At Dove Song Dairy, raising goats is a multi-generational calling
When Lena Schaeffer turned 15 years old, her father asked her what she wanted for her birthday. Her answer: “A goat.” Her birthday wish was granted, and decades later, goats still hold a special place in her heart.
Schaeffer, now a grandmother, keeps 200 goats on her farm, Dove Song Dairy: “They have awesome personalities. You can pick them up on your lap and hold them when they’re babies.”
Adorable though they may be, goats have become a serious business for Schaeffer and her family. The Schaeffers have been milking commercially since 1996 on their 47-acre farm in Bernville, Bucks County. In addition to their raw goat milk, the farm offers a variety of products, including yogurt, cheese and soap made from goat milk; pastured eggs and meats. They also raise chickens, pigs, Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas geese and guinea fowl.
The colonial-era farm was founded by ancestors of Lena’s husband, Rodney, but after two generations, the family sold it. Lena’s parents purchased the farm shortly after World War II and she and Rodney, who had grown up together in the area, bought it from them after they married.
Upon purchasing the property in 1996, Rodney and Lena decided to turn Dove Song into a goat dairy farm for several reasons: Lena’s lifelong fondness for the animals; the size of the farm, which the family deemed too small for a cow dairy farm because the couple was determined to raise their own feed grain on the property; and the fact that their two daughters were lactose intolerant but could digest goat’s milk. The children share their mother’s enthusiasm for goats. Just like her mother, Emily, Schaeffer’s youngest daughter, asked for a goat on her eighth birthday.
“Her name was Saddle, and soon enough she had a baby,” says Emily, who still lives and works with her parents on the farm. “It seemed like we went from two to 200 in no time at all.”
Schaeffer has become downright evangelical about goat’s milk, explaining that the nutritional value is equivalent to that of cow’s milk, and that it’s easier to digest. “We supply a wildlife rescue center that has fed [goat milk to] everything from bats to baby bunnies to fauns,” she says.
The farm’s 200 pasture-raised Alpine and Lamancha goats are milked twice daily. The Schaeffers use no hormones or antibiotics and don’t feed the goats corn, soy or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
As one wanders the pastures (while attempting to avoid the occasional head-butt or shoelace-gnawing from the endearing but insistent goats), the farm is revealed as a testament to Schaeffer’s resourcefulness. A rusted school bus has been repurposed as a chicken coop; an old cement mixer doubles as a grain bin. Seeing an elderly neighbor save the fat drippings from her cooking for a year to make soap inspired Schaeffer’s latest endeavor: goat milk soap that she markets under the label “Aunt Lena’s.”
The Schaeffers’ initial plan was for Rodney to work full-time while Lena ran the farm for the first five years, to establish financial security. But after a little more than a year, his employer closed up shop, leaving the farm as the family’s sole means of support. Lena has continued to manage Dove Song, with Rodney sticking to manual labor and working a part-time job with the local township.
Schaeffer says she encountered some resistance to a woman being in charge during the farm’s early years, but has seen a change over time. “When we first went into farming, the sales reps always wanted to talk to my husband. He’s a very quiet kind of person and he hates paperwork; it’s the grunt work that makes him happy. But now no one thinks twice about talking to the boss, which is me.”