In the field: Teacup Farm
From 4-H to small-batch dairy production in Barker
Photos by Stephen Gabris
2278 Johnson Creek Rd, Barker, NY 14012
(716) 807-2963 or www.teacupfarm.com
Unless sprinting to be fed, baby goats rarely walk in straight lines. Instead, they spontaneously ricochet, going from dead stop to airborne on a sideways trajectory in seconds, as if their tiny hooves were studded with invisible rockets capable of launch. One minute, a little white baby goat stands innocently on the barn floor then, in a blink, he’s perched on top of a chair, looking quite proud of himself. Like long-legged puppies with their soft fur and boundless curiosity, the baby goats gently hop their forelegs onto the laps of visitors in search of rubs or something to mouth with their gums and soft, pink tongues; coat hems and fingers are favorites.
Along with the frenzied frolicking of goat kids in early spring comes another seasonal treat: goat milk. Teacup Farm is one of the only dairies in the area that produces and bottles goat milk to drink (rather than turning it into cheese or soap). Owners Liz and Tim Neadow operate this New York State certified raw cow and goat milk dairy on a few acres in Barker.
Teacup Farm started with a couple animals purchased so Liz could have raw goat milk on hand to feed her five kids, who, in turn, added to the herd by raising more goats as 4-H projects. At the time, Liz joked that her farm was so small it could fit into a teacup. Then, family friends and acquaintances began asking for milk, and, one by one, Teacup Farm added more milking animals. Five years ago, Teacup purchased the small dairy next door and has been making improvements to turn the old barns into more open spaces with lots of freedom for animals to wander outside.
At the time, Liz joked that her farm was so small it could fit into a teacup. Then, family friends and acquaintances began asking for milk, and, one by one, Teacup Farm added more milking animals.
Teacup Farm chickens provide eggs in every color.
Nowadays, Teacup has grown to twenty cows, fifty goats (half of which are old enough to milk), and a few dozen wandering chickens, but is still considered a micro dairy. Most of the goats on the farm are descendants of the Neadow kids’ original 4-H animals, and a few of the new babies have become projects for the Neadow grandchildren. The children name the goat kids according to a new theme every year; this season is nautical baby names: Pearl, Minnow, Fin, Treasure Chest, and so on.
The majority of Teacup Farms’ goats are Lamancha, a breed created in the United States and prized for milk high in butterfat and protein. Goat milk comes out naturally homogenized and has less lactose than cow milk but more vitamins and minerals like calcium and potassium. The animals thrive on freedom to roam, sunshine, and grass and hay grown at the farm, with a little grain to supplement their diets. While many Americans have never tasted goat milk, it’s a nutritional staple in other countries around the world.
Teacup has grown to twenty cows and fifty goats
From March until about August, Teacup goats are milked two at a time into a bucket, which gets poured into shiny steel tanks that cool the milk quickly. That, says Liz, is the key to making sure the goat milk doesn’t carry the “goaty” taste people often associate with this product.
While other goat dairies will breed their animals twice a year to keep a steady supply of lactating does, Liz gives her girls a break from all those crazy kids running around over the winter and only breeds once a year. Plus, the grownups can be a handful on their own.
“Goats are like two-year-olds,” she jokes. “They never grow up, they make a mess, and they throw tantrums. Each has its own personality and voice; you know who’s yelling at who in the barn.”
True to its beginnings, Teacup Farm prides itself on being able to openly and legally sell raw milk at the farm to prepaid share members and to the general public. Liz works closely with New York State to uphold the farm’s certification, following strict safety procedures from milking to storage. While state agricultural inspectors often get a bad rap, Liz says that to her, they’ve felt like partners all along, walking her through the proper set-up and answering questions as needed. She says that she texts her inspector more than she does some relatives to make sure Teacup raw milk is up to snuff.
Raw milk sales must be made onsite at the farm.
“This is food for families and babies; it has to be safe, and it’s worth it,” she says.
In order to legally sell milk at stores and farmers markets, Teacup uses a low-temperature pasteurizing method that preserves the nutrients and enzymes naturally found in milk. It’s also not homogenized, so the thick cream rises to the top; it can be shaken into the milk to make it whole, or skimmed off to use in coffee or to make butter and whipped cream.
A quaint freestanding cottage in front of the main farm barn operates as a self-serve farm store from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, featuring coolers full of the small-batch dairy products Liz makes in a pristine little production kitchen right on the farm. The dairy products began as a way to fill time during the slow seasons and use up extra milk but quickly became popular in their own right. Aside from the raw and low-temperature pasteurized goat and cow milk (plain and chocolate), there are bottles of heavy cream, yellow butter, plain and maple yogurt (with a cream top made with whole cow’s milk and local maple syrup), soft cow’s milk cheese curds with a mild cheddar bite, firm goat milk chocolate/peanut butter fudge with a subtle tang on the finish, spreadable goat milk chevre, low-salt feta, and eggs in brown, white, and every shade in between.
Raw milk can only be sold at the farm, but the rest of Teacup’s treasures are available at markets and stores around Western New York. For years, the farm’s dairy trailer, built to look like a red barn, has been a staple at the year-round North Tonawanda Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. It’s also at the Lockport Winter Farmers Market, Braymiller Market in Hamburg, Farmers in Artisans in Williamsville, Dispenza’s Market in Ransomville, The Olive Branch in Batavia, and Remedy House in Buffalo’s Five Points neighborhood.
Liz and Tim Neadow with grandchildren
The farmers firmly believe that when local farms work together, everyone benefits. Liz makes maple milk (her personal favorite) and maple yogurt for Wolf Maple Product’s Maple Weekend Celebration in March and features the sugarmaker’s syrup in the maple yogurt she makes all year. Becker Farms and McCollum Orchards offer their produce CSA members the option to add Teacup Farm milk, cream, and cheese to their veggie boxes every week, and Teacup provides single-serve bottles of milk for Becker Farms to sell during apple cider donut season.
Goat milk season is as quick and precious as the springy babies that herald its arrival; it’s worth scooping up some to enjoy.