on the farm

THE FIRST KIDS

 

And just like that, Farmer Winter is over. The kids are here, arriving in a mess of legs, fluff, and tiny sounds that only a newborn can make. Half look like Franciscan monks, the other half like Lloyd Christmas. On the part of the farmers, we are smitten. Never mind the relative chaos it will be in four weeks time when we have hundreds of bucklings and doelings to care for. For now, these kids have brought life back onto the farm, and with it, renewed purpose. When you deliver a baby goat, you make sure it's breathing and then lay it in the hay next to the mama doe, who instinctively gets to cleaning the baby with her tongue. This moment is magic every time. It is a true privilege to observe animal birth—strong, natural, intuitive. 

With the arrival of Kidding Season, we begin our second lap as farmers. The sights, the sounds, the smells & textures are all familiar now: the weightlessness of a fresh-to-this-world kid sprawled out across your lap, bottle feeding; the mama's milk that drips from the corners of its mouth; the way its full belly feels when you squeeze it at the end of a feeding. Suddenly, memories of late winter & early spring, already a year ago, come flooding back as if the ensuing seasons were a mere blip on the radar. The life cycle is spinning on, yes—and it feels like magic. 

These long days & nights spent watching, waiting, and participating in a great bloom of life on this farm—on the eve of Spring, no less—are true gifts. We learned as much last year, and the first kids are a timely reminder. So we begin. Farewell, Farmer Winter. Hello, Kidding Season!


—M&S

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DAIRY GOAT | CONSIDER BARDWELL FARM

 

The sun will rise soon, but not yet. The fog remains settled in the cool embrace of the Indian River Valley before daybreak. The faint glimmer of the stars lingers in the sky above. All is quiet and still, save for a herd of milk goats that has spotted a farmer heading in their direction. With a smattering of yells, grunts, bleats, and other assorted goat noises, the day begins.

From March until December, every single morning at Consider Bardwell Farm starts the same way. 5:30 a.m. means it is time to go get the goats and bring them in for morning milking.  With the opening of a swinging gate, 140 goats spill out of their pasture and march back to the barn, udders full. They are easily distracted along the way: no overhanging branch goes unchecked, un-nibbled; no human escapes his or her fate of becoming a communal scratching post. Eventually the herd makes its way to the barnyard, which quickly comes to resemble a schoolyard during recess. Some in the herd ready themselves to report to duty, while others curl up along the fence line to grab a quick nap. Cliques form and skirmishes ensue—posturing, head butting, more posturing—it’s all in a day’s work for these ladies; all a part of maintaining the proper order within the herd.

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Goats are creatures of habit. They strive for a steady routine every bit as much as we humans do. In that sense, a day in the life of a dairy goat looks much the same as all of the others. There is something of a pecking order to milking — there are a few herd queens, several young bozos yet to learn the ropes, and, ah yes, there are those goats full to the brim with mischief. The order goes unnoticed until it is disrupted, at which time it becomes quite obvious. When we first began our jobs at Consider Bardwell, we were told that the first three groups to come into the milk parlor—54 goats in all—could pretty well be predicted. It seemed shocking, unbelievable almost, that of 140 goats the same few would find their way into the milk parlor first. But it’s true. They do. 

By 9 o’clock, when most people are just getting to work, the milking herd has finished its first shift of the day. The march back to pasture commences and ends with delight as the goats find a new paddock of untouched pasture ready to be grazed. 

Pasture crops like timothy, red and white clover, orchard grass, bird’s eye trefoil, alfalfa, and rye render goat milk very tasteful (which, you know, makes delicious cheese). The fields are good for the goats and good for the business. That said, goats are evolutionarily suited to browse—think shoots, high-hanging branches, sticks and otherwise woody forage. The best paddock on the farm still does not excite the goats as much as a single sumac branch. When it’s possible, we trudge through woods and hedgerows with moveable electric fencing to ensure the goats can have their fun while also eating grass. They happily devastate invasive species and the bark on trees in a day’s time.

