Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
It’s spring. You can’t tell by the weather since, most mornings, the kitchen-window thermometer is still showing temps in the 20-somethings when I’m busy filling milk bottles for five babes. But other signs of spring are evident as I glance out that same kitchen window and see six lambs sitting atop their mamas or wandering around the sheep pen, waiting—patiently or not so patiently—for me to appear and open the gate to the pasture. Spring has blown into full-born sweetness in the barn, as three new goat kids nicker away in between munching on the bits of alfalfa and grain left over from their evening feeding. They, too, are anxious for bottles full of their mamas’ milk.
Dollie, my sweet Saanen girl, got spring rolling here back on March 10 when that thermometer was showing 10, and 30-mile-per-hour winds were blowing straight out of the north. She delivered twin girls, Seashell (Shelly) and Periwinkle (I’ve taken to calling her Winkydoodle). Deliveries followed soon after in the sheep barn, a single lamb I call Harp, on another brutally cold day, followed by Mairead’s delivery on St. Patrick’s Day—one of whom, of course, I call Guinness. On March 18, Colleen presented me at dawn with a set of twin girls, and finally, on Easter Sunday, my gorgeous Maeve brought two more coal black twins into this life, a boy and a girl. Who needs crocuses when you can have six lambs, all black, appear on the landscape? They are like a breath of fresh air after the long—and I mean long, and still not letting up—winter.
I now label the times of my day BM (Before Milking) and AM (After Milking). At 4:30—I know, I’m a lazy farmer; 4:30 a.m. is midafternoon for some folks—it all starts with filling stainless milk buckets with the richest, creamiest, freshest-tasting milk I’ve ever had. I’m not saying that just because it’s from my girls. Honestly. I had never tasted goat milk in my life before I decided to take that left turn to Seabreeze Farm on Open Farm Day four years ago and took a chance on buying a quart. I am not what you would call an adventurous eater. I know it’s probably good, but I just can’t get past those little suction cups on octopi, and I wouldn’t eat sour cream until I was a teenager because of the name. I love sour cream now, although I’ve replaced it with goat’s milk yogurt because, frankly, my life literally revolves around goat milk.
So, BM in the creamery: There are bottles and buckets and kettles and strainers and molds and ladles and thermometers and probably something I’ve forgotten, all needing to be set up. Moving to the barn, there are hayracks and water buckets to be filled and three goat babes to feed, who, after what must seem like an endless night, are clamoring for warm milk to fill the empty space in their tender baby rumen bellies.
When milking begins, Dollie is first, much to Frannie’s dismay. Last year Frannie was herd queen and bounded out of the gate, her status firmly intact. This year Dollie gently reminds Frannie every morning, with a gentle nod of her head, that she’s queen now. It rotates from year to year. With Dollie’s milk safely in the bucket and hanging on the weighing hook, Frannie gets her turn. There’s just no other way to say it except, “Katie bar the door,” when Frannie comes out of the stall. All three kids stand in their adjoining stall, tiny heads poking out as they nibble on bits of alfalfa, taking it all in. I swear they’re whispering to each other, “Hey, did you see that backflip?”
AM, I spend time filling my own belly with fresh-brewed coffee that’s been sitting safely out of reach, topped with a splash of warm milk straight from the bucket. I sit on the milking stand, coffee tucked, with kids running the length of the barn, bouncing off the hay bales or shaving bundles or me. Little Bingo, Frannie’s boy, born at 14 pounds with the longest legs I’ve ever seen, loves to stretch himself across my lap. I should call him Spiderman, but I call him Bingo for “legs eleven,” or what they call number 11 in Bingo. He’ll be going to live on my cousin’s farm in Vermont and joining the herd there. Oak Knoll is a special place, I call it a dairy with a heart.
With the whole world at times seeming to be going to hell in a hand basket, I am so grateful to have lambs to hug and goat babes to watch run and do that sideways-jump thing they do. When the Boston Marathon bombings were announced and the ensuing chase was being broadcast 24/7, I retreated to the barn and sat with the girls listening to WBACH. They were all raised on classical; we don’t listen to news in the barn. The rest of the world goes away. They’ve been playing a lot of lullabies on WBACH lately, and I find that fitting for the times. I know I, for one, could use some soothing when the world feels out of control and ramped up on fear. My girls give me sweet wholesome milk, and I like to think it’s because the only fear they know is an empty water bucket or a hayrack filled with hay they don’t like the taste of. Sitting in the barn or wandering out in the pasture, I’m not afraid when two bottle lambs come running up to me, just wanting to be picked up. For a brief time, my world is theirs, and I’m reminded how simple it can be.
In between BM and AM, there is the stuff of daily living. With it comes a lot of responsibility, a lot of fear, a lot of pressure. I’d like to think that we all can imagine going out to the pasture and picking up a tiny lamb and feeling better, just for having done that. If you don’t have a lamb to hug, hug someone next to you. I’m lucky to have my pick of lambs and kids and goat moms and sheep moms and good old Jack Fergus to keep me grounded in hugs. I hope this spring will be the beginning of folks finding new ways to hug and be hugged as we move through this life together.
These spring births remind me that life goes on, no matter what else is happening in the world. Winter doesn’t seem so cold and long when it ends in the gift of lambs and kids. Harsh winds aren’t so forbidding when you’ve got a tiny warm lamb to hold and rock to sleep, with a full belly and a lullaby. I haven’t yet named the tiniest lamb of all, born on Easter Sunday. Maybe she’s my own personal Lullaby.
Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her 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. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.
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