The raucous gobble of a wild turkey echoes off the wooded hills of the Evans Valley near the town of Rogue River, breaking the quiet at Pholia Farm. I hurry toward the barn in the crisp morning air, and I’m greeted by bleating Nigerian dwarf goats and their guardians — resident Anatolian shepherds Sophie and Eowyn. Their mournfully friendly faces belie their intimidating barks.
I’m here to learn about Oregon’s only off-the-grid creamery, which produces award-winning, aged raw milk cheeses, and, in the spring, scores of adorable baby goats.
The day begins with a strong pot of coffee brewed by owners Gianaclis and Vern Caldwell in the cozy kitchen above the barn. We circle up, mugs in hand, and enjoy the warmth of the wood burning stove.
Morning chores come before breakfast, so I follow the Caldwells and their interns, Robby and Haley, down to the barn. As the sun lights up the forested hills, Gianaclis strolls through the outdoor pen checking on the moms-to-be — 36 of them — calling each by name. Vern fills the feed troughs with fresh hay amid enthusiastic greetings from the gregarious, wooly creatures. Haley and Robby coax does in groups of four up a ramp into the milking parlor. The symphonic bleating of the does and the high- pitched mewling of the kids rises above the classical music on the barn radio and the hum of the milking machine.
From my perch by the fence, I can see the kids, just a few pounds at nine days old, where they leap, buck and shove each other off a small wooden bench, their sharp little hooves pawing the air. At the peak of kidding season, the farm has as many as 100 baby goats (moms average 2.6 kids per delivery). I could stand here for hours watching this steady and purposeful movement of humans and animals.
No mothers are near labor this morning, so we regroup upstairs for breakfast, joined by the Caldwells’ daughter, Amelia, who is a part owner of Pholia. The rest of the day passes in what must be a typical fashion for Pholia — hoof trimming, pen cleaning, phone calls, email and errands.
The Caldwells were both born and raised in the area and they returned to this land, which was part of Gianaclis’ family’s farm, in 2005 following Vern’s retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps. Both say that when they left in their younger years, they never thought they’d come back, but the farm seems to be exactly the right place for them.
Gianaclis fell into cheese making by accident and quickly found that it suited her. “You are constantly being challenged by changes, but you are trying to make something beautiful and flavorful.”
The Caldwells have also made a name for themselves as breeders of the Nigerian dwarf goats, whose milk has the highest butterfat content of any goat breed. Most of the season’s female kids will be sold for their valuable milk potential. The boys are adopted out.
Vern introduces me to the resident bucks during feeding time. Hairier and more rambunctious than females, they are, as he observes, “like a bunch of teenage boys.” Pyrrate, the 24-year-old “yard horse,” who wanders freely on the edge of the nearby forest, nudges Vern for some attention, and the Old English Game bantams sprint by with feathered flourish.
After a tour of Pholia’s solar panels, which generate most of the farm’s power, I get a peek inside the 1970 Airstream trailer that will soon be available for guests. Cheese-making class, dairy goat school, or a relaxing farmstay are all good reasons to reserve the trailer.
The day ends as it began — in the barn with the quiet rhythm of chores. Dinner is simple and decadent, a generous plate of Pholia Farms’ cheese: Hillis Peak, Pleasant Creek, Evans Creek Greek Pheta and Elk Mountain with dried fruit, nuts and a bottle of Willamette Valley pinot noir. The stars are out when I leave the barn after dinner. Early to bed, I’m sung to sleep by a chorus of frogs in the creek.