Years ago when Jennifer Ansley encountered goats at the Tanana Valley State Fair she was so smitten that she declared to her husband, “That’s what I want; they are so beautiful.”
Even though her husband, Gregory Kahoe, failed to see the beauty, Ansley achieved her dream and now has 11 goats and a thriving goat milk bath product business, Far Above Rubies.
By reading books and doing research, Ansley taught herself to milk goats (“It didn’t work like the book said,” she commented.), make cheese and create a product line. She couldn’t have predicted this lifestyle growing up outside of Philadelphia. Ansley earned a B.S. in environmental science and English at the College of William and Mary. While working as seasonal rangers in Denali National Park Ansley and Kahoe met and then settled in Fairbanks in 1996.
A teacher at West Valley High School, Kahoe has been extremely supportive of his wife’s farming endeavors, building barns, mucking them out and coming up with great ideas. “I couldn’t do it without him,” Ansley said..
Her goats are Toggenburgs, one of the oldest and purest breeds from the Swiss Alps and the first breed to be registered in the U.S. Some are crossed with Saanen but all are Swiss breeds. The large goats do very well in the cold and are good milk producers, Ansley said. “I love my goats; they are very personable and have lots of character. They are very intelligent.”
The goats follow her to the school bus stop when it’s time to meet her children. “They keep me in sight and stay right with me,” she said. “They don’t like cars.”
Showing off the goats in their barn, Ansley fairly gushes, “Aren’t they cute?” Indeed they are, but a lot of work too. They must be milked twice a day and fed. Their feet have to trimmed and sometimes they need help giving birth. Going against their reputation for eating old shoes and such, they are picky eaters, munching on hay, dairy grain ration and a salt mineral mix. “They stay healthy if they are fed properly,” Ansley said.
Ansley learned to milk by trial and error. The first book she bought, “Cheesemaking Made Easy” was not helpful. “We joked it should be called ‘Cheesemaking made Practically Impossible,’ “ she said.
When she found “Goats Produce Too!” she hit the jackpot. The recipes are specific to goat milk, not cow milk. Goat milk has smaller fat globules that make the milk easily digestible, Ansley said.
For her family’s consumption Ansley makes chevre, feta, ricotta, colby and cheddar cheese. She pasteurizes the milk herself and firmly believes it doesn’t compromise the nutritional value. “All you need is a pot and a thermometer,” she said.
Ansley even wrote to Cornell University about how goat milk changes when pasteurized and the answer was that the only thing affected is Vitamin C. “Pasteurization alters the protein so the body can utilize the proteins,” she said.
Her secret to tasty goat milk is to pasteurize it immediately after milking or the fat turns quickly to a goaty flavor. That is often what turns people off to goat milk, she said. They pay dearly for it in a shop and are disappointed by the nasty taste. That is not the case with the rich, creamy milk at Ansley’s house.
If people argue with her that raw milk is better Ansley is prepared to debate. “No matter how careful you are you can’t keep bacteria from milk,” she said. “It’s not worth it because you can get really sick.” People sometimes call her wanting to buy raw milk. “First of all, it’s illegal,” she said. “Some people listen and some say they know all about it.”
Some goat producers offer shares so they can legally sell the milk but Ansley isn’t interested in doing that. “I use up all my milk with the business,” she said. Her regret about the goat milk situation is that 4-H Club members miss out on dairy opportunities with goats. “I would like to see a legal way to share milk with neighbors but I don’t think that is going to happen.”
For nine years Ansley has been selling an array of soap and lotions at the Tanana Valley Farmers’ Market. She learned the basics and then created her own recipes, finding that her scientific background came in handy for figuring out the exact concentrations of ingredients. “It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I wouldn’t have thought I’d be making soap but it’s a great business.”
The products are sold online and at Alaska Feed, Cold Spot Feed, Arctic Travelers, the Alaska Bowl Co., Chena Hot Springs Resort and the Ornamentary and the Bag Ladies shop in Pioneer Park seasonally.
The keys to Ansley’s success are good luck and hard work, she said.
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.