It’s no wonder that Pure Luck Farm and Dairy has been winning awards for its goat cheese since 1998. It’s the same reason why they have no staff turnover. Amelia Sweedhardt and Ben Guyton, the husband and wife duo that runs the herb farm and goat dairy, treat animals, land, and people with great care.
In describing the Alpine and Nubian goats, Amelia boasts, “I can tell they like me!”. It’s true. As we walk around the farm in Dripping Springs, TX, the goats lock eyes on her, lean over the fence to get close, and line up to say hello when she walks in the barn. It’s like a big family. The cattle farm where I was raised used the standard practice of numbered ear tags to identify the animals. Blue 40, yellow 17, orange 24 and the like. At Pure Luck, every goat has a name.
Like any big family, Pure Luck runs on a schedule. The goats are milked every day at 5AM and 4PM. The list of names that line the white board in the milking hall – Maxine, Charlotte, Darla – are more reminiscent of a children’s chore schedule than a dairy. But when the goats aren’t working, “their time is theirs, the goats can do what they want.”
It’s clear that the operation’s success is rooted in the care they give to their animals. So, when we asked Amelia if she’s seen climate change impacts, it’s no surprise that her response was related to the happiness of the goats. She said that this winter they saw no fly die-off.
Any farmer can tell you that flies get more and more intense as spring turns to summer. In the warmer weather, they hang around animals and become more and more of a nuisance. I had immediate flashbacks to horses swatting their tails and stomping their feet, and herds of cows being dogged by swarms of flies on hot summer days. The added stress to the animals is self-evident.
Winter offers the promise of reprieve as the fly population dies off. This year, Pure Luck only saw two frosts and that wasn’t enough. In fact, this has been the warmest winter on record for the Austin area. They experienced 26 days at or above 80 degrees, which demolished the previous record of 16 days according to the National Weather Service.
When we walked out to the paddock, the goats were stamping as if it was August. Amelia has gone to great and innovative lengths to keep the problem manageable with fly paper spread out on pallets and traps throughout the barn. It’s a clear sign of the new normal.
As we walk around the farm, Amelia shows us the house that her late mother, Sara Bolton moved the family to in 1979. It’s a one-story ranch house seen in arid rural towns from South Texas to South Australia. The corrugated roof, low profile, and AC units reflect the tough environment Sara faced as she put Pure Luck on firm ground. It makes me wonder if new farmers striking out to create something comparable will be successful in the face of increasing climate impacts.
Written by Peter Sargent
Photography by Virginia Sargent