The Gravenstein Apples Are Here

Gravenstein apples on the tree at Redwood Hill Farm

As I was walking down our farm’s “Apple Blossom Lane” to the goat barns recently, I noticed the telltale signs that our Gravenstein apple trees have fruit that is becoming ripe. For me this means it’s time to bake an apple pie!

Sebastopol’s Celebrated History With The Gravenstein Apple

Sebastopol is well known for Gravenstein apple trees. In 1820 the first west coast Gravenstein apple orchard was planted by Russian fur traders at their outpost in Fort Ross, according to a history page at the website of the last apple processing plant in Sebastopol, Manzana. Those first trees did well in the cool coastal weather. Soon orchards began cropping up in towns nearby with a large concentration of orchards planted and thriving in Sebastopol. Gravenstein apples gained worldwide recognition for their superior tart flavor and as they are a crisp and juicy apple. The Gravensteins are one of the first apple varieties to ripen in late July and early August. They do not hold their crisp texture in cold storage so must be eaten fresh, or used for juice, sauce, or baking to enjoy their superior flavor which is enhanced in the cooking process.

Situated in western Sonoma County which has beautiful and well-draining “Goldridge” soil, our farm is abundant with many varieties of fruit trees as well as hops and an olive grove. We utilize the composted manure from our goat barns to fertilize the orchards and gardens. During the winter months, our seasonal rains cause the compost to break down further to provide nutrients that make their way into the soil.

Redwood Hill Farm Has Cultivated Gravensteins For Over 50 Years

And though we have a variety of trees in our orchards, the apple trees have a special place in our hearts. You see, our original farm located just a few miles from here was situated in an old Gravenstein apple orchard. As children, we would collect the “drops” (apples that had fallen from the trees as Gravensteins are self-thinning) for fresh eating. When the trees were ready to pick we all took our turn, filling up bags and boxes of the light green colored, red-striped fruit.

It was then time to sit at our large dining table and help Mom make applesauce and pies. We chopped, peeled, and sliced for what seemed like an eternity to fill large pots of apples. On those canning days I remember Mom putting up quarts and quarts of applesauce! In addition, she froze apple pies to hold for the months when we would crave that taste of summer in a warm slice of apple pie.

The Perfect Baking Apple

In celebration of the Gravensteins ripening, here are two of my favorite apple recipes. Tried and true, these recipes will be perfectly made with Gravensteins. Find Gravenstein apples at many local Sonoma County markets, farmer’s markets, Andy’s Produce, and at Hale’s Apple Farm in Sebastopol on Gravenstein Hwy 116, north of town. But don’t wait, they won’t be here for long! If you cannot get Gravensteins, substitute with a tart baking apple such as Granny Smith or Jonathans.

For all things Gravenstein, attend the Gravenstein Apple Fair, “the sweetest fair in Sonoma County” on Saturday and Sunday, August 13 & 14, 2022 at Ragle Ranch Park in Sebastopol. Put on as a fundraiser for Sonoma County Farm Trails, go to for more information, activities, and tickets.

Hurry Up Apple Pie

This is an easy, delicious recipe courtesy of my mother’s cousin Diane Knetchli.

  1. Fill pie pan 2/3 full of peeled, sliced apples. Sprinkle with 1 TBSP of brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon.
  2. In a small bowl combine ¾ cup of melted butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 egg, ¼ to ½ cup of chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) and a pinch of salt. Pour over the apples.
  3. Bake at 350º for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Slice in wedges and serve.

Crunchy Apple Crisp

This is a vintage recipe that still holds up! It was first published in Better Homes and Gardens, in 1978.

4 cups sliced peeled Gravenstein apples
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup quick cooking rolled oats
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. finely shredded orange peel
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ cup unsalted butter

  1.  Mound apples in an 8-inch round baking dish; sprinkle with orange juice.
  2.  Mix oats, flour, sugars, peel, and spices. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over apples.
  3.  Bake in 375º oven 45 minutes. Serve warm with your favorite topping. (I love vanilla ice cream!) Makes 6 servings.

Raise a Glass, Hop Harvest Has Begun

Hop bines reaching skyward

The Dog Days Of Summer Have Reached Capracopia~Redwood Hill Farm.

