Organic craze keeps Oldsmar goat farmer in business
OLDSMAR - When the aftermath of 9/11 and the ensuing scarcity of transportation industry money created a bump in the road for Pam Lunn’s business, she veered sharply off her career path and launched a dairy goat farm. Using goats acquired for her children’s 4-H projects, she launched a dairy goat farm on her 3-acre homestead tucked away in an equestrian community near Oldsmar. As with many startup businesses, it often looked like The Dancing Goat would not make it. But today the once-struggling backyard business has Alpine and Lamancha goats registered with the American Goat Association to produce milk for sale. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Lunn says. “The milkers, they have a tough life,” Lunn says sarcastically as she ushered a tour through her barn. “Ceiling fans,” she said, pointing to the rafters. “And if it gets cold, we put a heater in here.”Like most of the farm, the maternity ward is monitored by video camera, making it easy to keep an eye on animals ready to deliver. After each attended birth, the newborn is taken to Lunn’s guest house for at least 24 hours of close monitoring. In addition to selling raw milk, The Dancing Goat produces kefir, goat cheeses and yogurt, and there are plans to add ice cream. It is also the Tampa distributor of raw cow milk products from a family farm in Myakka City. Buyers of her raw milk sold under the “pet consumption-only law” range from chiropractors and retirees to sports figures. The dairy’s main outlets are weekly markets, including Sweetwater Organic Farm and the popular Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Petersburg. Customers drive from as far as Sarasota and Lakeland to meet Lunn at market for a gallon of $13 goat milk, she says. Local food co-ops make regular pickups of milk, cheese and other products for distribution to members. By special order she sells at the new Get Healthy Store in Oldsmar. “And I sell eggs; that’s a big part of my business, too,” Lunn said. Customers also find her through her farm’s Facebook page or website, www.thedancinggoat.net. Things weren’t always as promising. The same transportation industry layoffs that shuttered Lunn’s Rodeo Right of Way business hit her husband, Jim, who was employed by a large engineering firm until 2002. “It’s been a long road; I didn’t think we were going to make it,” she said. “We cashed in everything trying to keep this afloat.” The tide turned in late 2011. “We had a really good December,” and sales were sustained through January 2012 and picked up from there.
The organic craze has helped, too. Even The Dancing Goat’s manure is prized. Churches and other community garden operators drive from as far as St. Petersburg and Clearwater to collect the animals’ waste.
“They want it because we’re chemical free here,” using copper particles for parasite control. “My husband says I have a racket going – getting them to take all the manure,” Lunn said with a laugh. “We attempt to be sustainable in all we do with the farm, from manure use in gardens to repurposing items for alternative uses,” she said.
Though the property is a working farm, the animals are not merely stock, at least not to Lunn. As a child, the Beckley, W.Va. native now “pushing 60” was not allowed to have a dog or cat. “This is a midlife crisis that’s gone seriously awry,” said Lunn, who discovered Florida during college spring break.
Now president of the Florida Association of Community Farmers’ Markets and on the board of the National Humane Society, Lunn’s involvement in farming and animals consumes her life.
Today, each of her many “pets” has two names - one under which it is registered and a “barn name.” Dating to 1998, Lunn’s first goats were Goober, Flirty, Esmeralda and Baby. “They were just going to be pets,’’ Lunn said of the four that ended up launching the business, “Some of their descendants are still here.”
Each goat has its own personality, Lunn says as she approaches the stall of a 5-day-old goat, bleating loudly. “Yes, mom’s here,” Lunn sings out.
She also shows goats at the Florida State Fair, where she is “youth dairy goat superintendent,” and at other local fairs.
“They can be dog ugly, but if they milk well they have a home here forever,” Lunn said of her goats. “If they’re beautiful and milk well, they become part of the show string.”
Then, she adds, “I’ve never met an ugly goat; they’re all pretty to me.”