I’m a big fan of goats. I’ve loved them ever since I visited a babysitter’s family farm and got to feed one with a bottle when I was four. (It does occur to me now, that I was feeding a baby goat with a bottle because its mother was being milked for human food.) But nonetheless, I shout, “Goats!” – oftentimes to Steve’s startlement and dismay – while he’s driving and we pass by a herd. It’s not as though I see goats here in Palo Alto while out walking the dog, and I refrain from yelling it too loudly when in the up-close presence of goats at a goat farm (I jump up and down and yell it quietly in Steve’s ear instead).
As for free-range and organic goats and their milk products, goats are regulated differently than cows here in the US. Hormones are not approved for US dairy goats, but antibiotics may be used in case of illness, and for prevention. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service tells us, “A ‘withdrawal’ period is required from the time most antibiotics are administered until it is legal to slaughter the animal. This is so residues have enough time to exit the animal’s system. Goat meat is tested for antibiotics, sulfonamides, and pesticide residues if problems are suspected.”
According to AnimalWelfareApproved.org, “Some USDA approved food labels and marketing claims use loose, subjective terms such as “free range” or “naturally raised,” which are misleading to consumers and do not require farm compliance verification or program validity.” I decided to take a look and see just what the USDA had to say for itself on those two terms. A USDA “Free Range” or “Free Roaming” label means only that, “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the [animal] has been allowed access to the outside.” . All that “access to the outside” has to mean is that in a long, narrow, indoor corral, where animals cannot move because of their cramped quarters, there is one window open to the outdoors. This doesn’t have to mean they get let outside. Ever.
Sam Organaja, in his fitness blog, Transformation Functional Fitness, writes, “I discovered…[after] talking with local farmers that raise free-range chickens and sell their meat and eggs…is that the USDA has NO STANDARDS [sic] on free-range eggs and allows egg farmers to freely label any egg as a “free range” egg. This also means that chickens bearing “free-range” eggs have NOT [sic] necessarily been fed a better diet than those raised in a factory farm. In other words, the hens may still have been fed the same GMO or animal byproducts as in factory farming.”
On naturally-raised meats, the USDA issued a news release on January 16, 2009 that said, “The naturally raised marketing claim standard states that livestock used for the production of meat and meat products have been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control), and have never been fed animal by-products. The voluntary standard [my italics] will establish the minimum requirements for those producers who choose to operate a USDA-verified program involving a naturally raised claim.” 
While frustrating in a way, in another way, it just gives us an opportunity to find out where our food is coming from. Unlike past generations, who often had a family farm in their area and saw first-hand how animals were raised, our generation lost those family farms and generally has no idea what kinds of conditions feed stock experience.
In order to circumnavigate the often confusing and loosely regulated verbage of the USDA, I tend to exhaustively research where my food is grown, often calling up and talking to the ranch or farm owner. It gives me great peace of mind to know that a person is in charge of my food and not a corporation. For some family-run, local Bay Area goat dairy farms, check these out:
Local and Truly Free Range Goat Farms:
Chaffin Family Orchards, Orville, CA – Chaffins sells Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) beef, lamb, goat, and eggs. Their buying club delivers six times a year to the Bay Area and once a year to Pasadena and Southern California. Says sales manager Chris Kerston ,”We use the goats to prune the orchards, cows and sheep to mow and then send in the chickens to debug and fertilize. We estimate we’ve been able to reduce our tractor use by about 85%.” Chaffin Farms owner, Del Chaffin made the ranch self-sustaining by installing a water-driven power system and gravity-driven water system and the Orchards “uses a combination of Non-Toxic, Permaculture, Natural, and Biodynamic Farming methods…[that] use animals, minerals, and forages instead of chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and fungicides.
Evergreen Acres Goat Farm, San Jose, CA – “Transitional, grass fed/pastured and Certified Naturally Grown, Evergreen’s goats produce limited quantities of high-quality raw goat milk.”
Redwood Hill Farm, Sebastopol, CA – “The first goat dairy in the United States qualified to use the Humane Farm Animal Care’s (HFAC) “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” label. Unveiled in May 2003, the goal of the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices.” Redwood Hill Farms also practices environmental sustainability with its milking parlor and dairy run by thermal solar power; by composting manure, straw and hay; using reclaimed water for cleaning; and practicing reuse and recycling throughout the farm. “The vegetarian grain mix that we feed the goats contains NO hormones, antibiotics, animal by-products, or preservatives. Our grain mix is never genetically modified. Redwood Hill Farm is proud to be ‘Partners in Conservation’ with the Sonoma Land Trust, an active member/contributor to Sonoma Land Paths and the Climate Protection Campaign.”
This article comes quick on the heels of my post last week on organic ice cream. Do you see a theme here? I’m toying with the idea of cutting cow products out of my diet – I’ve not eaten beef for over a decade, and milk’s been mostly off my menu for three or four years, but cheese? Are you kidding me? What else will I eat while doing seventeen other things at once? But, as they say, knowledge is a scary thing (do they say that?) and the more I learned about how feed animals are treated in the US, the more I tried not to think about dairy cows. But inevitably, as I reached for whatever cheese caught my fancy, I was plagued by a little voice asking me, “Where did that come from?” “How was that cow treated?” “Would you be able to eat this if you knew?” And the answers were, “If it doesn’t say where it’s from, I’m not buying it.” “Probably not well.” And, “Nope.”
I’m off to do some cheese shopping to help support some kindly treated goats and their very tasty milk products.