In August as the heat index rises, our goats lazily lounge in shade under trees. The fruit of the olive begins to swell, and the flower field reaches its zenith. All while the hop bines tower into the blue sky on their trellis. Swaying happily in the warm west winds, their yellowing cones release aromatics that wet hops craft beer enthusiasts relish in their hazy dreams.

The First Harvest Of The Season Is In

Closeup of mature Cascade hop cones

Our 2nd year Cascade varietal was the first hops of 2020 to be ready. We cut down the hop bines at 8:30 in the morning and loaded into the trailer staged in the hopyard. By 9 AM, the twenty feet bines made their way over to the Wolf harvesting machine waiting to pluck the fragrant cones from the plants. Within half an hour, we had the hops harvested and ready to go into Crooked Goat Brewing, right here in our hometown of Sebastopol. The hops made their way from a goat farm with a hopyard, to a brewery with a goat mascot for their 4th consecutive year. Take a look into the process of our hop harvest with this VIDEO.

Fresh vs Dry, Taste The Difference

Fresh hops in the tank during the brewing process.

Like the hops for Crooked Goat, we sell hops fresh or “wet”. That means the day they are harvested, they are added into the beer. This gives the brewers a rare, seasonal chance to use fresh, local hops. Usually, brewers use dried hops from the Pacific Northwest—where most of the hops grow in the United States. The ability to use wet hops can be compared to a chef using a fresh herb such as basil if they are accustomed to only using dried basil. You can taste the freshness in wet hop beers.

We grow hops at Capracopia organically with no sprays or chemical fertilizers given. We feed the soil with our farm-made compost which in turn feeds the hops with all the nutrients and minerals they need to produce lupulin rich, beautiful hop cones.

Sonoma County’s Rich History With Hop Production

Early in the 20th century, Sonoma County was a mecca for hop production in California, producing half the state’s crop. Several factors led to Hopyards exiting Sonoma County’s agricultural scene and being replaced with apple orchards and vineyards. Thanks to a burgeoning craft beer scene in Sonoma County, hopyards are popping back up in Sonoma County on a boutique scale. At Capracopia, we are proud to supply 8-9 of these craft breweries with the finest possible local hops picked at their peak.

It’s Time For Wet Hop Beers At Your Local Brewpub

Glass of fresh hop beer alongside a hop cone.

In September, when you hop down to your favorite brewery, order a wet hop beer. Not only will you be supporting a local small business in the brewery, but you will also be supporting a local small farm. Wet hop beers are a seasonal delight, usually only seen on tap in September and October, so enjoy them while you can! If you happen to be in Sonoma County, you can taste the terroir of our beautiful land in each delicious sip. Cheers!

Olive Harvesting: A Thanksgiving Family Tradition

bottles of the 2017 Capracopia Olio Nuovo from the olive harvestOnce again we’ve pressed beautiful, delicious extra virgin olive oil from last fall’s harvest of our Tuscan variety olive grove. Each time I enjoy it over fresh greens or just enjoy by dipping with homemade bread, I’m reminded of that harvest weekend. We had lots of family help, again, and help from a new harvest aid. Here are some details and photos…

our 2017 olive harvest family picture2017 was our 4th full harvest and picking went about as usual compared to the past few seasons. We were lucky to have our dad and co-founder of the farm Ken Bice, here on harvest weekend. Cristi’s mom, Gloria was also here from the beautiful Garden Isle, Kauai, Hawaii. I could not pass up the opportunity to capture images of three generations of the Bice family working together on the farm!

October was warmer than normal here in Sonoma County, which made the olive fruit change to purple earlier than previous years. We actually harvested twice, with the main harvest at the end of October being the earliest we have had since the grove began producing over 5 years ago.

Buckets of olives awaiting the press during our olive harvestWe finished picking again just after Thanksgiving, and the harvest was completed. The second harvest consisted mainly of our Frantaio variety olives as they do traditionally ripen a bit later than the other Tuscan varieties we grow for our Capracopia Tuscan Varietal Oil.

This year we used our “olive catching hammock” for the first time, which Scott said helped in our hand picking system.

