September 15, 2005: Elly Hushour was in the
market for goats' milk. It was 1986, she had just given birth
to her first child and she had read that goats' milk was an
excellent source of nutrients for nursing mothers--superior
to cows' milk by far and easier to digest. A woman who raised
show goats lived nearby, and Elly approached her about making
In a classic example of the old adage, the neighbor sent
Elly home with not just a bottle of milk, but a way to milk
for herself. “I just wanted milk and I wound up with
a doe and two babies,” Elly recalls. And milk she did.
Today, Patches of Star dairy produces 13,500 gallons of milk
a year, which Elly sells direct to consumers as yogurt, soft
cheeses, feta, and in its raw form, literally. As a licensed
manufacturer of raw milk and raw milk products, Elly is able
to supply a fast-growing niche of health-conscious customers
with the pure, unadulterated food they so desire.
Patches of Star didn’t grow from one goat to 62 overnight.
When Elly’s original doe passed away, she thought that
was the end of her “goat phase." But, by that time,
Elly was knee-deep into goat-showing.
“When I went to my first goat show, I came in dead
last and I couldn’t figure out why. I learned later
what I needed to do--what I needed to look for--to place.
After a while, I learned to pick animals with good structure—a
This eye for “body” has proven useful in choosing
does for milking as well. Elly says most conventional goat
dairies don’t pay attention to the body of their herd.
If a doe has poor structure and steps on her udder, she’s
simply culled. Coming from a show background, Elly knew that
a clipped, clean, well-structured animal means longevity.
And longevity just makes good business sense.
In 1999 the herd had
outgrown her house. “There were babies
in my bathroom, on the floor, in the tub--they
So the herd grew from one to 20, despite her husband’s
disbelief, and eventually outlasted that first marriage. In
1999 the herd had outgrown her house. “There were babies
in my bathroom, on the floor, in the tub--they were everywhere.”
She was working a 14-hour-a-day job at FedEx and milking goats
in the mornings and evenings. And back then, according to
Elly, goats and Pennsylvanians didn’t look at each other
very favorably. “Most people were, like, ‘Goat
Raw milk, on the other hand, was a black market hot ticket
item. Elly was continually approached by individuals clamoring
for raw goat milk for health reasons and they were often willing
to purchase it “illegally.” She couldn’t
argue with the market. Besides, it wasn’t that long
ago she was on the hunt for goat milk herself.
In 2001, Patches of Star dairy became licensed to sell raw
milk. They were working on leased property, their new barn
was unfinished and the cheese room was not yet completed to
spec, but bacteria and coliform counts were so low from milking
parlor to finished product in three consecutive tests, the
authorities had no reason not to pass Patches of Star with
From milk to cheese
Today, Patches of Star milk is tested three times a month
and Elly participates in the Dairy Herd Improvement Registry
(DHIR) program, which not only ensures the quality of her
product but also helps her make decisions about her herd based
on the genetic profiles of the lines. A trained supervisor
comes out to the farm and checks that each animal has a tag
number, then watches each animal through the milking process
and weighs and records her production.
A sample of each doe's milk is sent off to the processing
lab, where it is tested for butterfat levels, bacteria counts,
and other quality indicators. The results are forwarded to
the Registry facility, which then sends Elly a report on each
girl’s monthly milk production, her current potential
based on past performance, and who’s meeting or not
meeting expectations. Over time, the Registry can develop
transmitting possibilities and forecast good breeding sequences.
Patches of Star lines have been on record for the past eight
years, which amounts to much more genetic information than
Elly always uses, but, she says, the program has saved her
time and money in the long run. “They can tell you if
you breed this goat to that goat you will get a very good
or very weak animal according to the percentages. We did it
by hand for a long time, but, at a point, it just gets too
“None of my goats
are wild. They all love to be handled and talked
to. If I were standing in the middle of goats
that weren’t handled they’d be running
or acting aggressive rather than nibbling on
In addition to the numbers required by the DHIR program,
all the goats are named according to line, which helps Elly
keep each individual’s genetic character and milking
performance in mind. The names also lend a fondness to the
interactions between woman and beast at Patches of Star. Three
does surround Elly as she stands in the stalls. One leans
comfortably into her leg, another nuzzles her hand and the
third decides she prefers cotton tee shirt to alfalfa hay.
“None of my goats are wild. They all love to be handled
and talked to. If I were standing in the middle of goats that
weren’t handled they’d be running or acting aggressive
rather than nibbling on my shirt.”
But these emotional ties have a practical angle. Wild goats
are difficult to herd, to treat, to milk. In a small, hands-on
operation, there’s no room for wild goats. The relationship
building begins a birth. The babies are separated from the
mothers immediately and bottle fed. It makes the kids easier
to handle as they grow older and makes the does more willing
to be milked. The mothers then enter the milking schedule.
