There are animal lovers and then there are animal lovers. Animal lovers have a couple of pets and recognize the joy that animals can bring to your life. The other group, animal lovers like Cara Anderson, are on an entirely different plane.
Cara is the type of animal lover who once sold everything she owned that had any value to buy a horse.
When others would simply put an animal down, Cara is the type of animal lover who sees a mauled chicken and painstakingly cleans the wound, stitches the animal back up, and gives round-the-clock care to the hen until the animal has fully recovered.
She's the kind of animal lover who, when assisting with the birth of a baby goat, took the chilled kid, goo and all, and shoved the animal underneath her shirt next to her skin to warm it, never once in that moment thinking about when she would get a shower.
Animals, and goats in particular, have always been important to Cara. "I've always loved them," she said. Since she was a child, she's never not had animals around her. That way of life was something she very much wanted for her own children. It was natural that when she and her husband Jason bought property just below Redlands Mesa, they set about filling that land with animals.
More than just a hobby farm, Cara has spent the past 10 years or so building a legacy for her children, a legacy of work, of being connected to a piece of land, of really bringing the circle of life into full focus, learning and appreciating how one life can be honored for the life-giving sustenance it gives to another life.
"For me, it's always about what is best for my family," she said. That drive was what prompted Cara to get into farming as a way of life. When she discovered that her daughter Makenzie was lactose intolerant, Cara began searching for a nutritious alternative to cow's milk. As a child, Cara showed goats in her local 4-H program, so looking into goat's milk was a no-brainer. She and Jason purchased a doe, and when they got a taste of the first milk from the animal, they knew immediately they'd found something great, something they wanted more of.
Pretty soon the Andersons found themselves the proud owners of an entire herd of Nigerian dwarf dairy goats. Raw goat's milk is very high in nutrients, has less lactose, more calcium and a bit more protein than cow's milk. Plus, the milk from Nigerians is creamier and sweeter than other breeds. Most importantly, Makenzie had zero issues tolerating the milk.
From the bounty of her "girls," Cara is able to keep her family in fresh milk and cream when the animals are in full milk production, which is typically spring through mid-December. Cara milks each animal twice a day by hand, netting about four pints of sweet, fresh milk per animal, per day. Immediately after milking, the milk is filtered and then refrigerated; the family enjoys the milk raw.
In addition to the fresh milk her family consumes, Cara freezes milk for the winter months, when the goats are dried off. Fifty percent of the food her family eats comes from the farm. Using the milk, Cara spends hours making her own yogurt, butter, kefir, ice cream and cheese. "I can't make cheese fast enough," she said. She makes both hard and soft cheeses, and has spent months perfecting her cheese recipes. Her research and recipe-tweaking has produced creamy, rich, satisfying cheeses, including a fantastic mozzarella, which is a family favorite.
"It's all really, really good, and much better than what you get in the store," she said. She's also made a heavenly caramel sauce from the goat's milk, and uses the raw whey from the milk when she bakes.
The level of milk production was no match even for Cara and her large quantities of cheese, yogurt and other foods, and with excess quantities of milk, it was natural to turn to making goat's milk soaps and lotions. Fatty acids and triglycerides found in goat milk keeps skin soft and moisturized. Made with natural essential oils, Cara's lotions and soaps are a delight for your skin, and come in mouth-watering fragrances like orange creme brulee, limoncello, mojito cream, peppermint, lavender and rosemary, and a woodsy cedar.
All of this work wouldn't be possible without a healthy, functioning herd. Cara learned early on how much time, effort and hard work goes into a healthy herd. "I learned quickly that you can't compromise on the quality of the animal," she said. That hard, painful lesson came when one of her first does died in childbirth. The animal was not structurally correct, which made carrying and birthing kids dangerous. After that experience, Cara sought out the advice of a Whitewater man, Fred Phillips, who has become the most prominent expert on the Nigerian dwarf breed. Through his tutelage, Cara learned how to properly care for and breed her animals. "I breed for an animal that is structurally correct, an animal that will stay strong and healthy their whole life," she said. Her animals are bred for strength, quality, longevity and easier kidding. "I don't breed for milk production; I breed for health," she said.
Cara settled on the breed for a couple of reasons. Nigerian dwarves are a sweet-tempered, smaller animal and are great with children. Their milk is sweeter, and has a higher butterfat content, which means a higher yield for products made with the milk, like cheese or yogurt.
For a "hobby farm," Cara spends untold hours in the research, education, raising, relationship-building and love for her animals. She has spent hours, days, weeks, months, years of her life caring for, loving on, talking to, working with, vaccinating, brushing, playing with, milking, hoof/nail trimming, wound-stitching and shoveling and cleaning bedding areas for her beloved animals. "I've gone out to feed in negative, wind blowing temperatures carrying hot water from the house to help warm their bellies," she said. "From the beginning of most every animal's life on our farm, I have been there for it. I've helped them make this way into the world. I've had my arm halfway into its mother, all the while crying and praying for her safety. I've wiped the birthing fluid from their face as they work to take their first breath and if that doesn't come easy then I've compressed and invigorated them until they do. I don't have a clock-in job, but this is my job and what I do for my family."
It is absolutely easier to go to the grocery store and pick up whatever you need, she acknowledged. But she wanted more than that for her children. Mucking out a stall, she explained, is one of the most grounding things a person can do. The physical work of cleaning up after an animal gets you in touch with the earth, she said. "I want that for my children. I want them to have this foundation, this knowledge of being connected to life outside of themselves." She wants her children to grow up with a work ethic and knowing how to earn something.
She also teaches her children how to be thankful for the life of every animal, a lesson that comes most often during butchering time. "I teach them that this animal's life was lost in order for them to eat. We talk about how every life has value and how to honor death." She also teaches them compassion and empathy -- to this day, Cara cries over every lost life that happens on her farm, even when she is butchering her own meat.
"It's a labor of love," she said. One of her favorite Bible passages is Proverbs 31, and she takes the passage very much to heart. "I like to be able to do the best that I can and the most that I can with the things I've been given, with whatever is put in front of me," she said. "Just look at what you can do just by working for it."
Cara regularly posts pictures and updates about her farm life on her website, www.MagicAppleNigerians.com, and on her Facebook page, Magic Apple Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats. Right now, you'll be able to see lots of baby goat pictures if you visit the pages.