The Bice family working together to bring in the olive harvestWe began by raking the olives off the tree with our hands and letting them fall onto the canvas of the hammock.

Next, at certain points we pulled up the small velcro cover in the center to let the olives fall into the bucket—simple and efficient.

Mother and son working together during the olive harvest at Redwood Hill FarmWe could not have asked for a more gorgeous late fall day for the second harvest, the sun warming our fingers as we worked together picking and sorting over the new hammock and filling bucket after bucket.

After delivering the harvest to local Sebastopol olive press, Olive Leaf Hills, we were returned seven gallons of olive oil from the first picking and two additional gallons from the second. Overall this yield was down slightly compared to 2016, but we know that with farming, no two years are ever the same.

It was nice having the early harvest for the Olio-Nuovo it produced, and available just in time for our final farm tours of the season! The fresh olive oil was green, with grassy, pungent notes resulting in a special Extra Virgin oil high in polyphenols. We’ve found the Olio Nuovo excellent as a dipping oil paired with rustic, artisan breads as well as splashed liberally on fresh greens and finished with balsamic vinegar.

You can purchase Capracopia Olive Oil on the farm during our upcoming tour season, click here for the more information and this seasons tour dates. We also have a limited amount of oil from the harvest to ship. If you would like a bottle or two for your pantry or a friend’s, simply send us an email and we will contact you with details and shipping arrangements.

Redwood Hill Farm baby goat kids snuggling together

Our Farm Harvest and Gifts From The Land of Milk & Honey


Thanks to all of you who came to say hello and spend time with us in 2017.

The Redwood Hill Farm harvest is complete and with the colder, shorter days of fall and winter, we look forward to more time in front of the hearth as we browse seed catalogs, plan the spring garden as well as the goat shows we’ll be traveling to next season.

With that planning will be the dates for our spring farm tours and workshops, so please stay tuned! Check back at our website tour page  or join our Farm Community Newsletter and you’ll be the first to have our spring schedule for tours and all the events planned for spring. It’s going to be a special year for us as we’ll be celebrating Redwood Hill Farm’s 50th Anniversary—plan to celebrate with us!

Gifts From The Land of Milk & Honey

Direct from our Sonoma County farm: artisan olive oil, orchard blossom honey and creamy, nourishing goat milk soap are now available for gift-giving (or just for you)!

TO ORDER: Send us an email at with the items you’d like and the shipping address, including zip code. Please include your phone number as well in case we have questions about your order. We will reply to you and confirm the shipping cost and date your gift pack will ship.

 four bottles of our extra virgin olive oil Capracopia Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Enjoy the fruits of our labor in this fragrant extra virgin olive oil. Our olives are hand-picked by family and friends, insuring that the carefully selected fruit is of optimum quality when it arrives at the mill. Rich and complex, with complementary fruity and peppery notes, it is delicious.
250 ml bottle   $16 plus shipping

Capracopia Extra Virgin Olio Nuovo

In central Italy, Olio Nuovo is highly prized and ends up on restaurant tables to accompany almost every imaginable dish! This special oil was our first press of the 2017 season and is green with a grassy and piquant taste. High in antioxidant polyphenols. Enjoy in the traditional method on crusty, toasted artisan bread. Also excellent for dressing greens or drizzling on warm steamed vegetables with a squeeze of lemon.
250 ml bottle   $18 plus shipping

Capracopia Orchard Blossom Honey

We have a few jars left from our summer honey collecting. This honey has the unique characteristics of our abundant fields: lavender, rose, wildflowers, and fruit tree blossoms. Our honey was a very popular item with farm tour visitors this year.
9 oz jar   $14 plus shipping

Capracopia Goat Milk Soap

Hand crafted by a local Sebastopol soap maker, Capracopia Goat Milk Soap is creamy and nourishing to the skin. It is made with Redwood Hill Farm’s fresh goat milk, estate grown olive oil, farm collected honey and other quality ingredients. Pamper yourself!
6 oz bar   $6 plus shipping

Happy Holidays to you and yours and
thank you for supporting Redwood Hill Farm!


