Jane (her name is changed to protect her privacy) was busy in the milking room filling old Ace Hard Cider bottles with colostrum (or new milk, the milk mammals produce full of antibodies and protein for the babies). We put the ten bottles into buckets of hot water to warm them up and walked out to the barn. All the kids were anxiously awaiting their meal. Both sides of the barn were sectioned off into pens and two newborns were wandering in the isle between the two. We carefully walked past the two to the very end pen on the right. On the right side of the barn, the pens are made of straw bales to keep the kids inside, while the ones on the left have wire cattle fence. The kids are rotated according to their age; the kids in the straw pens are bottle-fed and the kids in the other pens are put on what is called the lamb bar, a bucket with ten nipples attached.
Bottle-feeding kids is not as easy as it sounds; there is definitely a learning curve. Jane expertly grabbed a kid and got the nipple in its mouth and it started suckling. I picked a kid up and attempted to get it to suckle. It just kind of chewed on the end and swirled its tongue around, trying to figure out how to get the milk out. In the process, I spilled milk all over my lap. Jane had to show me how to get their mouth open and hold their head to get them to learn how to suck the milk out. By the end of my weekend working there I had pretty much figured out how it was done; just in time for about twenty more kids to be born. Each one had to be fed right away, given a shot for E coli, and given a little bit of Lamb and Kid Paste full of vitamins.
While we worked, Jane and I talked. She has had a rough couple years. A few years ago her husband, who she had built the business with, passed away from cancer. Since then, she had to attempt to run the business by herself. Along the way she had to hire and rehire multiple times, trying to find the right employees. When I returned from my four month break, I found that three of the employees I had worked most closely with had been laid off. Jane was back to running the farm pretty much by herself, with one helper in the cheese room and one helping with the milking and the herd (who was volunteering his time). But she told me that she was getting back to her old self again, back to being active and excited about new things on the farm. She has sought out new opportunities to increase revenue and grow the mission of her farm. Her most prominent idea at the moment is to pursue agritourism. Agritourism is a growing market, as more and more affluent “city-folk” want to see what its like to live on a farm. Jane is renovating an old trailer house on the property for guests to stay in. They pay to come visit the farm and perform some of the tasks on the farm.
We also talked about goats. How the animals are viewed is one of the biggest things I am looking at in my research. How people view the animal is directly related to how they view food and both are largely affected by cultural perceptions of the value and meaning of the animal. The way the goats are treated on the farm is very interesting. The farm is not organic because if an animal is in pain, they are treated. The goats are not viewed as pets, they are producers, but the people do get emotionally attached. One of the days I was working, Jane told me about a doe she had to help deliver a baby. Neither the doe nor the kid lived. “It made me sick,” she said. “It’s something you never really get used to.”
Over the next couple months, I will continue working on the farm 2-3 days a week, up until I leave for Italy on May 22. I’ve made a section for my photos, so make sure to keep watching those. I will update them as I take more pictures. I’ll also continue to post here about my adventures on the farm.