photos by jessica swanson
When Lorrie Conway was a young girl in 4-H, she defied her cattle ranching father – by raising a goat. When her eldest daughter chose a goat as her 4-H project 20 years ago, goats came back into her life. Now, she can’t give them up. So in addition to her full time job and homestead, Lorrie wakes at 4 a.m. each day to milk 15 to 20 Nubian does. “It’s my Zen time,” she says.
Lorrie estimates that she and her husband Shaun spend six hours a day with the goats, providing around 55 loyal customers with fresh raw goat milk every week from their Grade A raw milk dairy. She sets high standards for her products and the health of her animals, and she expects customers to bring the same commitment. She considers each customer a partner, and each must visit the farm and meet with her before becoming a customer.
The Conways also have a small farm store, where you can find woolen yarn and blankets from the farm’s sheep, the occasional dozen eggs, and a few other homemade products. In addition, there is a u-pick blueberry patch, and this year, the Conways built a cheese cave to store cheese made from excess goat milk.
The farm is a member of the Washington State University Clark County Extension Service Model Properties Program, and the Conways are always seeking innovative ways to keep their prices down while sustainably stewarding their partially wooded five-acre parcel. For example, the futures market indicated “no relief in rising feed costs,” said Lorrie. So this year, they put in a hydroponic sprout growing system, so they can feed their pastured goats fresh green grass daily in addition to alfalfa hay but at less than a third of the cost.
Over the last four years, Clark County has seen a rise in the number of small farms, but a decrease in the average acreage. In fact, when Lorrie and Shaun first moved on to their acreage more than 20 years ago, she thought they would eventually go bigger. But today, she believes they have cultivated a “culture of excellence” at their farm, by having to be discriminating and fastidious in all of their ventures. She says, “We are hell bent on showing people what you can do on five acres. It’s big enough. You just have to be efficient.”