Ever wondered why you pay a premium for freshly-made goat cheese?
Because integral to the formula is a happy goat, a patient herder and a lot of love. All of these elements — and more — are present at Blue Heron Farm.
You may have seen Blue Heron Farm's chevre and feta around Houston, at farmers markets and specialty food shops.
The magic happens on the homestead of Lisa and Christian Seger, tucked away on a country road just north of Waller. The Segers conduct tours for just $5 per person, whenever schedule and weather permit.
Sunday felt like the perfect day to stop by.
Springtime means kidding season at Blue Heron. Each goat typically has two or three kids per brood, but this season has seen two sets of quadruplets. Lisa thinks that might have something to do with last year's drought.
This bunch of kids is about one week old. They have one more week on the farm before they are sold off to their respective homes. In the meantime, they're drawing out lots of crowds for the farm tour.
The first few days call for individual bottle feeding. Once the kids get the hang of eating, though, it's off to the "Kid Bar" — where up to 10 goats can feed at once.
Though goats reign supreme, Blue Heron has, well, a whole farm full of other animals, each with its own duty.
The rooster acts as an alarm clock. The dogs, Goatrude and Nightshift, watch over the goats. The hens lay eggs. The pigs eat the whey, a by-product of cheese making, so that nothing goes to waste.
The pigs are later processed for bacon, or sent to Revival Market for curing.
The goats on Blue Heron Farm, lovingly referred to as "the girls," retreated from their spot in the shade as soon as the tour group walked into the field.
When the herd meets a group of unfamiliar faces, the goats respond comically — with unabashed urination.
Lisa says this is a "fight or flight" reaction, but they quickly became friendly, inquisitive and affectionate with the strangers in the tour group.
With a shock of pink hair and ears studded with loops — not to mention a degree in advertising under her belt — Lisa doesn't fit the description of a typical goat farmer. Add a straw hat, though, and she looks like she belongs amid the grass and the girls.
Lisa says that her attuned palate can tell the difference between milk from a Nubian goat and milk from other breeds. Alpine goat milk, for instance, has a more musky taste.
Different flavors in the chevre can also be attributed to the amount of handling and the sanitation quality — but as for alternate flavors depending on feed, Lisa says that her goats have eaten everything, and she's never noticed a difference.
A sign of a good dairy goat? When its hip bones are visible. This means that — after grazing and grain feeding — all of the excess nutrients go into producing milk. For the chubbier goats, herders use the euphemistic term "over conditioned."
The goats weigh between 160 and 185 pounds, and have a life span of 12 to 14 years.
Blue Heron Farm implements a management-intensive grazing system, where movable electric wiring creates temporary paddocks for the goats, leaving the out-of-bounds grazed lands to recuperate.
The Segers keep two bucks, or male goats, on the farm, as well as a sterile female.
"For companionship," said Lisa.
During the tour, Christian led a hand-milking demonstration on Lucinda — whose nickname, "Runnin' Start," proved true when she mounted the milking block. Lucinda dreamily munched on feed while eager milkers tried their hands on her udder.
At the farm, milking takes place by machine, twice a day — at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. — in the indoor milking parlor.
The milking parlor is connected to an industrial kitchen, where all of the goat cheese is made. Lisa uses vegetarian rennet to the milk to keep the customers happy. The process for creating chevre takes just 36 hours, most of which isn't hands-on.
Production slows in the winter, and the cheese sells out too quickly to keep reserve curds to make extra during that down time. In the summer, the Segers make cheese four days out of each week.
At the end of the tour, Lisa set out a trio of chevre flavors on a long picnic table in the back field. Perfectly Plain, Spicy Mediterranean and a Green Goddess herb blend tasted delicious in the fresh air, with dappled light, on a simple cracker.
Find Blue Heron at the Rice University Farmers Market on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. and at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market at Eastside on Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon, as well as at Revival Market and Houston Dairymaids.