TribLive.com (February 5, 2017) – India Loevner slipped away from her 130-acre hobby farm in Indiana Township about 10 years ago to attend a goat show with a friend.
She had no intention of becoming a goat farmer — let alone a cheese producer supplying stores throughout the region.
“I said I was going just for fun, but I came home with two goats,” Loevner said.
Two goats in 2007 grew to 125 goats, a creamery and a business by 2017.
India and Steve Loevner debuted Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy in May 2015 and now distribute cheeses to grocery store chains and dozens of local restaurants.
“We have lived up here with our kids for a long time and raised our family up here,” Loevner said. “We have always had farm animals like sheep, horses, pigs and cows. But we didn’t have a business, and it was kind of just a hobby. In 10 years, I’ve since gotten a lot of goats.”
The couple’s business launched less than two years ago, producing cheeses with names such as Hootenanny and Stampede.
It’s sold by 70 local businesses, including 15 Giant Eagle Market District stores and the recently opened Whole Foods in South Hills Village.
“Our challenge now is having enough goat milk,” Loevner said.
With many goats out of commission because they are expecting kids in March, milk is less available. The business is supplied with weekly shipments from Le-Ara Farms in Armstrong County for the cow’s milk cheeses it produces.
But by spring, Loevner and her staff expect to be milking more than 80 goats per day.
BEHIND THE CREAMERY
Several years ago, Loevner attended the University of Vermont to learn the process of making cheese and what it takes to grow a goat cheese business.
Soon after, an old horse barn on her property was renovated into what is now the creamery, with stalls converted into cheese-making, aging and packaging rooms.
“It was definitely a long process,” Loevner said. “It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t make cheese, take care of the goats and run a business by myself. I knew I needed helpers.”
Matt Rychorcewicz became part of the Goat Rodeo team, claiming the duty of the farm’s cheesemaker. Kelly Harding, his mentor, also comes in several times a week to consult with the team.
“It’s a lot of planning, and it’s very complex,” Rychorcewicz said.
Daily duties for Rychorcewicz include pasteurizing the milk, cooling it, adding the rind, culturing it and shaping and crafting the cheese.
Stocked racks with hundreds of colorfully named cheeses like Bamboozle and Chickabiddy take up nearly half of the creamery, and each type is divvied into two aging rooms based on the type’s temperature and humidity needs.
Each type of cheese ages differently, Rychorcewicz said.
“For cheeses like Goudas, the oldest one right now is from June,” Rychorcewicz said. “The cheeses get flipped every day for a month and then after that every other day for a month.”
In the barn, Captain Crunch stood patiently to get his hooves trimmed. Wynona, a daughter goat to one of Loevner’s original two, galloped to her to receive a snack.
Loevner knows each one of her 125 goats by name.
And come March, she is going to have to name roughly 100 more kids.
“They are all registered with the American Dairy Goat Association, and each year (the goats) have a letter,” Loevner said. “Last year they all got ‘H’ names.”
Every day at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., 365 days a year, Loevner and staff members head to the milking parlor to attend to the goats that will be milking this spring.
Two-thirds of the goats are Alpines, which produce more milk.
The remaining goats are Nubians, whose milk contains more butterfat.
“The process all sounds very smooth, but that’s not taking into consideration the goats’ personalities,” she said. “They really want to come in to the milking parlor because they get their feed.
But the problem is that they want to come in too much — and you end up getting three goats stuck in the doorway.”
But with just a little patience, she said, they typically sort it out themselves.