On the Road Again
Anyone who follows the farm on Instagram or Facebook has already connected the dots related to the blog’s radio silence: a lot is going on and sh*t is getting real. In the three weeks (three weeks, is that all?) since the job ended, I have thrown myself fully into what some may consider the quicksand effect of dairy. Once you’re in, you’re in. Extricating yourself is futile. I didn’t know this once I dipped my toe in the milky waters more than two years ago. I felt precious and self-sufficient, skipping off towards the milk stand twice daily. Patted the heads of adoring goats as Disney-style, cartoon butterflies landed on my shoulder. Yea – I drank the Kool-Aid.
Fast forward to piles of spreadsheets and floors plans and budgets. Lists of scribbled resources various mentors have called out during conversations: DHIA, SCC, mastitis labs, Listeria tests, acid washes, pH calibration, FRP boards, meso and thermo cultures, and on. And on. The dairy maid who used to skip towards milking chores now peers out the window at the barn, every animal a business prospect, every sniffle I hear – a liability. So before I categorize each darling creature here as either a Profit or Loss – I am determined to pull back the reins slightly and remember why I’ve gone this far (lunacy) this fast (idiocy) this way (go big or go home). I’ve done it for the animals, for the good food, for the moonlit pasture walks, for the solace I find in the midst of chaos.
I think I also do it for the road trips. Animal purchases usually require a lot of travel unless you plan to purchase stock sight unseen (don’t even think about doing that). Something I’ve done, and don’t recommend. As the dairy plans unfold, so must the herd increase, a necessity that’s sent me down country roads, through ghost towns, over ancient rail road tracks, into ramshackle Kolache joints (a girl’s gotta eat!), and alongside hill country fruit stands where the just-picked produce is still warm from the sun. I found myself in Stonewall a few weeks ago, leaning against my car, holding a fistful of blackberries. A field of sunflowers exploded behind me in somebody’s pasture. I will buy livestock forever and ever so long as it justifies these trips, I thought, wiping peach juice from my chin. And yesterday I headed east towards Huntsville, through the piney woods, into countryside that’s seen torrents of rain. It was a technicolor grass cornucopia. There, I found two Jersey girls living in somebody’s front yard, cows that sipped ice tea from the farmer’s glass as he stood on the porch. I could not resist their doe eyes, their long lashes, the curious insistence of their presence at my side (“Do you have food for me in your pockets? On your arms? Maybe on your legs?”) They come home in a few months with calves. Just like that we have a Jersey herd. I am in love.
I’m also in love with our new Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, an addition that complements the future dairy well since they thrive off of whey, milk, and cheese. Our forest is an excellent pasture where they can forage and live naturally, plus their gentle nature and floppy ears make me smile. That stuff counts for a lot these days, especially since I find myself ankle deep in shit 30% of the time. Over the last few months we have added a gorgeous little Dexter bull (Solstice), the herd of pigs, eight new baby goats, and now the cows. Winnie brought us a calf, Clementine will have another any moment, and it is my job to wrangle the entire crew into something manageable that will begin to feed a community beyond just us (wipes brow warily….).
This week Jeremy was out of town for work – a long, empty stretch of time that terrified me as I worried about everything that could, should, and would likely go wrong. But it is Friday, and I am still standing. I look down at my hands, the changes to which I should have captured with a time lapse camera over the past years. I look at my arms that have also changed, even over just the last season. I look at my face in the mirror that is always tired, always a little dirty. I am exhausted – always – aching – always – but I am excited as ever to get back outside each morning – into the pasture with the animals, or back out on the road to find more. I do not miss my comfortable chair, my sterile desk, the air conditioned room where I sat for years.
Not even just a little.