10 Fun Facts About Goat Kids

There are two kinds of kids at Redwood Hill FarmHow much do you know about goat kids?

At Redwood Hill Farm we’ve been raising dairy goat kids since the mid 1960’s, and over the years have learned much about these intelligent, cute and cuddly young animals. Here’s our ‘top ten’ of fun facts about goat kids.

Humans and goats have enjoyed a close relationship for thousands of years. Nicole Bice, pictured left, and her brother Colton, below, are the next generation of human kids growing up with goat kids on our Certified Humane® farm—kids playing with kids, living and learning together on the farm.

Colton playing with baby goat kids

#1  For centuries, the young of a goat have been called kids. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the word kid was extended to children.

Quadruplet Alpine goat kids

#2  Kids most commonly arrive as twins. Sometimes just a single, but often triplets are born. Quadruplets, like the four Alpine cuties above, occur occasionally, and a few times we’ve had quintuplets!

Mother doe and newborn kid

#3  Goat kids learn to stand within minutes of being born.

Baby goats are very nimble and adventurous

#4  Kids begin climbing and jumping off tree stumps and bales of hay when they’re just a week old. At two weeks old, kids are fearlessly agile, running and leaping for fun.

Goat kids like to cuddle together when sleeping

#5  Like human kids, goat kids like to snuggle. The “kid pile” is a common sight in the barn nursery, as they curl up with with each other for companionship and warmth.

Redwood Hill Farm caregiver with a favorite baby kid

#6  When bottle-raised, kids will bond with their caregivers. Our employees at Redwood Hill Farm, like Mike above, cherish that bonding time.

A Nubian kid "bleating"

#7  The vocal sound a goat makes is called a bleat. Mother and kid goats recognize each other’s calls soon after the mothers give birth. Goat kids also bleat when they’re excited to see their caregivers at feeding time.

Kids browsing at Redwood Hill Farm

#8  Some goat kids are born with “wattles”, the fleshy, dangly things on their neck. Wattles are sometimes called “bells” or “skin tags”.  They serve no purpose and are believed to be a genetic trait left over from evolution.

Redwood Hill Farm Saanen kids

#9  Kids use their lips to learn about the world around them. Intelligent and curious, they love nibbling (not eating!) just about anything around them.

LaMancha goat kids at Redwood Hill Farm

#10  Siblings know each other. At Redwood Hill Farm a twin who returned to the farm after being gone for nearly two years, quickly found her twin sister, and the two are best friends in the barn— browsing and resting together every day. Pictured here are LaMancha triplet kids—who naturally have distinctive and very short ears.


What Makes an Award-Winning Dairy Goat?

We’ve come to the end of another successful goat show season at Redwood Hill Farm, with championship wins at the California State Fair, the Sonoma County Fair, and others under our belt. Have you ever wondered what it takes to raise an award-winning dairy goat? Here, we’ll take you on a visual tour of our herd, and explore some of the qualities that make our goats champions.

Since the beginning, the goal of Redwood Hill Farm’s dairy goat breeding program has been to achieve “the winning combination of milkability and showability,” a term coined by the late Steven Schack, who started Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery with Jennifer Bice in 1978. Jennifer’s passion for dairy goats began at a young age, when she and her nine younger siblings raised dairy goats as 4-H projects on their parents’ small farm in Sebastopol, CA. For Jennifer and the other Bice children, attachment to these smart and personable animals came naturally.

Redwood HIll Farm owner Jennifer Bice with Nubian doe Dakota

Founder of Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, Jennifer Bice, with her Grand Champion Nubian dairy goat, “Dakota”

While expanding Redwood Hill Farm’s line of goat milk products and growing their business, Jennifer and Steven’s herd continued to evolve and improve. Together, they won their first Premier Breeder of Show award at the ADGA (American Dairy Goat Association) National Show in 1982; then again in 1984 and 1986. Sadly, Steven passed away in 1999. Jennifer kept his herd name—“Compañeros”—to honor his memory and love for the Saanen breed. His Compañeros herd of Saanens continues to impact the dairy goat world to this day, and Redwood Hill Farm has been awarded National Champion multiple times in the Saanen, Alpine and Nubian breeds.

