How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls

A few folks have contacted me over the last couple days, knocking on my virtual door to check-in, “You still around?  What’s going on over there?”  Maybe’s arrival coincided with a flurry of activity on the business end of things – the farm business end (just to be clear) – after a lengthy period of waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  Nearly seven months worth of waiting (but who’s counting?).  There is much to say on this subject, and I will soon, but not yet.  The half of me made of eastern European genes wears a cloak of superstition in all that I do.  I cannot even speak of what big things might be coming without knocking on wood or throwing salt over my shoulder.  It is bad joo-joo to speculate.  So let’s just not.  But know that something big is on the horizon, causing piles of scribbled floor plans, frantic phone calls, and lots of hand-wringing.  For now, I put one finger to my mouth for a “ssshhhh” in response to questions, knocking on wood with the other hand.

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Rachael, my sister-from-another-mother farm friend over at The Farmstead, recently revealed news about an idea that she too was hesitant to share for awhile.  In a stroke of stupendous luck, and enormous bravery, she and her husband Nick purchased everything needed from a retiring dairy-goat farmer.  Rented a U-haul and trailer, loaded the baby, drove to Oregon, and packed her dairy dream into the vehicles.  We have been whispering about our plans for months, wondering about the right place, the right time, and then BAM the universe told her it is time.  This is a person whose fearless approach towards farming just slays me.  Every time a layer of her story is revealed, I am in awe of her tenacity and determination.  And the way she responds to most of the ideas I share with her: “You can totally do that.”  Whatever it is, that’s the answer.  My overall sentiment towards you, my dear Rachael?  I’ll have what you’re having.

There are, frankly, an abundance of these women in my life – a presence that’s swarmed around me for a few years now but that only recently stopped me breathless with a forehead smack kind of realization.  All of the “in-the-meantime” work I’ve been doing has led me to many lengthy discussions, advice-getting-sessions, and virtual hand-holding from several of these women.  People who have, in some way, immersed themselves in the dream of dairy.

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Over the past few weeks I better understand how this community of dairy farmers takes care of each other, for the most part.  Have felt these women huddle around me with their support.  Recently, Kimberly leaned across my kitchen counter for hours talking about the struggles of the farm, how life intersects in every direction, how we bear it one way or another – it all works out in the end.  On Sunday, my “one hour visit” to Fran’s turned into three as we leaned over my floor plans, and I listened to 30 year’s worth of goat husbandry advice, tried to gain some of her wisdom through osmosis.  Usually just physically being at a dairy helps me learn about dairy.  And yesterday I saw another friend who has provided tremendous support with cheese making, her years of experience and insight too valuable to quantify.  She also leaned across a table to think through some crucial aspects of my planning.  All of these women work on their own farms, an occupation that keeps any of us from ever “hanging out” in the normal sense of the phrase, but who care deeply about this endeavor and a person who they almost never see.

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If there is a competition for “corniest farm photo ever” – I win.

I’ve thought a lot about this recently, wondering about the link between us that hooks in deep, the kind of addiction you can’t shake.  At the core of it all, we love animals – we love our animals- as family.  Dairy draws us into the most intimate cycles of their lives, cycles that play out like soap opera daily, the physical strain that rivals any workout I’ve paid to complete.  Instead of sweating it out in an air-conditioned room on a stationary bike or running in place while watching TV, we’re squatting repeatedly to clean a pen, pull a baby.  Bicep curls are lifting water buckets, unloading hay.  Ab strength develops in the strain of milking, milking, milking an animal (see also: bicep curls).  And repeat.  The animals love us back, in powers of 10 (usually), and the ultimate reward is that when we feed them, they feed us.  We take care of each other.


These dairy women take care of each other, too.  They have taught me to negotiate with the cowboys at the feed store, decipher ingredients and dosages on medicine labels, disbud, trim hooves, haul hay, deliver babies, bury the dead.  In my years of developing this farm, I have met countless female dairy farmers virtually or personally.  I watch them maneuver their herds, ponytails piled high, sweat and manure smudged across the strong-willed expression on their faces.  I used to visit farms feeling like an awkward city slicker and thought these dairy women stood straighter, talked louder, laughed harder, and probably cried longer – loved fiercer.

Now I am certain that we do.

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Sunday, I drove home from Fran’s place and cranked up KOKE FM, my favorite country station – rolled the windows down to help calm my nerves that quake more frequently lately with the reality of what is coming.  George Strait crooned out from the radio:

How ’bout them cowgirls

boy ain’t they somethin’

they sure are some proud girls

and you can’t tell them nothin’….

