CONNOR TOWNSHIP, Maine — Candy Shrewsberry is the first person to admit that for a long time she was no fan of goat’s milk, finding its taste strong and unpleasant.
But the former Wisconsin dairy farmer has had a change of palate and today is gaining more and more converts to fresh goat’s milk, thanks to the products she and her husband, Michael, produce at their Talk of the Town Farm.
The farm is an easy place to spot, sitting just off U.S. Route 1 north of Caribou.
It’s the place with all the goats. Goats in the fields, in the barn, on the sun porch and — for a time earlier this spring — in the living room.
“I tell people they really should try the milk we are selling,” Shrewsberry said. “You should see the reactions I get when they do — people say, ‘Wow, this is really good,’ and out of about 100 people who try it, there’s maybe one who does not like it.”
That’s because Shrewsberry has taken the time and effort to create a herd of milk goats that produce sweet, creamy milk, from which Shrewsberry also makes cheeses.
Her 39 Lamancha and Lamancha-Nubian-cross goats are grass-fed in addition to eating high-quality forage and grain.
Before there were goats, there were the cows in Wisconsin on the family’s organic dairy farm.
“But after four years of drought we decided it was time to investigate Maine,” Shrewsberry said. “We had thought about moving to Maine in 2003 and people kept telling me, ‘Don’t go to Maine and farm, you don’t want to farm there.’”
Unconvinced, Shrewsberry decided to see for herself in 2008 and now, four years later, she is glad she did.
“We came and looked all over the whole state,” she said. “We narrowed it down to Dover-Foxcroft or the Caribou area.”
Several things lead them to Connor Township, Shrewsberry said, not the least of which was the warm reception the family received from the congregation of the Church of Christ in Caribou and that Michael Shrewsberry found a job as director of community development with the city of Caribou before they even made the move.
“We’d gone back home to Wisconsin and decided to let God tell us where to go,” Shrewsberry said. “He really showed us this is where he wants us.”
So in late summer 2009, Shrewsberry packed up her two children — Allyson, 11, and James, 7 — three head of British White cattle, three Nigerian dwarf goats and seven horses.
“I joked people came to watch the circus come to town when we pulled in,” she said with a laugh.
Given the makeup of her livestock, Shrewsberry had intended to set up as an organic cow dairy farm in northern Maine.
“If people wanted goat’s milk that would be fine, too,” she said. “But it turned out people were more excited about the goat’s milk.”
So Shrewsberry turned her attention to finding the right goats for the job and transforming Talk of the Town Farm into what is now a licensed, Grade-A goat dairy.
“Then people asked about my making cheese,” she said. “But I figured everyone is making cheese, why would they want more.”
It turns out they do, and now Shrewsberry offers a line of creamy goat cheese infused with fresh herbs from local farmers Jan Grieco of Goodwives Produce and Jenny Coon of Farmhouse Greenhouse.
“I taste-test every batch of cheese and milk before it can leave this farm,” she said. “If it is not up to my standards, it stays here.”
Milk, Shrewsberry explains, is a very fragile commodity and must be treated as such.
“The flavor and quality can be affected by odors, unsanitary handling and improper temperatures,” she said.
Inside the dairy’s small milking room and adjacent processing room everything is clean, orderly and odor-free.
“All of my equipment is cleaned and sanitized before use,” Shrewsberry said. “I take this part very seriously [because] I am responsible for the health of my customers and strive to give them the highest-quality products possible.”
Milking is twice daily and starts with a pre-clean of the milking area before the goats are led in one by one to the milk stand.
After Shrewsberry makes sure the goat’s udder is clean and sprayed with a sanitizing solution, she squirts a bit of milk into a “strip cup” through a screen to make sure there are no clumps or flakes that could indicate a possible infection and bad milk.
Once the goat is approved for the milking session, Shrewsberry attaches a mechanical milker to the udders and begins the actual milking into a stainless steel bucket.
From there the goats are free to roam back out to their pasture or hang out in the barn while Shrewsberry takes the new milk into the milk house, where it is strained into yet another sanitized bucket.
At that point it is either bottled or used to make cheese, and at the end of the day she has accumulated 4 to 5 gallons of milk.
According to the American Dairy Goat Association, goat milk has about the same amount of protein, fat and calories as cow’s milk.
However, it also has more vitamin A, vitamin B, riboflavin and calcium and is considered an alternative for people with sensitivities to cow’s milk.
Temperature, Shrewsberry said, is what gives her milk great flavor and extends its shelf life.
“I cool the milk as quickly as possible,” she said.
Talk of the Town Farm milk is raw, meaning it is not pasteurized with intense heat, something Shrewsberry knows is controversial.
“But the statistics of people who have gotten sick from drinking raw milk are minuscule,” she said. “And the state of Maine has been very helpful and supportive of us. I really can’t say enough about how much they have helped us.”
In her barn, a pen of 12 5-week-old goats bleats and plays, clamoring for Shrewsberry’s attention, something she lavishes upon each kid.
Back down at the house, five 3-week-old goats are a favorite stopping spot for James, who is more than ready to show off his favorite goat and explain why.
“Besides being a commercial dairy, we want the young goats to bond with us,” she said. “I can take my milking does out of the pen and up the hill to browse and they don’t run off.”
With names like Norton, Thomas and Bucket — so named because his entire back end and legs are white, making him appear as if he had been dunked in a bucket of white paint — it’s obvious the animals are part of the Shrewsberry family.
Then there is Harley, a curious mama goat who has a face and expression seemingly designed to make people smile.
“Harley is such a happy goat,” Shrewsberry said, scratching the goat behind her ears.
Establishing and maintaining her small herd in northern Maine has been a challenge at times, she said, including a lack of local businesses that deal in the equipment she uses in milk production.
“I do the work on all of my equipment,” she said, holding up hands that show the effects of tendinitis. “I need the machines because I just can’t milk by hand.”
Talk of the Town Farm milk has an in-store shelf life of seven days and Shrewsberry said it remains good for another seven after it is sold.
The products are available seasonally and Shrewsberry stops milking altogether in November when the goats begin breeding.
By the end of this month she’ll be back at the local farmers market, samples at the ready and doubtlessly gaining a new batch of goat milk converts.
Talk of the Town Farms raw goat’s milk and cheeses are available at the Caribou Farmers’ Market, Sleepers Market and Sweden Street Hot Spot in Caribou, Bread of Life in Presque Isle and at the Natural Living Center in Bangor.
Information on their raw goats’ milk products is available at www.talkofthetownfarm.com or by calling directly at 207-540-GOAT.