So, what makes a winning dairy goat? When judging, the ADGA licensed judge is required to evaluate the dairy goat based on four major categories: General Appearance, Dairy Strength, Body Capacity, and Mammary System. This is not a beauty contest; the scorecard, which consists of 100 points total, is based on traits that will ensure a long and productive life.

1. General Appearance is the structure of the dairy goat: including head, back, shoulders, feet and legs. Overall, the judge looks for an attractive framework. A Lamancha doe,“Kastdemur’s Evian” in the photo below, is a good example of a doe with fine general appearance.
Winning Lamanch doe Kastdemur’s Evian

2. Dairy Strength covers attributes that indicate good milk production, such as angularity and openness of the rib and flatness of bone. “Amicale” in the photo below excels in dairy strength, and has been awarded National Champion Alpine.

“Amicale” pictured at the ADGA National Show was awarded National Champion Alpine in 2007.

3. Body Capacity correlates the width and depth of the body, ensuring ample capacity, strength and vigor. “Vineyard View Foxy Traveler” below is a Saanen with great body capacity.

Vineyard View Foxy Traveler” is a Saanen dairy goat with great body capacity and strength.

4. The Mammary System category evaluates areas of the udder that will be important for a long, productive life. Although capacity in the mammary is significant, teat size, teat placement, udder shape and attachment are also very important. “Redwood Hills Rainbow,” our Alpine shown below, has an excellent overall mammary system.

Redwood Hills Rainbow, an alpine doe with an excellent overall mammary system.

We’re continually improving our herd at Redwood Hill Farm. Jennifer is still actively involved in the breeding program and handling goats at shows. Her lifetime with goats began in 4-H, and she’s been a licensed ADGA judge for 42 years. She still likes to call our farm “a 4-H project that went out of control.” Her brother Scott Bice, Farm Manager at Redwood Hill Farm, is also a licensed dairy goat judge and keeps his own herd of “Vineyard View” dairy goats within our herd at Redwood Hill Farm. Scott and the farm crew are busy all year long at our Certified Humane Raised & Handled® farm, keeping the herd healthy and in tip-top shape for goat show season.
Of course, good breeding is just the beginning. When goats are happy, healthy and well-bred, you can really taste the difference; the best dairy always comes from the freshest, cleanest milk. Redwood Hill Farm’s yogurt, kefir and cheese are minimally processed, with a mild and uniquely delicious flavor. Our products have received top prizes from the American Cheese Society, the American Dairy Goat Association, and the California State Fair, to name a few. From award-winning dairy goats come award-winning products. A winning combination.

A Brief History of the Saanen Dairy Goat from Switzerland

A saanen dairy goat at Redwood Hill Farm Capracopia that exemplifys fine breed type—a nod to the history of the Saanen dairy goat.
Not all goat milk is the same – there are variations in volume, components, water content and butterfat depending on the time of year and on the type of goat breed. Of all breeds, Alpine and Saanen dairy goats are the top producers by volume. Milk from the Nubian dairy goat breed on the other hand, tends to be a bit higher in butterfat. To make our yogurt, kefir and cheeses consistent and delicious in flavor, we combine goat milk from Redwood Hill Farm and seven other family farms, sourcing milk from La Mancha, Nubian, Alpine, Oberhasli, and Saanen goats.

Since the first of the year, we have a newfound and great connection to Switzerland, as Jennifer Bice decided to sell Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery to the Swiss dairy company Emmi. We therefore thought this would be an excellent time to take a closer look into the Swiss Saanen dairy goat breed (Saa·nen): from its origin in the Saanen Valley of Switzerland to its widespread popularity around the world. In the process, we found the story coming full circle: The heritage of one beautiful Saanen doe named Jaizy, dating back to the time when Redwood Hill Farm Grade A Goat Dairy was first founded in the 1970s, still lives on in its descendants in the “J” line at the farm today. Enjoy this read on the history of the Saanen dairy goat.

The Saanen Goat

A rare black and white photograph illustrating the history of the Saanen dairy goat in Switzerland

Swiss farmers with their Saanen goats and cheesemaking equipment headed to the high mountain pastures for the summer.

