It's a breezy late summer day on a dirt road just north of the small town of Buena Vista, Colorado. Puffy clouds lazily float through the sky revealing patches of blue above the towering Collegiate Peaks beyond. In the distance, goats bleet to one another, grazing together in the high mountain valley. This small piece of paradise is home to the Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy and the hundreds of goats that make some of the country's most delicious and award-winning cheese. Members of the herd perk up as Owner Dawn Jump approaches from the barn; some nibble on her shirt or give her a nudge as she walks into one of their pens.
Pictured: Dan Long (from left), Dawn Jump and Marley Hodgson in front of Jumpin' Good Country Store, Buena Vista, CO.
Dawn's passion for these animals began decades ago at a county fair when she spotted a dairy goat and asked to buy it. Her parents, 5th-generation cattle ranchers, brushed off their young daughter's request, concerned the goat could be a nuisance around the ranch.
Dawn persisted and her parents finally gave in. As long as she paid for it and took care of it herself, she could keep it. Hearing this, Dawn ran to the antique gumball machine that she kept in her room that was full of loose change she'd been saving. She shook out out $35 in pennies, scooped them into an old purse, and ran back to the county fair to buy the newest addition to the familys ranch. Just like that, Dawn's lifelong love affair with goats had begun.
Pictured: Walking goats to the afternoon milking.
Nearly 40 years later, Dawn has made a booming business out of the creatures her family once thought would be a nuisance. She laughs about the county fair story and the antique gumball machine standing in her milk parlor overlooking her herd and the mountains beyond. I was out to prove to my family that these werent just throw-away animals, to prove that goats had a purpose. My family 100 percent supports me now and they love what I do, but back then I took it as a challenge and wanted to see how far I could take it.
She started the dairy in 1997 with the goal of creating a place where goats could live happy, stress-free lives and produce amazingly high-quality cheese. The dairy has since grown to 4,200 square feet and in addition to being home to more than 325 goats at any given time, the dairy has become a regional destination dedicated to sustainable agriculture, educating visitors about local food systems and humane treatment of livestock.
Pictured: Dan gets hands-on, milking goats in the big dairy barn.
One of the things that makes us different is were concerned about what the goats eat and what theyre exposed to. Were also concerned with their stress level or lack of stress, says Dawn. So here they have a really nice environment to be in. They have a nice, open and airy milk parlor rather than artificial lighting and an artificial environment. We hope the openness gives them more of a stress-free, natural environment. The goats are happier, my employees are happier being in this environment, and I think all of these things add up to making a higher quality and better-tasting milk. And better quality milk makes the best cheese.
If you stop by the dairy for one of their occasional tours or milking demonstrations, Dawn's love for the goats in her herd is obvious. They definitely have their own personalities and I know every goat in this herd by sight and by name. We have naming themes each season which has resulted in some fun ones like Tostito, Triscuit, Gouda, Blueberry, Ladybug, Maisey and Hurricane. Im thinking Ill have to develop a more tech-savvy identification system as we continue to grow.
The goats have a daily schedule of milking just after sunrise and in the late afternoon before sunset. They spend the day in an airy pasture grazing on buffalo grass. Jumpin Good is the highest elevation goat dairy in the United States and makes cheese for a variety of supermarkets and restaurants like MAD Greens.
Pictured: MAD Greens Crazy Ivan is one of the salads featuring cheese from Jumpin Good Goat Dairy.
Every batch is hand-stirred, hand-pressed, hand-packaged and cave aged right here on the farm, says Dawn about her family-run operation that is quickly becoming known for some of the nations most premiere cheese. Our cheese-making adjusts with the seasons. We listen to nature and incorporate different flavors based on the grass growth or where the goats are foraging. For example, you pick up connotations of sage and wildflower in the fall milk because thats what they were eating.
Dawn is serious about sustainability and eco-conscious farming practices. For example, the goats are fed an all-organic, GMO-free diet and no pesticides are used on the farm. Although the dairy has been acting in accordance with certified organic standards, they havent yet been Certified Organic. This will change in late 2016 as Dawn and her team have recently started the process to officially transition their operations to being Certified Organic. Other eco-friendly initiatives include:
Utilizing underground aging caves to age the cheese naturally without the use of electricity.
Recycling manure, plastic, cardboard and Styrofoam shipping containers.
Rotating pastureland so the goats have a natural feed source and the land has time to recover.
Using free ranging chickens and ducks to minimize the use of anti-parasitic applications on land or animals (the birds eat the bugs!).
"We are passionate about goats, darn good cheese and sharing the farm and origin of food production with the public. Our hope is to show people how easy it can be to support a smaller family agricultural business and that they'll feel great about that choice."
Jumpin Good Goat Dairy Fast Facts
The oldest goat on the farm is Ladybug. Shes 17!
The goats produce milk all year long, but the volume they produce decreases in the winter months.
Goats use their lips much like humans use fingers for feeling and investigating the world around them.
Goats have a reputation for chewing everything because they spend a large part of their lives about 7 years teething.
Goats are social animals and prefer living in herds.