Hilli Goat Farm www.facebook.com/Hillygoat/
Third generation islander Emily has turned her lifestyle block into a quietly thriving tourism venture. She was working as a flight attendant for government-owned Norfolk Air when it became apparent the carrier wouldn’t be operating for much longer. While looking for alternative employment, she happened upon a documentary on leading Australian cheese makers Carla Meurs and Ann-marie Monda from Holy Goat in Victoria. Although their lifestyle looked far from easy, Emily says she’s always up for a challenge and was immediately attracted to it.
A Churchill research grant later, and she’d embarked on her own goat journey including hands-on experience with milking and cheese-making on a mainland farm, and a stint with the Holygoaters themselves. She was ready go organic goat farming, Norfolk Island-style.
Challenge number one was pretty big – there were no goats on Norfolk Island. When Emily approached the local quarantine staff about her desire to import the animals, they uttered an expletive she’s reluctant to repeat.
But that didn’t mean support wasn’t forthcoming. In true, generous Norfolk Island-style, the staff set about making it work, and 15 months after filing the necessary paperwork with Canberra authorities, they were finally able to report back to Emily that Operation Goat was a go-er. There was only one problem: by this time, Emily was pregnant with her first child and almost ready to deliver.
Birthing on Norfolk Island isn’t an option so with just one day to go before
she had to head out to Australia to wait for baby Charlie to make his appearance, the five goats arrived care of obliging Air New Zealand. Emily immediately placed the animals under the watchful eye of her father (who had never looked after goats before), packed her bags and left. While she bonded with her new baby, the goats began to call Steve ‘Dad’, and still do.
Tourists aren’t the only ones who enjoy Norfolk Island’s balmy sub-tropical climate. Its steady year-round temperatures reaching highs of 26°C and a comfortable level of precipitation (rain conveniently falls almost always at night) makes it ideal for goats. Just as importantly, the animals are good for the island. Despite cautions from mainland farmers who doubted the success of a flock deprived of hay (a crop which doesn’t grow on Norfolk), Emily researched alternatives and came up with African olive ( Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata) as a fodder. The goats devour it as their food of choice and have thrived, but even better, the olive is a pest plant on the island so it’s a winwin situation for everyone.
Feed is supplemented with organic pellets (for the milkers), home-grown corn, hibiscus and mulberry prunings, banana leaves, vege trimmings and sweet potato vines. It all lends itself to a deliciously unique cheese which Emily makes on-site in a purpose-built facility, and sells at the island’s Saturday morning farmer’s market.
This would be success in itself but Norfolk Islanders don’t rest on their laurels. On this island, the tourist dollar is the main source of income and most farming residents have more than one string to their bow (and several jobs). Enter Emily’s next big challenge: to establish farm tours and welcome tourists to Hilli Goat Farm.
There are the cutest of animals to see and pet, fine cheeses, and an organic orchard and kitchen garden offering ingredients for the freshest of sumptuous, slow-cooked feasts, so the venture was a success waiting to happen.
To top it all off, Emily’s parents Steve and Alison are well-known Norfolk Island potters who live just a stone’s throw from Emily and partner Zach’s home, and were already opening the doors of their studio to visitors. Alison is a dab hand with a kiln and an oven, baking delicious homemade bread to accompany the lavish platters of farm fare that await visitors.
the day before her five goats arrived, Emily left to have her baby.
But amidst the bookings and gentle bustle, Emily is adamant that small and sustainable is the way she wants to grow her business.
“I was brought up with my parents working from home, and I want that for our son too. It’s important for me to be able to incorporate family life into my daily routine of cheese making, cooking and sharing with visitors.”
A quick glance round the milking shed, where Charlie’s paints and toy bike wait for his next milking-hour visit confirms this is exactly what’s happening.
“I want my cheeses to feature at local restaurants and shops and to support our farm tours. And if they become attractive to a boutique international market, I’m open to that too. But I’ll always go with the ‘small is beautiful’ approach first.”
Emily’s philosophy is understandable on an island of just over 2000 residents where almost everything eaten is seasonal and locally grown. Her extended family – Emily’s chef-brother also lives on the property – dine from the property’s orchard and garden, on eggs and meat from their chickens, and catch their own fish. Charlie (2) already knows how to harvest his dinner.
That’s why it’s with a certain degree of calm that Emily is now approaching her latest venture, the challenge of creating a wholesome skincare range which will combine her own goats’ milk with locallyproduced bee products. Goats’ milk is renowned for its healing and health-giving properties, and the concept dovetails seamlessly into her other flourishing agro-tourism based activities, and also complements several other growing-based initiatives on Norfolk Island.
Emily’s parents’ house, with the family’s thriving vegetable garden, is one of three family homes on the small holding.
The extensive organic vegetable garden at Hilli Goat Farm
supports Emily, her extended family, and the animals.
Norfolk Island’s first goat farmer, Emily Ryves.
Emily’s Hilli goats enjoy prunings from hibiscus, a shrub which thrives in the island’s sub-tropical climate.
Banana leaves are a favourite with the goats, and readily available from the family’s organic orchard.
Charlie in the mulberries.
Slow-cooked feasts are the way to eat when
you visit The Hilli Goat Farm.