Before they retired from teaching, Lynne and Don Grasse made journeys from their winter home in Rhinelander each summer to their 15-acre hobby farm north of Ellison Bay, driving a pickup truck that carried crates of poultry and dogs and cats, and pulled a trailer hauling their herd of Nigerian dwarf goats. When they stopped on their journey to refill the gas tank, people would get out of their cars and come look at the traveling menagerie, the couple said.
Seven years ago the Grasses bought the Northern Door farmstead that included a house more than 100 years old, as a way to return to their childhood roots. Lynne’s family had run a grocery store in Ellison Bay; Don’s parents farmed in Northern Door.
Three years ago they made a permanent move to the area, remodeled their home, and now cultivate a large garden and extensive vineyards, and tend a herd of goats as well as flocks of chickens, geese and turkeys.
However, before they became teachers, Don said, their experience with animals began in 1980 with a dairy farm. The interest in goats developed on their hobby farm near Rhinelander in 1997, Lynne said.
“We had two pet goats,” she continued, “to teach our kids,” the couple’s three sons. “Animals teach children many wonderful life lessons.”
They chose dwarf Nigerian goats, a dairy breed that is half the size of standard breeds. “We didn’t want to get into large animals,” Don explained. “We had chickens. These goats are small, easily handled.”
“We learned quickly,” Lynne said, “and I fell in love with the goats. I decided that if I’m going to keep goats, I’ll do it right, and did a lot of research.”
As their sons grew older, they became more interested in sports, cars, and friends, she continued. But her interest did not wane, as she not only became involved in dairy practices but in showing goats as well.
Now in addition to using milk as a beverage, she makes cheese, yogurt and soap. And her herd has expanded to include 24 does, five bucks, and 41 kids. This summer she is milking 16 does and has a license that allows her to sell her milk to the Door County Creamery in Sister Bay for that business’s cheese making.
At milking time, the does one by one hop up on a platform where they are kept in place with a stanchion, and are milked with a machine designed for dairy goats. A dwarf Nigerian doe averages one quart per milking, half the output of a standard breed.
The Grasse Acres enterprise has expanded to the point that Lynne partners with neighboring goat farmer Pam Murphy. The two women share a management philosophy, collaborate on some procedures such as vaccinations, and when necessary, sub for each other at milking time.
“It’s nice to have someone with the same passion you do,” Lynne said. “We can sit and talk about goats for hours!”
“Believe me, they do!” Don laughed. “When we go out to dinner with the couple, her husband and I roll our eyes!”
The Murphy goats came from the Grasse herd. Goat breeding is a part of the business, with kids sold not only in the Midwest, but occasionally shipped by airfreight to other parts of the country.
One of the Grasse’s most impressive sales was to the Brookfield Zoo, 30 kids picked up at the end of May for a children’s petting area with the new goat section that opened July 1.
The zoo learned about Grasse Acres from their website and sent three curators to the farm for an inspection. “They arrived in a large van with jungle animal pictures on the sides,” Don laughed. “Like something out of a circus!”
“The primary reason for choosing me,” Lynne explained, “was because of my health management practices.” The zoo wanted to be certain they were purchasing healthy stock.
They also appreciated the fact that Don raises the food for the goats using organic practices.
Lynne is pleased with the sale. “As an educator,” the former kindergarten teacher said, “you want people to know realistically about animals, and how amazing they are!”
Because of the success and complexity of the Grasse’s goat enterprise, and because of their self-sustaining lifestyle, Wisconsin Public Television filmed on May 18 a segment on the farm for their Wisconsin Life series, an episode that will air in September. A writer and photographer team toured the farm and sampled milk along with homemade yogurt and cheese. “The photographer flipped over the milk!” Don said.
“She said, ‘The best milk I’ve ever had!’” Lynne added.
And they also enjoyed tasting Don’s homemade wine from his vineyard.
Most of all, the crew liked interacting with the kids, Lynne said.
The Grasses are quick to point out misconceptions that people sometimes have regarding goats. While some people think goat milk or cheese has a goaty taste, Lynne points out that any off-flavor occurs from the goats’ diet and milk procesing, not inherent flavor.
She has served as apprentice to a cheese maker and for home use makes chevre, feta, mozzarella and curds.
The goats do not have an unpleasant smell, she said, with the exception of a male goat’s musk, and are aesthetically pleasing to look at. They are “walking flower gardens” with their different colors and patterns.
And goats have a calming effect, she added. “I have a friend who comes over sometimes just to be among the animals. It’s a happy place!”
When the Grasses consider the future, “We are looking at maintaining what we have,” Lynne said. “It’s a neverending learning experience, always new information regarding genetics, how to grow things, making cheeses.”
However, as two of their adult sons live in California, and the third, now in Texas, plans to move to that state, they’d like to spend more time with their boys.
“We might be back to hauling goats in a trailer to California!” Lynne joked.
Don laughed and shook his head. “We sold our trailer,” he reminded her.