The milking parlor holds 14 animals, which can get a little
chaotic at times, especially when the does were first introduced
to the layout at the current location. “They were used
to the old system which was pretty straightforward. In the
door, up the ramp, get milked. Training them to the new system
was wild. We happened to make the path from stalls to parlor
more complex. After a few weeks of chaos, they figured it
out and the old girls started showing the new girls how to
The milk then needs to be brought down in temperature for
bottling. Patches of Star has a 200-gallon bulk tank, but
they don’t produce nearly enough to fill it. Instead,
they fill the tank half-full with water kept at 34ºF
and float a number of 5-gallon stainless steel containers
full of milk in the water. The unusual method allows them
to chill the milk in less than half an hour and leaves the
door open for expanding production.
The milk usually runs 2 to 3-1/2 percent butter fat, which
thrills the health-conscious. “Everyone is into low-fat.
When I get 6 percent, the taste is awesome, but people want
the low-fat.” But it’s the 6 percent milk, Elly
says, that makes the best cheese.
Patches of Star’s current line of cheeses is primarily
composed of soft varieties, which Elly prefers because they
offer a better milk-to-cheese conversion. “It takes
a lot of milk for a little bit of cheese when you do the hard,
aged varieties. And people like to use the soft cheese in
everyday eating. You can replace any sour cream or cream cheese
in a recipe with chèvre and it’s perfect.”
She does give a nod to hard-cheese fans with her feta. Fortunately
for both soft and hard cheese aficionados, the feta doesn’t
always turn out as planned. “I was supposed to be making
feta. The girls had a nice 6 percent butterfat and, in seconds,
my feta turned to something entirely different! More soft
and creamy. Rather than throw my non-feta cheese away, we
packaged it as marscapone. All the customers love it.”
To market, to market
And Elly caters to those customers. She sells at farmers’
markets in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and by custom
order at health food stores. She's currently in the process
of transitioning her herd to organic, which will lend another
level of specialty to her products.
part is marketing. But when you sell to a
cooperative, you have quotas. Your production
might drop in the winter, but your quota doesn’t.
I don’t want to be an employee of anyone.”
Elly also keeps in touch with her roots. As someone who once
searched for a source of raw goat milk for health reasons,
she identifies with (and sells to) the health conscious market
where her raw milk and colostrum (a pre-milk product high
in antibodies) are in demand. “A human can digest goat
milk in 20 minutes, cows' milk takes 1 hour. You can put a
new born human infant on goat milk and he/she will do fine.
You can’t do that with cows' milk.”
At first glance it would seem the customers dragged Elly
out of show goating and into milk and cheese. But she claims
chasing those customers is her biggest challenge and selling
direct was more a matter of personal standards.
“The hardest part is marketing. Most dairies in Pennsylvania
sell to DairyLea, the biggest buyer in the Northeast. They
don’t want to deal with the marketing, the people. But
when you sell to a cooperative, you have quotas. Your production
might drop in the winter, but your quota doesn’t. I
don’t want to be an employee of anyone.”
Those personal standards also lead her into the goat meat
business. Sending young bucks to the auction house, although
standard practice for dairies, left Elly wondering if it was
necessary for Patches of Star. “The auction houses don’t
really take care of the babies,” says Elly. “So
now I do it myself.”
Patches of Star throws an average of about 60 bucks a year.
Some of those bucks will be butchered and some will be sold
as breeding stock. Elly prefers to butcher around 90 pounds—somewhat
smaller than standard. Despite the decreased yield per animal
by butchering young, Elly has found it yields a higher quality
Most of the Patches of Star meat is sold at farmers’
markets in New York, where a large immigrant population, more
familiar with goat meat, resides. But in the past year or
two high quality combined with an increase in goat meat consumption
in the US overall have meant more sales to the general public.
As for the goats she sells as breeding stock, well, it’s
back to her show goating beginnings. Elly finally figured
out what to look for in an animal after a few bumps and bruises
and established herself as a woman to watch on the show circuit.
She was placing very well at national shows and that didn’t
go unnoticed by the buyers who often attend the shows to identify
new suppliers. When the buyers found out she was bilingual,
they began opening doors for her she never thought possible.
She started selling breeding stock to Mexico, the Philippines
and Cuba. “There was only one problem. I had 20 animals
and they wanted 200.” So she became an exporter. But
trying to export, show, raise four kids—“It was
She started selling breeding
stock to Mexico, the Philippines and Cuba. “There
was only one problem. I had 20 animals and they
wanted 200.” So she became an exporter.
Moving from show goating into production made for a better
fit with her burgeoning international trade and Elly has managed
to establish herself, again, as a woman to watch. Starting
in 2000, she began working with an exporter who takes care
of most of the leg work. She currently has interest from Vietnam
and Israel in addition to her existing accounts. Unfortunately,
the border closings over the last few years due to mad cow
disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) have drastically
reduced international trade in agricultural animals. When
trade is possible, Elly insists the buyers play by her rules.
In early May she was looking forward to a visit from Cuban
buyers. “Cuba officials are coming here in three weeks
to pick out which girls they like. But I choose which set
they can pick from. I only show them the girls I’m willing
to sell to them on that day.”
