The perfect romantic summer evening: A loaf of bread, a jug of wine — and a couple of sturdy goats.
This is the scenario, or something very close to it, envisioned by Michael Montgomery. A longtime chef, he is now director of the Mountain Flower Goat Dairy, 3240 N. Broadway, just north of the North Boulder Recreation Center, on land leased from the Long's Gardens iris farm.
The dairy, a nonprofit urban dairy with an educational slant, has been operating on 5 acres at Long's Gardens for about two years. It offers such features as tours for school groups, spring and summer kids' birthday parties — where children can spend quality fun time with their hooved hosts — as well as raw goat milk shares, allowing people to own a slice of the operation, and in return receive up to a gallon of milk a week.
"It's one of the only natural probiotics," Montgomery said of raw goat milk. "So for people looking for a natural source of those, raw goat milk is really, really good bacteria for your gut ... . Goat milk just happens to be much more similar to human milk, so our bodies can process it much faster."
And now, the dairy's plan is to branch out, and probably in late August, start offering evening dinner hikes into the mountains. Supplies will be toted by a small team of the dairy's goats, which are now being trained for such duty.
Taber Ward, executive director of the Mountain Flower Goat Dairy, sees the "pack goat" venture as a logical next step for the enterprise, which also soon will be offering cheese-making workshops.
"It was just sort of a combination of what Michael's skills offered and what we already had on the farm," Ward said of the goat-pack dinner trips. "It seemed like such a natural collaboration, our two minds thinking together, more than anything."
'Dog encounters can be tricky'
You may have seen the goats being put through their paces — without packs, so far. Montgomery said that even in Boulder, where the exceptional is sometimes seen as humdrum, the goats are getting people's attention.
"My (training) hikes are very slow going," Montgomery admitted. "Especially at trailheads, when there's lots of people. They want to take a picture or meet the goats or pet the goats, generally. No one has seen it around here, so seeing goats on trails, I have gotten a lot of excitement — and lot of encouragement."
Montgomery pointed out one issue raised by the proliferation of another four-legged animal more frequently seen on Boulder trails.
"Dog encounters on trails can be tricky," he conceded. "Goats are scared animals, generally, because they are prey animals." And because Mountain Flower functions in part as a demonstration farm, with lots of young visitors, its goats are "de-budded" — their horns cauterized — when only a few days old, which deprives them of a defensive tool.
Another challenge is posed by one of goats' favorite pastimes.
"Goats want to graze when they're in new territory," Montgomery said. "The only regulation Boulder has is no grazing on the trails. So I have to make sure they are able to break the grazing habit."
Boulder would also require that a permit be issued for such a commercial operation on its Open Space and Mountain Parks property. The permitting process will ultimately shape the parameters of the dairy's venture.
"This is new to us, so we would have to do some thinking about that and see how it fits," said Jim Reeder, manager for the city of Boulder's Land and Visitor Services Division.
"If it's a commercial outfit, if he is charging for that, he would definitely need a commercial license to do that, and it would be in the process of issuing that license that we would contemplate whether it would fit at all."
Reeder said there are existing businesses that hold commercial licenses to operate on city trails, including hang-gliding operations and dog-walking services. Once an application is complete, Reeder said, it can take up to 14 days to be processed and issued.
Montgomery said he plans to apply for the required permit by early August.
Sometimes, the goats have their own ideas
The dairy now has about 21 goats, but only a few are being trained for pack duty. The best goats for trail work, due to their level of athleticism, are alpine goats, which originate in France.
Mountain Flower has two yearling alpine goats, Butch and Sundance, that are wethered, or, castrated. Three more males from this year's breeding will also be neutered, giving Montgomery a team of at least five that he should eventually be able to use.
Boulder resident Lisa McClear is volunteering up to 10 hours a week at the farm and is among those working on getting the goats ready to trek.
"I think it's going super," McClear said. "The very first step is just getting them to accept walking on a leash.
"Sometimes, goats will have their own ideas, and they'll say, 'Uh, yeah, I don't feel like walking.' You just turn around and coax them and encourage them."
She admitted that on a recent day, "One of them in particular was just throwing himself on the ground, like a toddler. It takes patience, but I'm very confident we'll get 'em up to speed."
McClear said research suggests goats should be able to carry about 25 percent of their body weight. With wethered goats reaching 150 to 160 pounds typically, Montgomery is thinking they should be able to lug 40 pounds. He won't push their limits, however.
"I know how uncomfortable I am in a heavy backpack," Montgomery said. "And I certainly don't want to put them through that or rub them raw from the saddle."
McClear said she has always been an animal person, and when she started her volunteer work at Mountain Flower, she expected to enjoy the goats; "falling in love" with the goats and their "silly personalities" came as a surprise.
"I really didn't understand how engaging the personalities of goats are. I think there's something very romantic about the idea of taking a hike with a beloved, or friends, and going up into these hills with these cool beasts, and having Michael prepare a great meal. I would sign up in a heartbeat."
McClear is such an enthusiast, she started a facebook site, facebook.com/caprinecapersandmore, enabling goat enthusiasts to share and enjoy one another's favorite goat pictures. It has more than 4,000 likes.
"I think goats have a real attraction for people," McClear said. "There's something about one of the world's oldest domesticated animals that when you tell people you're working with goats, there's a real interest level there. People are curious about them."
'The whole Boulder experience'
Montgomery has taught classes at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder and put in a two-year internship at the neighboring Growing Gardens; he hopes to use that garden's produce in the meals he prepares on the pack-goat dinner treks.
"To my knowledge, this isn't being done anywhere else in the state," Montgomery said.
The farm's landlords are Catherine Long and her husband, Dennis Gates. It was founded by J. D. Long in 1905 and has operated at the same address for 98 years. Catherine Long, understandably, has more appreciation than most for goats' versatility.
"People used to use goats a lot more," Long said. "You'd see pictures from the turn of the previous century, goats hooked up to carts and stuff."
It's "cool," Long said, of the farm's pack-goat plans. "People can have the whole Boulder experience. Open space and a gourmet meal, all packed in with the goats. That sounds like a winner to me."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.