Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We should all have a little Pixie in our Day.
I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate this blog to the memory of a goat herdswomen I had the privilege to know. We’ve lost Pixie Day, a woman who devoted the last 50 years of her life to goats. At the age of 88, while tending her herd, Pixie lost her footing coming back from the barn in early December and didn’t recover. Some might say this is a sad ending. It is. But it’s also an amazing example of devotion to animals.
Pixie had struggled the last few years with a number of health problems. After breaking a hip, she decided to start thinning out the herd. I got a call about a doe she had chosen to sell just as I was starting to build my foundation herd.
I drove to Sleighbell Farm to take a look at the prospective doe. Pixie greeted me and took me into the house to see the doe’s registration papers. She gave me some books on raising goats, part of her collection, and some back issues of Goat World, yellow with age. I read through them all as the months went on, in between milkings and chores. A number of them contained articles about Pixie and her life with goats, a life she had begun, coincidentally, here on Maine’s St. George peninsula, where I farm today.
We took a stroll to the pasture where 14 pure white majestic girls all came to attention when Pixie called them. The site of them, posed, acknowledging Pixie, watching her every move, took my breath away. We went to the barn, and Dollie was waiting. She was anxious to be with the other members of Pixie’s herd, but as it turned out, she came home with me that day. Pixie’s world of goats had come full circle.
Pixie had moved inland from Tenants Harbor to Sleighbell Farm in Washington, Maine, in 1978 and devoted her life to raising and breeding champion Saanen goats. She donated goats to Russia through the Heifer Project and traveled to Russia several times to help families there learn to milk the goats and make cheese. While in Russia, she befriended a little girl and helped her get adopted in the United States. Pixie was a true example of what farming is about. Connections. Connections between the animals. Connections fostered by a herdsman or woman, a shepherd or shepherdess with his or her charges. Connections to people and to fellow farmers.
The resurgence of small farms is testimony to our need for connections. Without them, we don’t survive. Homestead farms give us the opportunity to stay better connected with our food sources and the people who provide us with what we eat. We are nourished as much by interacting with a farmer at a market as we are by the food itself. Meeting the person who rose before dawn to milk an animal, talking with someone who describes the struggles of this year’s crop, choosing a cheese for its locale—all of these things feed more than our bodies.
My connection with Pixie Day was brief, but the legacy of her life as a herdswoman plays out every day in my barn and pastures. She and others like her have devoted their lives to the care of their animals and are my mentors and family.
The seed Pixie planted in the Saanen goat world continues to grow and live on through this wonderful breed of goat. Saanens are truly living marshmallows. Pure white, large framed, weighing in at more than 250 pounds, they are heavy milk producers, individually averaging 10 to 12 pounds a day. Gentle girls, they ask for nothing but the security of knowing they’ll be cared for.
I consider it an honor to have known Pixie Day and even more of an honor to be carrying on the heritage of raising goats on the St. George peninsula. Dollie and her girl, Shellie, my girl Frannie of Seabreeze Farm, and baby Buttermilk, born here at Bittersweet, are all of the Sleighbell legacy.
Every morning when Dollie comes out of the stall to enjoy her ration of grain, I kiss the top of her head twice: one from me and one from Pixie. I do the same with all of my girls, but with Dollie, it seems to have more meaning now. Thank you, Pixie Day, for being an example in caring for all creatures, great and small. I raise a tall glass of creamy, white, sweet, and wholesome goat milk to you.
Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose." Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross ﬂock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.
Photos by Dyan Redick
This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.
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