That is precisely when it hit me – the enormity of my luck to have these cow and goat gals in my life.  These women who I call upon, who call on me too, tough as steel, beautiful, strong, determined.  Towards them, I feel an ocean of gratitude for what they may – or may not – realize they have given.  Even those I barely know, whose stories I see on websites, whose books I’ve read, whose paths I hope to cross.  They’ve beat down the door I’m knocking on right. now.

Which tells me, shit y’all, I will beat it down, too.

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Barnyard, Cows, Dairy, Goats


  • Caitlin | The Siren’s Tale

    May 22, 20142:23 pm

    You should be very proud of where you’ve come from, where you’re at now and where you’re heading. Your writing and journey is very inspirational… thanks for letting your readers ‘come along for the ride’ :)

    • jennakl

      June 5, 20148:07 am

      Caitlin: THANK YOU for this note. I love to hear that anyone feels inspired at all by our tiny little story.

  • Joan @ The Chicken Mama

    May 21, 201410:53 pm

    There’s very few things in life that make me want to be younger. But since I came to goats and chickens and my grumpy pig only after the kids were off to college…damn. Apparently I’m a late bloomer. Maybe in my next life I’ll be a goat farmer with chickens underfoot, surrounded by wise farm sisters.

    • jennakl

      June 5, 20148:08 am

      Better late than never, Joan ;)

  • Jenny Depa

    May 21, 20142:10 pm

    Yay for all those hard-working farm girls. Love going along for the ride! Best wishes!

    • jennakl

      June 5, 20148:08 am

      Love having you along Jenny!!

  • Tiffany Speake

    May 21, 201411:08 am

    Wow! I miss the camaraderie of like minded women. Good luck with your new venture. I pray it all works out well.

    On a side note I have a question about your goats. My family lives in Texas near Waco. They have 30 acres and want to get some goats. A neighbor told them that goats don’t do well out there because there are too many oak trees. I’ve done some reading and there seems to be some question as to whether oak leaf toxicity is really a problem. I know if their diet isn’t varied enough or if it is changed too drastically that they can have issues. My question for you is has this been a problem for you? I know the area you live in has lots of oak trees.
    Thanks for any help you can offer.

    • jennakl

      June 5, 20148:11 am

      Tiffany: great question and I am in no way an authority on this but will share my experience – In our area we only have post oak trees and yes, the goats do have a lot of access to their leaves in the forest pasture where they live. I also read about oak leaf toxicity but have never had any trouble with that. It maybe be because of the type of oak out here. Is there live oak up in your area? Varied browse does make a difference so they’re never having too much of one thing, but if there is also plenty of brush and weeds – they will definitely eat that too – along with the hay that you will likely always provide for them. My girls get a grain ration while up on the milk stand, free choice alfalfa, and 5 acres of browse with oak, cedar elm, different grasses, thistle, misc weeds. I hope this helps!

  • Carla

    May 21, 201410:42 am

    Good for you!!! That ‘circle of life’ and ‘following your dreams’ co-mingle so wonderfully in your story.
    As for your friend in Oregon, I just popped over to read her story.
    She bought all of his goats, too!!?? I thought you meant she just bought his equipment. She’s all in for sure. :)
    Good luck to you both!!

    • jennakl

      June 5, 20148:12 am

      Thank you Carla! Yes, she bought his goats, too!!

  • Jen C.

    May 21, 20149:40 am

    You are an inspiration, beating down those doors for women like me who can only dream about getting to where you are! Thank you for sharing and supporting and inspiring us to set our goals and bravely walk the path to our dreams! I’m wishing you great luck and many blessings in your new endeavors and old. :-)

    • jennakl

      June 5, 20148:13 am

      Thank you Jen C.! I’m only where I am because of the support from my husband and family. I would be remiss not to make that VERY clear :)

  • Kim L.

    May 20, 20148:13 pm

    Wow! Sign me up! I hope (and pray) to one day (soon) be able quit my glamorous day job–teaching–and have my own little piece of heaven on earth. I hope to one day be able to work the land and milk some goats–small scale of course! Meanwhile, I love living it vicariously through you and others–with the help of this virtual medium! Thank you!

    • jennakl

      June 5, 20148:14 am

      You CAN do it Kim L.! Even if it’s just little by little and on a smaller scale ;)