Sure, Los Angeles may be a sprawling metropolis, but it’s no concrete jungle.
If you know where to look, you can see the thriving remains of our agricultural history, when Southern California was bathed in large swaths of farms and ranches (and, of course, ranchos).
Our herds of domesticated sheep may be gone, but you can find areas in typically urbanized cities like Compton that are still specifically zoned for agriculture.
And you might wake up to the sound of a cock crowing anywhere from Reseda to Echo Park to Pasadena.
But while the cows have been disappearing from the Inland Empire (particularly in the Dairy Belt of the Chino Valley, where they’ve been displaced by development — and people), there’s one farm animal that seems to be growing in popularity in Southern California: goats.
It helps that they’re incredibly adorable and make for nice companions. But why choose a goat over, say, a dog … a pig … or an alpaca?
For some goat owners, it may be for their meat (known in Mexican cuisine as cabrito). For others, it’s their milk, whose distinctive flavor makes for unique cheeses and whose health benefits are considered superior to drinking cow milk.
The high levels of lactic acid in goat’s milk also make it a natural exfoliant — and, therefore, a skin-smoothing soap.
But still others just let the goats do what goats do — which is graze any overgrown hillside you’ve got. Why buy and operate a John Deere when you can feed goats and fertilize the land all at the same time?
Unfortunately, not all of us live in an area where you can own your own goat legally. (And, since they’re a herd animal, if you’re going to get one goat, you really need to get at least two.) So, here are five great places where you can get to know some goats — and, during kidding season, maybe even hold a baby.
1. Angeles Crest Creamery, Valyermo
Want to wake up with goats and then go on a hike with them? Head up to the Antelope Valley — not far from Devil’s Punchbowl — and spend the night in either a cabin or an Airstream at Angeles Crest Creamery, a working goat dairy on 70 acres of private land within the Angeles National Forest. The dairy actually relocated up north a couple of years ago from its former location at the historic Zane Grey Estate in Altadena (then known as Mariposa Creamery) and now regularly hosts opportunities for the public to come and meet the goats — not only by staying overnight but also by taking a cheese making class, and even picnicking and hiking with the goats. During your visit, you’ll encounter a motley crew of floppy-eared, sweet-faced, tender nibbling creatures of the cloven hoof that will stampede out of the gate and then meander around the “lake” (actually a sag pond, thanks to its proximity to the San Andreas Fault) and up the hill. The creamery is currently working with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to figure out how to use the land sustainably — an endeavor that started, of course, with the goats in the first place. They’re really the best way to clear brush in this area that’s particularly susceptible to wildfires.
2. Chivas Skin Care, Fillmore
It’s hard to visit the town of Fillmore in the Heritage Valley of Ventura County without some reminder of the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928. Well, it turns out that the ranch house at the goat farm where Chivas Skin Care is based had been picked up and carried away by the epic flood — like something out of The Wizard of Oz — and deposited here, where it stands today. Chivas is the home of a small manufacturing operation, where custom scents and colors are created from pure plant extracts, herbs and spices and mixed with the milk from the goats to create soap (bars of which are cut by hand) and other skin care products. And they’re gentle, too — not only because they’re not made with chemical irritants, but also because the pH of goat's milk is reportedly close to that of human skin. Chivas isn’t regularly open to the public, but it does open its doors for occasional public tours and other events, as well as during the annual Ventura County Farm Day in November. It’s a great opportunity to cuddle up to the newborn itty bitty fluffballs wrapped in towels to hold in your arms (until, of course, they wriggle out). Just look at those curious faces and perked-up ears! Listen to those high-pitched little bleats of joy and confusion!
3. Drake Family Farms, Ontario
If there’s any more joyous experience than seeing the face of a goat kid smiling up at you, I don’t know what it is. And you’ll find plenty of them — as well as pregnant mothers ready to pop — at Drake Family Farms, which has been continuously in business and run by six generations of the family since 1880, starting with its first location in Salt Lake City (officially designated a “Utah Century Farm”). The founder's great-great-grandson, Dan Drake, brought a herd of 143 goats over from Utah to establish the Drake family’s second location here in the Inland Empire. The Drakes say that they actually consider every single one of their goats a pet — and, like dogs, they each have their own names. The current herd at Drake Family Farms' California location consists of a few dozen mature females who are able to produce milk and who come from an award-winning lineage. On a tour, you can visit the milking room, which is located in a repurposed cattle barn from the 1940s and features a pretty elaborate contraption to extract the milk from the goats. While the cheese is considered both "farmstead" — made on the farm with milk from the farm's animals — and "artisan" — produced by hand in small batches — it's just not possible to milk all those goats by hand, too. "Dr. Dan" (a nickname he earned while working as a local cow veterinarian) says that the secret to making the best goat cheese is to keep your goats healthy and happy. Considering how delicious the cheese is (which you’ll get to taste on a tour), those goats must be pretty happy.
4. Fire Grazers, Rancho Palos Verdes
The goats of Fire Grazers, Inc. aren’t permanent residents of Rancho Palos Verdes, so it’s pretty exciting when they arrive to gnaw away at the brush that creates a fire hazard on the steep slopes of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Hired by the maintenance superintendent of the city’s Public Works Department, the goats arrive annually in the spring for brush abatement — and they’ve become such a local curiosity and so popular that the Point Vicente Interpretive Center has begun an annual “Meet the Goats” tradition, during which time you can witness goat herding demonstrations and even try to feed the goats yourself. It’s a fascinating process to witness — particularly because goats are natural “mountaineers” and can climb trails that no human landscaper would dare. Rancho Palos Verdes isn’t alone in its goat-guided endeavors, either. Because of its sustainability (and natural source of compost), many private businesses and residents also hire teams of goats to chew away weeds and other excess vegetation (mustard, non-native grasses) instead of using toxic chemicals or heavy machinery. In fact, you never know when you’re going to see a herd — maybe in the hundreds — of goats from Fire Grazers or Ranchito Tivo of Chino or any of the other hard-working teams of “grass-guzzling machines.” The Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy has been working with grazing goats on their habitat restoration projects for the last several years, and is giving you the chance to fund their efforts by sponsoring one of the goats.
5. The Gentle Barn, Santa Clarita
Sometimes, it’s nice to meet a goat who’s got no job to do other than to be cute and cuddle. Such is the case at The Gentle Barn farm animal sanctuary, just 40 miles north of L.A., where you can meet a dozen of these cuties who were rescued from starvation, and injury at the hands of abusive and neglectful backyard butchers and other owners. Whether it’s Emily, Bluebell, Patience, Pebbles, Bella, Sun Dance, Brave Heart or any of the others, they’ve found their “forever home” at The Gentle Barn. Some of them had to receive around-the-clock care upon their arrival but they’ll get to feel loved for the rest of their lives. Visits from the public are a big part of the animals’ rehabilitation, although when you go, you may find yourself as much healed by them as they are by you.
Bonus: To immerse yourself in a goat overload, you can visit the annual Valley of the Sun Fainting Goat Show and Galaxy Empire Show (hosted by Triple-T Ranch from Ramona and Ancient Valley Ranch from Rosamond, respectively), which take place this year June 30 to July 1 at Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield.