Sustainability Profile: Hawaii Island Goat Dairy

When you think of the Big Island of Hawaii, I bet that goat cheese is the last thing you'd expect to buy fresh from the islands. However, thanks to Dick Threlfall and his late wife Heather, a small farmstead of goats churns out over 12 kinds of goat milk cheeses including feta, mozzarella, gouda, Colby and much more. As part of a weeklong tour of Hawaii farms, our next stop was Hawaii Island Goat Dairy to learn about dairy goat farming.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Hawaii Island Goat Dairy by the Numbers

  • 2001 - The year Hawaii Island Goat Dairy was established.
  • 10 - The farm encompasses 10-acres of land.
  • 60 female goats are milked daily.
  • 12 Types of goat cheese produced.
  • 20 male goats on the farm.

The goat farm herd consists of several dairy goat breeds including Saanens, Toggenburgs, and Nubians. Many goats are bred as half Saanen and half Nubian, or "snubian." Pasture lands on the farm include not only grass but also tropical trees such as bamboo, tea leaf, ginger leaf, and macadamia nut trees. The herd of goats graze here frequently.

Hawaii Island Goat Dairy only has four bucks on the premises. But for the sake of increasing production without increasing the adult goats they have to care for, the farm staff uses artificial insemination to produce baby goats. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the sperm of mating bucks to facilitate goat reproduction. After they're born, baby goats are raised indoors and fed by hand by staff and volunteers.

 Dick Threfall (second from the right) and his family.

Dick Threfall (second from the right) and his family.

Goat Cheese Production

The goat dairy has a fully automated pipeline milking system on site. Made to exclusively cater to goats, the system can milk as many as 60 goats twice a day. The pipeline feeds the goat milk to the cheese room where it is pasteurized and made into two kinds of cheese: natural feta cheese and flavored cheeses. Some of the latter variety include goat cheese flavored with dill, garlic, macadamia basil pesto, or chipotle pepper. After the cheeses are produced, they are stored in a refrigerated cheese room where they are aged. Altogether, the farm produces 200-300 pounds of cheese a week. The products are sent to Hawaii’s top chefs and a few selected local supermarkets. Hawaii Island Goat Dairy cheese products are only sold in local Hawaii markets; no sales are available on the farm or online.

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Hawaii Island Goat Dairy and Sustainability

To do its part and involve the community, the goat dairy offers an on-site volunteer internship program that offers room and board in exchange for work on the dairy. Dick Treyfall also shares his thoughts on Hawaii becoming a more agriculturally sustainable state: “It’s a lot of work, but in the long run it’s worth it because there may come a time where we have to be sustainable. We’ll run out of food, but we have the ability to produce all of the food we ever need here. The sustainability move is tremendous now; it’s picking up and getting better all of the time. Happy healthy goats give good milk which makes great cheese.”