Switzerland is widely considered the cradle of modern goat breeding. Especially the Saanen and Toggenburger goats (in our country called Toggenburg) are world-renowned. Since the beginning of the 20th century, more than 50,000 dairy goats have been exported from Switzerland to countries all over the world.
Of the different breeds, the Saanen dairy goat is the most widely distributed dairy goat in the world and is valued for its abundant milk production, hardiness, and calm, sweet nature. Pure white in color, Saanens are also one of the largest breeds of dairy goats. Due to their high milk production they are often dubbed the “Holsteins” of the dairy goat world.

Saanens Come To America

The history of Saanen goats begins in the Saanen Valley, located in the Canton of Bern in the southwest of Switzerland, where the breed was developed. Saanens first came to North America in 1904 when approximately 160 goats arrived by way of Canada over a period of about 18 years.

The annual appraisal of a large herd of goats—an important part of the history of the Saanen dairy goat in Switzerland

Swiss Saanen dairy goats are appraised annually after returning to the valley for the winter from their summer feeding pastures.

Only a small percentage of those first arrivals were of a quality that would go on to benefit the breed as we know it today. This included strong feet and pasterns and well-supported udders. Descendants of the few exceptional individuals formed the nucleus of our present-day Saanens in the U.S., some of which made their way to California and the East Coast.

The Saanen Story at Redwood Hill

Redwood Hill Farm first began to breed Saanens in 1970. Much of the early success of Redwood Hill Farm’s young breeding program was credited to a small handful of Saanens, including a pretty Saanen doe named GCH Redwood Hills Jaizy 3*M. The genetics of that special Saanen doe Jaizy produced outstanding kids.

Matriarch of the Saanen “J” line: Redwood Hills Jaizy

Over the next four decades at Redwood Hill Farm, Jaizy’s offspring would go on, year after year, to be great examples of the breed in areas of butterfat components, milk quality and general appearance or “type”—including many permanent champions and two American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) Reserve National Champions.

The “J” Line

Jaizy’s granddaughter, from Juliette: Companeros Jaison Jasmine 6*M

With a naming system that includes matching the first letter in the name of a kid with their mother, Jaizy’s line of offspring became known at Redwood Hill Farm as the “J” line. Exceptional individuals included champions Reason Jezebel, Jaison Jasmine, Katsuo Jordan, Clinton Jewel and Foxy Jem.

American Dairy Goat Association Reserve National Champion, SGCH Companeros Clinton Jewel 9*M

Jem’s two year-old daughter, up-and-coming Companeros Jack Jezebel 11*M

Redwood Hill Farm’s Founder Jennifer Bice with SGCH Companeros Foxy Jem 10*M.

At Redwood Hill Farm, Saanens hold a very special place in our hearts. These gentle giants have contributed to our farm and creamery’s history and success in so many ways, not the least of which is the joy of working daily with such sweet and lovely dairy goats.
For anyone interested in seeing the full names, pedigree and production information for Jaizy and her “J” line of offspring, click here ( .


Honoring Redwood Hills Zimba

Honoring Redwood Hills Zimba with this picture of her in her twilight years

Our Zimba passed away at the old goat age of 12 years with friends, herdmates, and sister Zoe by her side. One of our very special Alpine does, we are using this blog post for honoring Redwood Hills Zimba. Born in the Spring of 2002 in a kidding that produced twin does, Zimba (SG Redwood Hills Ransom Zimba) is the daughter of the sweet doe Grand Champion Redwood Hills Samurai Zariba and her sire, the wild and reckless buck Willow Run Atlas Ransom.Honoring Redwood Hills Zimba, our "Cover girl" for many a reporters camera.

Zimba claimed the loving personality of her mother, and was often found standing at the entrance gate to the barn awaiting workers and visitors alike in hopes for a scratch or pet.  One day, Sharon Bice came to the gate where Zimba was waiting, and the now famous photo of our cover girl goat was shot (image above). With that photo Zimba quickly became the face of Redwood Hill Farm’s show herd and her portrait graced postcards, magazine pages, and was even painted on a United Natural Foods Inc. semi truck trailer that would deliver the Redwood Hill Farm award-winning dairy goat products to stores.

