Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sitio Cabra Feliz - The Happy Goat Farm

A few years ago our friend Reynaldo and his wife Bea, who live in Piracicaba, retired and purchased a small farm about 30 kilometers away.  Reynaldo wanted to make goat cheese and couldn’t find a reliable source of goat milk.  Plus, like any new retiree, he needed a project.  So he bought a farm and more than fifty goats!  Prior to retirement, Reynaldo was a professor of agronomy so the shift was not as radical as you might think. Nevertheless moving from academia to farming is a big change no matter what your field.  Today, much to everyone and especially Reynaldo’s delight, the farm is thriving and produces magnificent food.  

The farm is called Cabra Feliz or Happy Goat.  There is an old saying in Brazil that when a man retires and spends his days relaxing and enjoying himself, he is a cabra feliz, i.e., a happy goat.  The farm’s name embraces both our friend’s disposition and that of the goats perfectly.  Not that Reynaldo has much chance to relax.  There are now more than 100 happy goats on the farm.  

And that isn’t all.  There are at least 10 very large, currently pregnant, sows (the little piglets come and go with the birthing and butchering seasons); a flock of guinea hens running everywhere and pecking in the dirt; one very proud rooster; platoons of large ducks and even larger geese; three ponds full of tilapia; and a random collection of farm dogs.  The queen of the dogs is Reynaldo’s black and white border collie, Lola who theoretically herds the goats.  In practice I think she drives them nuts by barking at them and herding them in a somewhat willy-nilly fashion.  

Lola in high gear!

The place is a serious undertaking.  The farm spreads over a hilly landscape, with multiple fields in various stages of growth, re-growth and grazing.  Reynaldo grows elephant grass for the animals to eat in the barns and other softer grasses for grazing in the pastures.  The animals are distinctly free range and all milking is done by hand.  The farm literally hums with sound – rooster crowing, hens clucking, kids bleating, pigs snorting and dogs barking mix with the noises of farm machinery and wild bird song.  In the evening, the clatter of harmless beetles crashing into the veranda as they seek out light accompanies the cocktail hour. 

 There are more than 100 banana trees in one field and many mango and other fruit trees scattered around the property.  Reynaldo’s wife Bea, a retired musician and active quilter, manages the vegetable and flower gardens.  In addition to herbs, tomatoes, beans, onions, spinach, arugula, leaf lettuce, pumpkins and squash, she grows roses, impatiens, geraniums, orchids, and one token coffee bush.  She has all sorts of tropical perennials and flowering bushes and trees that I can’t identify.  At the main gate there are two large bougainvillea bushes and a tree-size dracaena – currently in full bloom - as well as big palm trees everywhere.  Perhaps my favorite trees at the farm are the spectacular blooming flamboyants.  These trees, sometimes known as coral trees, erupt into glorious flaming coral flowers in November and December. 

The farm has many buildings as well as the main house and a house for the farm manager and his family.  There are the main goat barn; a small barn for when the kid (baby goat) population soars and a separate barn for the breeding bucks – it is not a good idea to keep male goats in the same barn as the females and the kids.  Male goats are a randy lot.  Beyond the need to manage goat genetics for desirable traits, no goat farmer can afford to ignore the perils of incest.  The farm also has a pig barn; a chicken coop; a butchering shop for both young male goats and pigs; and a queijaria – or cheese dairy where the goat cheese is made; and various small storage and equipment sheds. 

Reynaldo employs three people full time to keep the operation going and a part time helper for the gardens.  The farm manager cannot read but is as knowledgeable about animal husbandry as anyone.  He also directs the recycling of virtually everything on the farm.  All goat and other animal waste is composted and used for fertilizing the fields.  The composting system is remarkably efficient – the goat wastes drop between wooden slats that form the floor of the goat barn to a lower level where the actual composting takes place.
The main goat barn
Goats are gentle, sociable animals.  Despite all the activity, the goats give Cabra Feliz a peaceful, tranquil air.  When you approach a group of goats, they all want to get into the picture.  

They move gracefully together, arching their elegant necks over each.  They love the hills and eat whatever grows.  The small kids graze with their mothers and call to each other during the day in small, soft bleats.  They are Nubian goats – the best milk producers.  They have long lap ears and perky tails that bounce up and down when they run across the field.  When they become separated, they gambol across the field until they find their mothers again.  It is a continuing process of grazing, moving, finding new grass, grazing and moving again.

The Queijaria
The Queijaria is one of my favorite places on the farm.  It is fully set up with space and equipment to pasteurize the milk, make multiple types of cheese, age, and after aging, package the cheese.  Reynaldo and Bea visited artisanal goat cheese farms in France.  They modeled some of the cheese making after practices they saw there.  Reynaldo specializes in chevre (French style goat cheese).  Recently he has been experimenting with using activated charcoal ash.  The ash makes the cheese surface more hospitable to the growth of molds that improve the flavor of the cheese.  He makes several other types of cheese also including a queijo fresco or fresh cheese that is preserved with salt, goat Gouda, goat Parmesan and lately a Parmesan style cheese with Roquefort veins.  It is still aging but based on the other cheese he makes, it will be delicious.

Reynaldo makes his own bacon, his own prosciutto and multiple types of sausages from bratwurst to summer sausage to a goat meat and pork fat linguisa.  Needless to say there are fresh eggs and milk every day and a wide range of different cuts of meat available.  It is unrealistic to have more than three or four bucks in a herd of 100 goats so the roughly fifty percent of kids born male end up heading to the table before they are six months old.  The piglets are bred for meat. 

We spent the weekend there recently and left loaded up with goodies – three kinds of goat cheese, two liters of fresh goat milk, a dozen farm fresh eggs, a pork shoulder, a package of bratwurst and a package of fresh cabrita linguisa or goat sausage that I helped Reynaldo make that morning.  Along with the selection of fresh herbs and greens I picked and stuck in my grocery bag, I had enough to keep Jeff and me fed for much of the next week.


  1. Joana, adorei a descrição do Sítio. E as fotos estão ótimas. Agora só precisa colocar umas fotos dos queijos e do presunto cru!

  2. Adorei Joanna! Já virei leitora do seu blog! Escreva mais! Beijos Elisa