Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
It’s quiet time, with milking finished for the day, curds in the pot to set overnight. Lights are out in the barn, with only evening’s last rays passing through the windows. Music plays softly from the radio perched on the old wooden shelf above the milking stand. Classical—the girls like classical.
Barnie, aka Mr. Zen, is nestled under the hayrack, with Frannie close by. My first two goats. We’ve learned a lot together. They were four months old when they came to me, my goat mentor continuing to give them bottles way past when they really needed them. He wanted me to have the experience of feeding them and have them bond with me. It worked. Both ways.
This year’s newest babe, I call him Little Spider, is tucked into his corner in the kids’ stall. He was born just six weeks ago and is still enjoying his bottle feedings. It wasn’t so long ago that his mom, Sea Princess, was his size. They grow up so quickly. I’m trying to savor time with him, and since he’s the littlest, I tend to indulge him a bit. He especially likes to be held, laying his head on my shoulder when I pick him up. Soon he’ll be too big for that, but for now, I’ll take the extra cuddles.
The days are longer now. The light bends its way into day and gracefully flows away in the evening. The early hours are my favorite. Everything is calmer, quieter, easier. Before the day starts with the clanging of shiny stainless milk totes and buckets, before the work begins, there’s a gentleness. It’s easy to get lost in it, to wander with the flock onto the paths that lead to the lush grass and tender new forage. They follow me as I open the fences so they can have their way with pine branches and blueberry leaves, raspberry stems, buttercups now in full bloom. It’s a full-blown assault on all things leafy and green.
It’s almost certain that each day will begin and end with the gentle light arriving in the softness of dawn and departing in the coolness of dusk. I’ve taken notice of that as of late and I’m appreciating it more. In fact, I’ve come to relish it. Often now, as I’m finishing up, tired and spent from the day’s work, the flock is grazing just outside my window. It’s like they’re posed for a painting. The light is low, filtering through the trees. Each blade of grass is visible, bathed in a spotlight and coated in the rain from a passing storm. The girls don’t notice it, but they end up with dewdrops on their noses. You can see it best on the tips of the new black lambs.
At night, when milking is finished, totes full of creamy white milk tucked into the fridge and the girls bedded down, that gentleness returns. I can’t think of a better way to start and end a day: the reminder that each day will be the same—and yet different. Anybody who lives with animals will tell you that. Plans often go awry when you’re tending flocks and herds. Sometimes the tranquility gets slightly interrupted. No matter.
In the morning, at first light, it will all begin again. I’ll fill a bottle for Little Spider, lay hay in the racks, rinse out and top up water buckets, toss bits of grain to scampering chickens, and open the coop door to let Buddy (my Tom) out, since he’s too big to fit through the chicken doors. He glides out the front door in full display and floats along through the pasture gate. And then they all—chickens, ducks, turkeys—head for the hills in search of stray bits of grain, seed tops, worms brought out by the rain, beetles scampering away, desperate to make it up the pine tree before they’re spotted.
As we wend our way through these longest days of the year, with the solstice already past, I’m reminded how short summer really is. We’re eating strawberries and crisp baby salad greens, waiting on the basil to really get going, and enjoying warmer days and cool evenings. All too soon, the leaves will change, and then flakes will fly. But for now, I’ll take the baby kisses and dewdrops on lamb noses and I’ll dream of cool summer nights during slow Sunday afternoon naps, here on my farm by the sea.
Blogger 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.
All Photos from Bittersweet Heritage farm