And the buyers respect Elly’s demands. Her participation
in the Dairy Herd Improvement Registry means all her herd
information is made public, and this has been very good for
international business. “The buyer will pay a premium
for the registration. Having that background information can
mean the difference between a $100 goat and a $500 goat.”
Not only does she produce premium-quality goats, but she
works with market demands to fill niches larger farms can’t.
“Cuba is looking for bucks and eight-month-old does.
I’m the only one with girls this time of year.”
Building a better herd
The quality of Patches of Star goats and goat products can
only partly be explained by a good structured animal. How
Elly manages her herd should certainly get the bulk of the
credit. Going organic will mean a few changes to the current
herd management plan, but Elly already incorporates a range
of holistic practices that should allow her an easier transition.
She currently gives a single vaccine and says she will continue
to do so as part of her herd health maintenance protocol.
She’ll just have to follow a stricter quarantine policy.
“It’s easier to prevent infections and prevent
disease than to treat. And, you have happier animals. If one
vaccine can save their lives, then it’s worth it.”
To control internal parasites, she uses garlic and apple
cider vinegar and feeds her herd in trough feeders instead
of on the ground. According to Elly, goats are notoriously
picky eaters and won’t eat any food that falls to the
floor. Once her pasture is ready, she will also be maintaining
a strict rotational grazing plan.
Feed is an interesting question for Elly. “Goats are
not cows and they are not sheep,” she says. “People
new to goating often think they can use feed for ruminants
interchangeably, but that’s not the case.” The
Patches of Star girls get a grass/hay mixture in the morning
to get their rumens working, grain feed during the milking
process as an incentive, and another offering of grain (with
baking soda, an organic mineral mix and kelp) about an hour
after milking, followed by alfalfa hay. In the evenings, the
girls get bean pulp filler.
For a while, Elly was buying and mixing her own feed. She
worked closely with a veterinarian to develop a combination
of grains that was both nutritionally and agriculturally appropriate,
but was unable to continue that process when they moved to
their current location. She’s gone through a number
of commercial feeds that have just not given her the quality
she’s expected. This year, she’s preparing to
create another feed plan as part of transitioning to organic.
Elly’s rotation plan is a fairly standard four-paddock,
three-week system on clover, orchard grass and alfalfa. The
goats will use two, half-acre paddocks at a time and be moved
to the next two after three weeks. This fall the girls will
have continuous access to pasture. Since the current property
is a work in progress, the paddocks are still under construction.
In the meantime, Elly’s training her nine chickens to
graze in the resting paddocks to reduce parasites and assist
with breaking down the manure.
The field that fronts the property is planted with sunflowers,
a high-protein seed that Elly says is a perfect winter feed
(or anytime treat) for the herd. “Sunflower seeds have
good fiber and fat and the girls just love them.” The
sunflowers also make a great backdrop for customers who visit
the farm--although when the flowers are mowed down in their
prime it has left more than a few of those customers wondering
Beyond the farm
Elly’s quick to educate her buyers about the sunflower
fields, though, and more. When the barn was designed on the
new property, Elly made sure viewing windows were a part of
the plan from the very beginning. The cheese room has been
oriented to allow for a view from the “store front,”
an open space with self-serve coolers stacked nose to tail
with milk, yogurt and an assortment of mouthwatering cheeses.
The milking parlor is visible through a span of huge windows
in a hallway running down the center of the barn.
In fact, educational tours have already begun at Patches
of Star Dairy, beginning with a Girl Scouts session last year
and a class of local school children this summer. And every
tour ends with a treat. The kids this summer were met with
malted goat milk and honey chèvre on graham crackers.
Elly’s in the process of putting together a curriculum
she can submit to local school board members for a semi-permanent
program; one that involves both in-class education and a trip
to the dairy. “Letting kids grow up not knowing agriculture
is terrible. When they get here, they’re afraid. By
the time they leave, they’ve had a chance to play with
the babies and see there’s nothing to be afraid of.
If you educate the children, they can make wise decisions
when they get older.”
Last year, Elly decided to take leap and go full time with
Patches of Star, and she hasn’t looked back. “I
enjoy it. It’s my passion. When that baby is born and
you feed it it’s first bottle, all those 14 hour days
are worth it.”
There are six popular dairy goat breeds (Alpine,
LaMancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Toggnburg)
and two popular meat breeds (South African Boer,
Kiko) in the US. When choosing a type of goat
for a small operation, it’s not all just
a matter of production. Each breed has its own
personality, its own characteristics and you have
to be able to work with the breed you choose.
“I picked a breed according to what I like
and the Saanens are it. They’re laid back,
quiet, easy-going, and aren’t shaken up
by anything. They’re good milkers and one
of the taller breeds. We call them Gentle Giants.”
“My daughter loved the looks of the LaManchas
so I bought one for her birthday. They’re
a little bossy, but they produce milk with a nice
butter fat. For people who want ice cream, it’s
beautiful. We’ve got three or four in the
South African Boer:
“The Boers produce a high quality meat and
they interbreed well. We bring our male Boers
in to breed yearly with the Saanens. The females
will be kept for breeding future meat goats and
the males will be sent for processing.”