. I visited other farms. Finally, I felt ready to apply and take the leap. Most of the farmers in the program were growing organic vegetables. There really wasn’t anyone doing livestock until several years later, but I was always drawn to goats, especially Nigerian goats for their chunky stature and fun personality. I gave it a shot and got in. Soon, I was milking one goat before and after work. I started making goat milk soap in my kitchen. The next year in the program Zooie, one of my goats had triplet goat kids and then I was milking a few goats before and after work. My partner Eric built me an amazing wooden milking stand by hand. Whenever I look at that stand (I still have it, even though now we milk with a double metal milking stand) I realize how far we have come from a few goats to a herd of 70 and a licensed dairy. That stand also represents Eric’s belief in me that I could be a farmer with hard work.

I feel fortunate that I had some early successes. Our goat milk soap was featured on Oprah’s list of perfect presents on her website. Sales skyrocketed. Our house was filled from top to bottom with soap. This burst of sales really gave me some confidence that I was creating a good product and that maybe I could take this farming gig full-time.  I was leasing land through the incubator program and knew that the Prairie Crossing Farm could not be a permanent home for our growing herd of goats or a place to build a certified dairy and creamery. My goal was to be apart of the local food movement in Chicago. I knew that we needed a farm of our own in order to bring the dream of a dairy to life.  I spent my free time looking for farms within 2 hours of Chicago so that we could still sell to our current stores and customers. Then in early 2013 we got a huge wholesale order from Crate & Barrel to sell our products nationwide and through their catalog. This spurred me to follow my passion and I resigned from my job. I kept looking for farms. When we pulled in the driveway in Pecatonica we knew this was the place. After spending almost four years at the Prairie Crossing Farm it was time to move on. In August 2013, we started Short Leg Farm in Pecatonica, IL. Through a lot of hard work and sacrifice,  the farm has grown to include 70 goats, 300 chickens, and an apiary made up of 10 bee hives. Oh! and I can’t forget Hazel and Bernice! Hazel and Bernice are a pair of Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs that protect our herd of goats from coyotes and other predators. They are the hardest working dogs I have ever known. They are also the sweetest, most gentle giants of the farm. To round out the crew of dogs, we have a little corgi, named Aubrey who lifts our spirits on a daily basis. Our farm would not be complete without those three. Last but not least is Hobo, the farm cat. She showed up on the farm 5 years ago (hence her name) and has quickly become the “shop” cat. She keeps us company while we pack orders and make goat milk soap.

When I think about my crazy story and transformation from being clean and presentable blind rehab specialist turned dirty and hay covered goat farmer, I am reminded of the importance to keep taking chances in life. I am proof that you can have a second act that looks completely different from the first, that change can be good, and that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be rewarding. Somedays when I am wrapped up in my anxious mind and I think I can’t do something, I remind myself that I had the courage to build this farm from the ground up. That courage makes tackling the next challenge that much easier. This little farm and the challenges that come with it have taught me this:  whatever strength I need already exists in me. This farm has become to mean more to me than a place where we take excellent care of our animals and create products that nourish people’s bodies. It has become a source of strength for me in hard times. A place where we hope all feel welcome and encouraged.  What are some of your leaps of faith? What was your biggest change or challenge you had in your life? I love hearing about other people stories when they knew they had to make a change or start something new. How did you find the courage to make the change?