This is their reward twice daily, an offering of appreciation for all that they give to us in the milk parlor. The intensive rotational grazing plan at Consider Bardwell Farm ensures that the goats are never on the same piece of land for more than twelve hours at a time. By moving to a fresh, well-rested piece of land after each milking, the goats enjoy truly excellent quality forage and roughage. 

We bring them in once more, late in the afternoon, to give milk all over again. In their mischievous, entertaining manner, these goats work hard for a living, and in doing so allow us to do the same. Healthy, happy animals make for a healthy, happy farm. A day in the life of a dairy goat is simply an exchange between time spent in the milk parlor and out on pasture. While they are being milked, the farmer is setting up pieces of fresh pasture; while they are on pasture, the farmer is readying & cleaning the milk parlor. By design, we hope to stay behind-the-scenes and out-of-the-way throughout the day, only making our presence known when necessary. They may be farm animals with work to do, but as much as possible we leave them to the natural way of life that they love best.


—M&S

ON RAISING A (TINY) MEAT HERD

 

On a day that now seems so long ago, at the beginning of June, we decided to raise our own goat. We called him Satchmo, cleaned out a pen for him in the barn adjacent to Pink Cameron, and agreed that we would raise him for meat. Our choice was the culmination of a conversation that we have been having since we began our work at Consider Bardwell Farm; a conversation that we thought worth having with the community around us. We promised to give updates and to discuss our thought process and ethics as they relate to the choice of raising animals for meat.

Naturally, much has happened since then. First, Satchmo gained a pen mate. We named him Smithers. Many people decide to forgo naming animals being raised for meat for the simple reason that they do not want to become too attached, as if they were pets. We worked around that by purposefully choosing names that weren’t too cute (because how can you skip out on the opportunity to name your own goat!). We set up an outdoor enclosure and began weaning Satchmo & Smithers from goat’s milk. They started to forage plants and munch on hay and grain, growing bigger by the day.

Then, two more kids came along. Suddenly, we had a herd and an experimental homestead going on our humble little campgrounds. As I write, I can hear Dill & Tuna outside, loudly voicing their displeasure over weaning. Today will be their first day without any mother’s milk. Fortunately for them, they have two older, capable pen mates showing them the ropes of a post-milk diet. Also fortunate for them: Smithers has decided to stop bullying them. Surprising as it was to see sweet little Smithers head-butting the newbies, the naturally selective & competitive instinct in animals always comes to the surface, no matter the size of the herd.

Raising our own herd of meat kids has been challenging, enriching, fun, not-so-fun . . . all of the above. There are many times when the last thing we want to do at the end of a twelve-hour farm shift is more farm work. Alas, these four kids are living beings that need and deserve our best care, day in and day out; and because we really believe in what we are doing, it is not too difficult to muster the energy required to do just that. This whole experience circles back to the fact that we are consumers of meat. More than that, we are striving to be conscious consumers of meat. For us, that means coming face-to-face with all that choice entails; it means that we will see the process through from beginning to end, and that we will try to “do things the right way” from pasture to plate.

Our goal is to keep Satchmo, Smithers, Dill, and Tuna as healthy and as happy as possible. We make nutritious food available to them in an outdoor environment that is perfectly suited to goats; and we personally interact with them, showing them affection on a daily basis. If we are going to be consuming meat, we want it to be coming from an animal that we know was happy and healthy during its lifetime. And a significant reason for why we have chosen to raise four goats is so we can nourish not only ourselves, but also our family & friends with the very same peace of mind.

We have received a few common questions on the subject: Why don’t you just raise them as pets? Don’t you think that it’s wrong to kill them? These are valid questions and deserve answers. It is our view that goats fall into a category of working farm animals that are called to a productive life (just as we are!). The herd of milking goats here at Consider Bardwell is a prime example of that. They work hard to give us clean, nutritive milk, which is then made into cheeses of excellent quality. They “come to work” twice per day, seven days per week; and between their “shifts” (a.k.a. between milkings), they are rewarded with lush, fertile pasture and all of the tasty shrubs and weeds that grow around it. In order to do all of this, they need to be bred every year. As is the case with humans, with all animals, without babies there is no milk. So, there are kids every year—kids whose gender it is impossible to select or predict. Some are female and can be raised as milking goats, while others are male and cannot. In a world where meat is consumed, it makes sense for those kids to become meat. It is their most productive purpose. In that way, meat is a necessary byproduct of dairy.