Zimba embraced her fame, and her picture made a cameo appearance along with actress Jennifer Lopez and Alex O’Loughlin in the 2010 film “The Back-up Plan” where Alex portrayed a goat farmer and cheese maker. A poster of Zimba appeared in a scene from the shop as well as various Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery goat cheeses (image below). While the film didn’t get great reviews, our herd gives it two hooves up! Zimba was capacious in her mammary system and her talents, writing blog posts for the Bleat Beat Blog on our website.Zimba made her acting debut in the Jennifer Lopez film Backup Plan, pictured here is a still from the film with a picture of Zimba in the cheese shop.

Zimba never let fame effect her work ethic and always performed as one of the best milkers in the dairy.  She had two lactations that exceeded over 3,500 lbs in the standard 10-month period in which lactations are measured.

A picture of Zimba resting in the sun at Redwood Hill Farm.

While working hard in the milking parlor, Zimba’s litter mate sister Z0e was hard at work in the show ring, earning her Grand Championship status at a young age.  Although they had different claims to fame, these 2 sisters were inseparable on the farm, always entering the milk parlor together and sleeping nuzzled to each other in the barn.A picture of Zimba's sister Zoe.

Zimba is survived by her sister Z00Loo, as well as kids, grand kids and great grand kids in our herd and herds throughout the nation. Zimba’s last summer was spent with pride as her daughter Zoo Loo was named the Senior Reserve National Champion at the American Dairy Goat Association’s National Show in Redmond Oregon.

Flowers for the service were happily eaten by Zimba’s herd mates.


California Drought and Redwood Hill Farm — Part 2: Conserving Water

Orchard tree at Redwood Hill Farm

At Redwood Hill Farm, we’ve been farming gardens and orchards just as long as dairy farming—nearly 50 years.

It is typical in Sonoma County to experience an extended dry period, or drought, each summer without rainfall for many months. We are therefore accustomed to using water wisely and have implemented different water conservation systems which include composting, drip irrigation, reclaiming and reusing water, and dry farming. The severe drought conditions of the last four years have challenged us to perfect these techniques as we make the most of the water we have, now more than ever.

Compost pile in the apple orchard

One of the most effective water conservation programs we have in place at our Sonoma County farm near Sebastopol is composting. Composting enables us to use less water while enhancing the cultivation of some of our goat feed, growing our own food, and enriching our farmland overall.  Composting is a natural process that turns vegetable matter or manure into a dark rich substance compost or humus.

Tractor moving compost at Redwood Hill Farm

We lovingly call our compost “black gold”: Straw and goat manure are gleaned from our loafing barns and are composted over time in large piles and then spread throughout our gardens, apple and olive orchards. Composting conserves water as it decreases evaporation of moisture from the soil and enables the soil to hold more water in. In addition, it reduces water runoff and topsoil erosion during the rainy season.

A layer of compost covers the olive orchardAs rainwater is caught and filtered through the straw down into the soil, orchards and gardens are fed with the nutrients from the rotting compost. Over the winter and into the next spring, the straw and manure compost continues to break down. The bottom layers, with the help of worms and other composting insects, turn the compost slowly into rich, loamy topsoil.

Farm berries love compost

Our Olalee blackberries, raspberries and blueberry shrubs, all benefit from a deep bed of compost.

Up to 70% of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day if there is no mulch as a protective layer on top.

In addition to mulching our food and flower garden boxes at the farm, we use drip irrigation systems throughout the farm for our young, olive orchard as well as for the raised garden beds, blueberry shrubs and other berries that we grow for food each year. Drip irrigation, also known as “trickle irrigation” is a simple, but very effective system that consists of a network of tubes and emitters to focus the water close to the plants and young trees. This allows the water to drip slowly in those areas. Compared to traditional, overhead watering this method is very efficient in reducing evaporation and delivering only the necessary amount of water directly to the base of the plant, just where it is needed.

Farm Manager Scott Bice washing-up dairy walkways by reusing water from the reclaim storage tank.

In the dairy milking parlor we continue our water conservation efforts by reclaiming and reusing water from our equipment’s automatic wash cycle. After the wash cycle, the water is directed to a holding tank where any sediment settles. The grey water from that tank is siphoned, pumped and then used to wash the floors of the dairy barn each day.

