I truly believed that once the dairy was licensed I would make a huge announcement, that balloons and confetti would fall from the ceiling and I’d leave for a week on a (much-needed) vacation to celebrate our hard work and take a (much-needed) break. Instead my inspector casually mentioned “you can start production now” in between an equipment test and a facility inspection, both of which I only partially attended since I was sprinting between the dairy and barn to assist with a goat delivery while the inspector was visiting. Her announcement was so casual I almost missed it, wiped a stray placenta-streaked hair from my face once she said I could start producing cheese before saying, “Wait – what? Does that mean I’m licensed??!!!” She nodded over the paperwork she was completing, and I inadvertently glanced up at the ceiling. No balloons. No confetti. No high five or hugging it out with the inspector. Just a “see you next month” before packing up and leaving. Because she knew what I quickly learned: the real work was just starting. I hadn’t gotten to the hard part yet.
That was late April. It was the same week my kidding season began. It was about two weeks into what has officially become monsoon season in our suddenly tropical climate. That’s when the rain started. It hasn’t stopped since. The flood of goat babies never stopped either and although this is a relatively tiny kidding season compared to many farms, as a solo goat herder with twin human infants, it felt like a deluge. It felt like drowning. It has been a cruel season.
In the midst of kidding (which included one goat c-section, three assisted deliveries, and one gorgeous baby cow birthed somewhere in the woods), I also had to move the herd to their new barn near the dairy. And I had to train them in the new, commercial milk parlor to be milked on the new, commercial milk pipeline. Inside a building made of metal where every single hissing, pulsing, clanging sound is magnified and echoes. Onto a milk stand that requires a steep climb up a frightening ramp. It’s enough to make anyone jumpy, but for hormonal, post-partem goats it is nearly too much to handle. Between the kidding and baby human and goat raising, I have been working with the herd to get them comfortable in the milk parlor and acclimated to the mechanical sounds and robotic nature of the milk machine. I begged, I pulled, pushed, shouted, shoved, and finally – I bribed. Because the secret to any ruminants heart is through its stomachs (all 4 of them), and my girls’ stomachs are swayed by animal crackers. For more than two weeks I stuffed each pocket of my jeans with animal crackers, softly and calmly waved them in front of my normally tame/suddenly wild-eyed girls. I woke up at 5:45am and would stretch out on the ramp, cooing softly at a hysterical doe while she fought my grip on her collar, frantically ate a cookie, snorted, stamped, backed up, slipped from my grasp and ran away. You get the picture. And if I was lucky enough to pull her onto the stand I then patiently attempted to connect the machine to her udder as she kicked me furiously, spraying my face with milk and afterbirth. It’s the kind of crap that feels insurmountable before a first cup of coffee. It nearly broke me. Ok, it broke me. I won’t admit how many minutes of each day were wasted as I sobbed pathetically in the milk parlor, animal crackers crushed at my feet, the detritus left where good intentions and reality intersect. Through many of these mornings and afternoons, the rain kept pouring, the fetid mud kept flowing and with it my optimism about this venture got trampled somewhere beneath filthy hooves and animal shit.
My good friend and mentor checks in daily. She reminded me that I am the herd queen and told me to be the boss, the leader. She told me to put down the adorable baby goats, to start milking the girls. So I did. And it got a little easier each day with setbacks along the way – with setbacks every day. But I am doing it. We are not yet producing cheese, our milk volume is far too low and there are far too many obstacles to troubleshoot, but I am milking my small herd inside the milk parlor, I am raising beautiful baby goats, and for the first time since before my babies were born, we are drinking fresh goat milk and feasting on the decadence of home milked, home made, home grown goat cheeses.
I am doing this alone in that it’s only me in the barn, only me in the milk parlor and – for now – only me inside the cheese make room. But this is hardly a one woman show. Despite the fact that the dairy licensing was anti-climactic, it was an enormous accomplishment, and I’m going to acknowledge the hell out of that fact. Maybe it takes a village to raise children, but it absolutely takes a strong team to raise a farm. If not for the unbelievably generous help of my mother who cares for my babies 4-5 days each week, it would be impossible. If not for the weekend childcare provided by Jeremy’s parents, allowing us the precious days to work together, unencumbered by two infant dictators, it would be impossible. But mostly – and always – if not for Jeremy, the dairy would not be standing. I would not be standing. He deserves all of the balloons and all of the confetti. But for now, all I’ve got are these animal crackers. I hope it’s enough.