There was a time when Alyssia Coates was in such a dark place, she didn't know if she had a future.
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Alyssia Coates wants others to benefit from her experience.(ABC Rural: Lachlan Bennett)

“I actually couldn’t see past the next hour or next day to the point where I’d given up,” Ms Coates said.

The dairy farmer says she fell into the debilitating mental state after a traumatic incident.

Ms Coates said she struggled to pull herself out using the “very limited services” and traditional “four-walls treatment” available in her home of Smithton in Tasmania’s remote north–west.

So her husband, John, tried something unconventional.

“My husband actually bought me four milking goats to get me focused on something and actually get me out of bed when I was at my lowest,” Ms Coates said.

“And if that’s all I could do every day, that’s all I did.”

That tiny flock would save Ms Coates’ life.

Hangar turned into goat dairy

It’s been 18 months since those dark days, and Ms Coates is now an exuberant entrepreneur looking forward to a bright future.

Her four-goat-flock has expanded to more than 70 and the “very serious dark thoughts” replaced by plans to build a multifaceted dairy business called the Grumpy Goat Co.

Initially, she just made a little goat milk soap to cover the cost of feed, but now she has plans to supply milk to a local cheesemaker, sell whey to a Kingston gin distillery and provide meat to a Melbourne restaurant.

“Some other products that are in the pipeline are ice cream and fudge,” she said.

To make the dream a reality, the Coates have leased land at the privately owned Smithton airport.

They will set up a 24 rapid release goat dairy in an old hangar and transform the old passenger terminal into a café.

Goats are already living at the airport and grazing on the large fields alongside the runways.

“It still remains an operational airport but what we’re able to do is multipurpose the facility,” Ms Coates said.

“There are 60 acres [24.3 hectares] of grass here that potentially becomes a fire hazard and is hard for the local aeroclub to maintain, which we’re now able to assist with.”

Mr Coates never expected he would be helping build a dairy when he bought his wife those goats 18 months ago.

“Alyssa doesn’t do things in halves, so we quite often start small and end up very large,” he said.

“But I think it’s a really cool vision and I think it will work really well,” he said.

Helping others through dark times

Once the goat dairy can stand on its own feet, Ms Coates wants to help others get through their mental health journey.

The plan is to establish a “care farm” where people grappling with mental health can do exactly what she did: find “meaningful purpose” by caring for animals.

“A lot of people suffering mental health or at-risk youth don’t have the capacity to go into a full-time job but they have the capacity to maybe work for an afternoon,” Ms Coates said.

“Those sorts of things just give that meaningful purpose.

“Hopefully they grow from one afternoon, to two days, to then integrated back into full-time work.”

Ms Coates wants to work with local schools to run programs for at-risk youth and organisations like Rural Health Tasmania.

“But we’re still in the early stages,” she said.

Mr Coates hoped the enterprise would have a positive impact on others going through tough times.

“Seeing my wife on the bad side of things is not good for a husband or a family,” he said.

“So if we can provide some assistance to help people out, it will be super cool.”

Don’t give up

Ms Coates is enthusiastic about all she plans to achieve over the next few years, but recognises that opening a goat dairy at an airport is a bizarre idea.

“Most people have laughed at me, and I think I’m labelled locally as the crazy goat lady,” she said.

“But that’s okay. I’m cool with that.”

And Ms Coates is proud of what she has achieved already in the 18 months since those darkest days.

“To be here is a real achievement I feel for not only myself but my family. And the support they’ve been able to show and entrust that we’re on this wild ride and let’s just give it everything we’ve got,” she said.

“So I think hopefully it will be able to empower others who are maybe in those dark places that you don’t have to give up.

“There may be another option out there.”

If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Headspace on 1800 650 890
ReachOut at au.reachout.com
Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774

97 Milk’s slogans supporting whole milk are appearing ever farther afield from the group’s home base in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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