goat scratching itself on tree

Lilian Sandburg Goat Dairy

Look at the menu of any trendy bistro and you’re sure to see salads or sandwiches that include goat cheese. These days it’s is all the rage, and you’ll even find it in your favorite supermarket. You might even see goat’s milk in the dairy section, but it hasn’t always been this way.

Once known as the “poor mans cow”, the goat has grown in barnyard prominence over the past 100 years. One of the earliest pioneers in raising and breading dairy goats was Lilian Sandburg. At her Connemara Dairy, she not only worked to breed a better milk goat but also labored to increase acceptance of goat’s milk among the American public.

Connemara Goat Heard Born from Humble Beginnings

Lilian Sandburg was born to immigrant parents from Luxembourg on May 1, 1883. She was raised in Michigan along with her brother Edward Steichen, who would go on to become a world famous photographer. With Edward’s encouragement, she sought out an education over the objections of her father, who wanted her to join her mothers milliner business making women’s hats.

In 1900, despite never having graduated High School and considering English her second language, she passed the exams to enter the University of Illinois. Later transferring to the University of Chicago, she graduated with a degree in philosophy, with honors in English and Latin.

Thanks to her educational background, she became indispensable to her husband Carl, who never graduated from college, helping him refine his writing style during the early years of his career. But she would later become famous in her own right thanks to her contributions to agriculture and animal husbandry.

Lilian Sandburg’s Chikaming Goat Herd

Lilian Sandburg started raising goats in 1935 when she and her family lived in Harbert, MI along the shores of Lake Michigan. Legend has it that her daughter Helga asked for a pet cow, but her husband Carl suggested that a pet goat would be far easier to care for and require less space. From that point on Lilian Sandburg was hooked and set out to learn all she could about goats and raising champions.

After a time, she began breeding goats and named her herd “Chikaming”, an Indian word meaning “by the waters”. By 1944 she had over 200 goats and realized that she needed a proper farm with good pastures in order to continue. So she and her daughter Helga went searching for a new home for her goats. That search eventually led them to Flat Rock North Carolina. When she first laid eyes on Connemara, she knew she had found her new home. So in 1945 she packed up her family and her goats and her husbands massive book collection to make the move south.

A Goat Farm in Flat Rock

While her husband spent his days writing, Sandburg busied herself setting up and managing her dairy. The 1950’s became the most productive years for her goat herd and she firmly cemented her reputation as the premier goat breeder in the nation.

Her main interest lay in breading a better goat and produced many champion milk producers. “Jennifer II”, one of her goats, set the world record for milk production in 1960. Although producing milk for sale was a secondary concern, her dairy’s milk was distributed throughout the region, as far away as Asheville and Greenville SC.

By 1961 she was recognizes as a pioneer in the increased acceptance by the American public of goat based dairy products and helped make raising goats a legitimate form of farming.

Sandburg’s Goat Herd

Her herd contained three breeds of goat. Toggenburgs, a Swiss breed, were the first goats in her heard. Known as excellent milk producers, they became the first champions she produced.

Nubians, a mixed Asian, African, and European breed, came next. Although they didn’t produce as much milk as the Toggenburgs, their milk was much higher in milk fat. Lillian Sandburg felt that the flavor of these goat’s milk would help overcome American’s reluctance to embrace goat based dairy products.

Some Saanens, another Swiss breed, were also raised at Connemara. This pure white breed was introduced after the family arrived at Flat Rock. Although they produce less milk, Lillian Sandburg loved having a few of them around.

Sandburg Goat Herd Today

The decedents of Lilian Sandburg’s goat herd live on today at the Carol Sandburg Historic Site. Follow the path to the right of the house to reach the barn and pasture. Along the way, you’ll pass some of the other buildings on the property including the Sandburg’s chicken house, the woodshed – more or less a spot for storing period farm tools, the greenhouse, and the family garden. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able enter the barnyard and visit with the Sandburg Goats.

Fast Facts About Lilian Sandburg Goat Dairy

Type:Historic Goat Herd, Barn, and Pasture
Location:1800 Little River Rd, Flat Rock, NC 28731
Phone(828) 693-4178
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Things to do at the farm: Home Tours, Special Programs, Barn Tours, Hiking, Bird Watching, Picnic Tables

Map to Lilian Sandburg Goat Dairy