I met Kimberly in May of 2011. After my daily perusal of the Craigslist “farm and ranch” section, an ad grabbed my attention – it read a little something like: “Milking classes: We milk Alpine/Nubian goats and Dexter cows (I wanted Alpine/Nubian goats and I HAD Dexter cows). We want to help people learn about homesteading (I WANTED to learn about homesteading). At the milking class we will cover the basics of dairy goat and cow health and dairy handling and each participant will milk a goat and a cow (!!!!!!).”
I responded to the ad and signed up immediately. I attended another one of her classes this spring and, since then, we’ve become friends. It’s always funny to look at the people in your life and draw a line back to the place where you met, why you struck up a conversation, how you became friends. For most of us, it’s school or work, maybe even the person who stands next to you in Zumba class. Sometimes it’s a friend of a friend met over happy hour cocktails. But I’m learning that, in the world of agriculture, a lot of it has to do with answering ads, doing research, swallowing pride, and asking questions. For this bunch, we’re more often on the farm than at the gym and our favorite happy hour bar is the liquor cabinet and front porch. Don’t peg us as anti-social people, in fact, I challenge you to gather a group of more enthusiastic, supportive, and friendly folks than those who opt for scratch made living. There’s something about sharing the wealth (knowledge) that makes us real, damn happy. While it’s unlikely we’ll rub shoulders and meet under the usual circumstances, we’re excited to know like-minded individuals. Essentially, we want more of us – people out in the world who share this common interest and can swap anecdotes, remedies, and ideas. This is a way of life. It’s a choice that is a burden and a blessing at once. It requires allies.
Yesterday I drove out to Star Creek Country after work to meet the cow and calf pair that I’m bringing home sometime this fall. A long time ago – at the beginning of all this – I wanted a family milk cow. For a variety of reasons – some my fault – some no one’s fault – it became clear Matilda’s natural sassy-ness could be dangerous in the milk stand. I didn’t have the time, knowledge, or energy to turn her into the cow I wanted for this family. And there was a pretty good chance no amount of work could turn her into
a milk cow at all.
Around the time we put her up for sale, Kimberly decided to downsize her own milking herd a bit and offered me her little dun Madaline, a cow I’d met twice and fell in love with immediately. After calving three weeks ago, we learned that we’ll bring Madaline and her baby heifer Rodeo Queen (This is her true name. And it is amazing) home to our farm early in the fall once we’ve had a chance to finish some more structures and possibly get her bred again.
To acquire a dairy cow in this manner – one whose history you know, whose personality you absolutely trust, with a heifer calf at her side and another one possibly on the way, and from a friend whose support you can count on to get you through the early days of learning to milk – that’s impossible to replicate. Last night Kimberly let me spend time milking Madaline myself while Rodeo stood nearby, being trained on a halter and lead rope. We stayed in the barn for a while when milking was done. Kimberly collected eggs from the rogue nest under the barn stairs, I carried the milk bucket, we sweated and swatted flies and stepped in manure. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been to a happy hour – but it’ll be tough to top this after-work conversation and company. Making friends in the country requires a strategy more direct than just being co-workers. I’m so glad I wrote to her almost 2 years ago and said, “Hi. Can you help me get started with this life?” Even happier she responded with, “Come on out!”
These are slow and old-fashioned friendships – the kinds with Kimberly and Fran – where time’s spent standing around the barn chatting while the sun sets, or in the dairy talking cheese while goats peer inside at the door. We prop each other up a little. I’ve spent countless hours this spring on the phone with Kimberly for emergency medical advice or suggestions. Tomorrow, Fran is teaching me some rudimentary veterinary skills to check my goats for parasites (common goat ailment). If you’re getting started out here, too, cast a wide net and reach out to others already in the thick of it. You can do this alone – but why would you? On behalf of this homestead and the growing community sprinkled throughout the country, we look forward to hearing from you.