Sonoma County has long been known for the delicious Gravenstein apple’s commercial production and growing apples has been a tradition from Redwood Hill Farm’s very beginning, almost five decades ago. We have over 15 different apple varieties in our abundant orchard, which is entirely dry farmed. Dry farming is a system of growing crops in low water or arid regions and means that no water or artificial irrigation are used on the trees except for the water they receive with the winter and spring rains. While the fruit size is typically smaller than an irrigated orchard, the yields are very good.

Healthy topsoil is critical to sustainable dry farming, and preserving the soil is considered an important long-term goal of our orchard’s dry farmed operation. We use no- or reduced tilling, and straw compost spreading throughout to protect and replenish the orchard’s valuable topsoil. Our free-range chickens as well as the rabbits, deer, turkeys and other wildlife that live in and around the farm appreciate our efforts as they enjoy the abundance of the land.
As we continue to harvest our apples and notice the leaves that begin to turn to their bright fall colors, we’re hopefully optimistic for more rainfall this winter. Meteorologists are predicting with a high certainty that an “El Niño” weather pattern is developing. This means winter and spring rainfall for the West Coast – and hopefully lots of it to soak the fields and gardens on our farm once again.





The California Drought: we’re adapting by growing Tagasaste

Part 1:  Growing Our Own Drought Resilient Goat Feed – Tagasaste

Conserving precious water is on our minds as we are facing another year of severe drought in California. We’re resilient folks, and are constantly looking at ways in which we can do our part at the Farm as well as at the creamery. Redwood Hill Farm Manager Scott Bice’s most recent water-saving project on the farm is one we’re very excited about. We are now growing some of our goat’s feed, a drought-tolerant, leafy shrub called Tagasaste, right on the farm – and the goats love to eat it.

Measuring growth of the Tagasaste goat feed

Farm Manager Scott Bice recording plant growth before cutting.

Chamaecytisus palmensis, “Tagasaste”, is a small-spreading evergreen tree that can grow 9-12 feet high. A native plant of the Canary Islands, Tagasaste is grown and used widely for animal feed in New Zealand as well as in Australia and other parts of the world. (Cytisus proliferus is another varietal, and it is also commonly known as Tree Lucerne)

Tagasaste is also a well known “fertilizer tree”. Fertilizer trees are used in agroforestry and permaculture designs to improve the condition of soils on farmland. As a member of the legume family, it is a nitrogen fixer: it captures nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil through the roots and falling leaves. The trees can also bring nutrients from deeper in the soil up to the surface for other crops with roots that can’t reach that depth. (Source: New Zealand Tree Crops Association · NZTCA )

We harvest the Tagasaste when about 4 ft.

To harvest, we cut the shrubby trees to about 4 ft. and allow to re-grow.

At Redwood Hill Farm, we’ve started with half an acre trial in an open area of our apple orchard. The trees love the loamy soil, have proved to use little water once established, and are adapting well.

Load of Tagasaste ready for the goats

Our Kawasaki Mule loaded with Tagasaste. Next stop: the goats!

Besides a green feed crop for animals, Tagasaste provides shade and shelter, controls erosion, and serves as habitat for birds, some of which eat and control pests.

There are multiple reasons we decided to plant Tagasaste trees on our farm:

  • They are perennial shrubs that need very little water and that, once sheared, re-grow and produce more forage on less acreage than traditional goat feed like alfalfa and grass hay. In our northern California climate, growth slows during the shorter and colder days.  It is evergreen, but we harvest just 7-8 months of the year.
  • High in protein, Tagasaste is nutrient-dense—an important factor for our goat’s diet.
  • With Tagasaste we can eliminate a portion of the alfalfa and other hays that are otherwise trucked in for the goats. Because of the drought, feed prices are ever rising – this doesn’t only reduce our carbon footprint, but is a good business decision as well.
  • Tagasaste blooms are high in pollen and nectar for our bees at a time when other sources are scarce; flowering occurs from Winter to very early Spring.

And the final reason we’re excited about Tagasaste? Our goats love it!