Introduction: 1840 Farm and their journey to goats
My family had lived at 1840 Farm for six years before we had our first conversation about adding dairy animals to the farm’s landscape. At the time, we were keeping a flock of heritage breed hens and tending to an heirloom garden that expanded with every growing season. While both of those projects demanded an investment of our time with regard to planning and daily chores, they resulted in delicious homegrown food finding its way to our family table.
Each meal that centered around food that was created here on our farm inspired us to consider producing even more. Every harvest of fresh eggs and ripe heirloom tomatoes seemed to further the belief that we could take our efforts at food production a step further. It was the promise of having a steady supply of fresh milk that encouraged us to begin discussing the possibility of becoming goat keepers.
For months, we had been purchasing raw goat milk from a local farmer’s market. Each time that we found ourselves at the bottom of an empty jar, we wondered if we could collect milk from our own herd of dairy goats. It wasn’t long before I began reading books about the art of dairy goat keeping. Soon after, I reached out to several local goat keepers to inquire if they had any does that would be a good fit for our farm. Then the real adventure began: we started to research becoming dairy farmers.
I will admit to having a very romantic notion about dairy farming. I had grown up looking at photos in family albums of my Great Grandfather working on his own dairy farm. I had heard fond memories recounted from my mother who had grown up there.
A few years earlier, we had moved our young family over 1,000 miles to relocate to 1840 Farm. We were now raising our family on a farm that was 100 miles from the farm my Great Grandparents had called home decades earlier. Making the decision to be family dairy farmers seemed like the ideal way to deepen the connection to my family’s agrarian past.
Goats seemed like a good fit for our small farm. While my Great Grandfather had kept Holstein cows for milk production, I was drawn to goats. Their size appealed to me. Our three acre farm could easily provide them with ample space to roam. Our old barn had a horse stall complete with Dutch doors and hay racks that would provide the shelter they would need from the long New England winter.
In the beginning, we decided to keep an open mind regarding the breed of goat we would choose. We researched several dairy breeds and learned more about their milk, temperament, and local availability. We narrowed our search down to a few breeds known for their milk production and easy going temperament. As new goat keepers, we wanted to give ourselves the highest chance of success.
After visiting several local farms, I fell head over heels in love with the Nigerian Dwarf breed. Their size seemed perfect for both our farm and our children. Our youngest child was six at the time and the size and temperament of the Nigerian Dwarfs we met seemed like exactly what we had been looking for.
Once we settled on the Nigerian Dwarf breed, we needed to find a goat that was available for purchase. We found several young kids that were ready to move to new homes, but we were eager to be milking and hoped to find a doe that might either be in milk or bred for the season. I had no idea how difficult that would prove to be.
The search was lengthy. I made phone calls, sent emails, and we hit the road several times to make visits to meet goats that we hoped might be a good match for our family. What had started out as a simple search began to feel like a quest for me to bring fresh milk produced on our farm to our family’s table.
After an exhaustive search, we had nearly accepted the possibility that we would need to bring a pair of adorable goat kids home with us, put in the time to allow them to mature, and then embark on our dairy adventure. We made one last visit on a rainy, raw New England day and met Violet, a two year old doe who had been bred earlier that year. The hope was that she would give birth to her first kids in early October.
There was something about Violet that just felt right. I knew that there was risk in selecting a doe that might not be pregnant and therefore wouldn’t be producing milk for our family. There was also the risk that we might try our hand at goat keeping and find that it didn’t suit us, that we had made a mistake in deciding to add goats to our family farm. Yet, as I stroked Violet’s chin I was more convinced than ever that she was the goat we had been looking for.
It seemed fitting that we were taking a chance on Violet and her future just as she was taking a chance on us. We were well read, but unproven as goat keepers. We were learning on the job, trying our best to handle each challenge as it appeared in our path. We were indeed the perfect match for each other.
On a warm July afternoon, Violet made her journey to 1840 Farm with her companion doe Tassie. It was a day full of bright sunshine and the delightful possibilities of producing our own milk. The moment that the two does settled in to their stall, the barn seemed to come alive with that same spirit of possibility. Our barn had been uninhabited for decades, but was suddenly providing shelter to our dream of becoming dairy farmers.
That October, three goat kids greeted us as we arrived at the barn for early morning chores. It was official: we were dairy farmers. We celebrated every cold bottle of fresh milk in the same way that we still marvel at each egg collected from the hens in our coop. Next spring, we hope to begin the process all over again, welcoming a new group of goat kids to our farm and the delicious milk that will be sure to follow. We can’t help but be excited at the possibility. After all, we’re dairy farmers.
See Jennifer’s blog at www.1840farm.com
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