As for the final step in the process—slaughtering—it is an inherently difficult task. We have yet to perform it ourselves, but we have given it a lot of thought. Let this much be clear: no, we do not take pleasure in the idea or the act of killing anything. We anticipate that the final act of our goats’ lives will be a painful and emotional one for us.  Nevertheless, it is a part of the production of all meat. And as consumers of meat, we have already had a hand in the slaughter of those animals we have consumed—whether we see it or not.

So long as we slaughter our goats in a humane manner, it is an act that we believe is acceptable and in no way “wrong.” Their meat will help to sustain our bodies and give us the energy needed to live, and that seems reason enough. Moreover, that goes without saying that the meat kids who are being raised on the farm for sale—who will be slaughtered and processed at an Animal Welfare Approved facility—help to pay our salaries, giving us the ability to make an honest living. Their mothers, the milkers, do the same. They make our lives here possible. So it goes on our little experimental homestead at Consider Bardwell Farm. We owe so much to these goats, and so we try to give back to them the best way we know: by caring for them, by loving them, and by giving them the best lives that we can.


—M

INTRODUCING PINK CAMERON

 

Before we left our home in Ohio for farm life in Vermont, we asked our nieces and nephews to help us name the camper we will be calling home for the next several months. 'Pink Cameron' was the name matter-of-factly put forth by our four-year-old niece, Hazel. For whatever reason, the name stuck, although the camper is neither pink nor worthy of a human name—yet. We are curious what Hazel will think when she's fifteen and learns that she named a 1986 Sunline camper 'Pink Cameron'.

Ah, Pink Cameron. It's bad. It's really bad. Coming in we had some basic ideas of what needed to be ripped out and what simple renovations we could make happen. (Note: neither of us had ever renovated anything.) What we did not expect were the thousands of mouse droppings accompanied by mouse nests in the ceiling and floor. Or that each hideous curtain would have at least ten rusty staples affixing it to the wall. Or that the walls seem to be made of rotting construction paper. Two people of our paltry skill level should not be able to demolish any "home" in one day. Except, of course, the decorative piece of padded carpet above the door (?) which required calling in a skilled hand to remove. We would love to have a word with the people who made this hunk of junk. Nevertheless, we are sure we'll come to cherish our time in this camper. We have been afforded a great chance to live simply and free of charge on the farm, and for that we want to express immense gratitude.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing plenty of blog posts about our progress on the interior and the exterior. The to-do's include paint jobs, a composting toilet outhouse, an outdoor shower, learning to bake on a charcoal grill, hand washing our clothes, and all of the things we have not yet anticipated.

During times of transition, we often experience something that we like to call "the storm before the calm." Our strategy has typically been to "cleave and leave," but this move — to Vermont, to become more permanent fixtures at this farm — has asked more from us. This move has called on us as husband and wife to have stamina. This move has called on us to honor the slow goodbyes with siblings and parents, friends, priest, landscape, and even creature comforts. The farewells have been said. We are here. As we strip down our new abode in hopes of building a better Pink Cameron, we still find ourselves very much in the midst of the storm.

We have spent much of the past two years on the move: traveling, changing jobs and homes and life circumstances along the way. Throw in an engagement, a marriage, an unexpected decision to take low-paying internships on a Vermont goat dairy in wintertime, and here we are: living and working together everyday. That familiar feeling of calm that accompanies a new adventure and a new place has yet to come. Inevitably, the storm will pass. One of these days, though it seems hard to believe, we will relish the scent of fresh summer rain wafting in through the open windows of a livable Pink Cameron.


—M&S