Why I do what I do (or how I came to be a goat farmer)

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Source: here or here.

I came across this gem last week, suitably relevant for me and what I’ve been incubating for a while now. Particularly, as this week marked two years since I arrived at The Goat Farm.

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I came for a week, and stayed living and working as an “intern” on the farm for nearly a year.
Then I left the farm and headed back to my “career” in a conventional job (as a physio), only to get sick and reconsider the direction my life was heading b-i-g time.

Six months after I finished as an intern, I was back – this time in a paid position on the farm, for which I am still unsure of my exact job title! Farmer, milker, vet nurse. midwife, lactation consultant, cheesemaker, dreamer, land custodian….they all seem relevant! Nevertheless, this chop-n-change style over recent years has taught me some pretty major things when it comes to health, happiness, priorities in life and the big question I’ve been asking since I was two: why.

Without fail, every month I get asked questions along the same vein – why did I leave my chosen career as a physio? And why did I choose farming? With goats? And why, oh why as a cheesemaker?
Despite growing up on a farm, I hadn’t entertained the idea of farming as a kid, and until two years ago I hadn’t milked a goat or even made cheese. So, why would something so far removed from my training and career, be calling my name…?

It’s not an easy question to answer, because most people expect a romantic story about how farming is all about sitting on the verandah watching sunsets or lying in paddocks of long grass listening to birds or cuddling newborn fluffy kids all day. Yes, there are moments of that…interspersed with sweeping up poo, scrubbing buckets, and dark pre-dawn 6am starts. With long days, endless dishes and hard decisions to make – such as saying goodbye to the 6-month old boys you’ve helped hand-raise, as they are taken off to the abattoir. Then there’s the reality of working in a business that has to operate 365 days a yr – there are no sleepins, or days off – and everything you do is totally dictated by Mother Nature – we (and the animals) are at the mercy of weather patterns that are becoming more extreme and impossibly unpredictable. Summers are dust and heat and living in constant anxiety about the risk of  fires. Winters are harsh and cold, frozen and dark affairs.

I ask myself again, why would anyone want this life?

It’s taken me two years to be sure, but in reality it was the second day I was working on the farm that broke open my heart and showed me why.

October 13, 2013. Sunday

A hot, dry spring day. The grass is drying off, crunchy under foot and there’s the sharp shrill of cicadas as they begin to ramp up their song for summer.

Milking time comes around at 3pm as it does every day, but off under a shady, quiet tree sits Aretha – one of our beautiful 7 yr-old Saanen does. 

Sure enough when we approach, she is busy and focussed on the task at hand: making a soft “bed” of dirt as she prepares to kid, for the third (and final time) in her life. Her hormones and instincts strong, she rides every contraction with such calmness it is enchanting.

I have the privilege of sitting and watching the birth – she doesn’t seem too upset by the company, if anything reassured. 
(I’ve since learnt goats have a very cleaver knack of making sure you’re are there to help when needed!).

Quickly with the next contraction one set of feet and a nose emerge – a fluffy white girl is born. Then another girl follows. Aretha is diligent and loving as she gently, tenderly cleans them both. Nudging and encouraging them both to take their first, wobbly steps on firm ground. They drink precious colostrum in short bursts, nuzzling at her udder (and sometimes her neck, the wrong end!).

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But time ticks by, with continued intense contractions.

Slowly but surely more feet emerge. But this time, it is clear to me they’re are back feet. Uh-oh. A breech!

I call one of the owners, who comes fast and every so gently, the last of triplets – a big, boofy boy –  is helped to be born.

 

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In that moment, I was hooked. Witnessing new life being born has to be one of the most powerful experiences in the world (second only to having a child of your own, I would imagine), but on this day I suddenly understood why anyone would be a farmer. The connection with each animal cannot be undone…they are part of your world as much as you theirs. The immersion into the natural world is intoxicating.

No piece of the latest technology or TV show or new designer clothes can swell the heart like watching a new kid flourish from wobbly newborn to strong, bold doe pregnant with her own young.
Witnessing the tenderness and love each goat show their kids makes me understand the responsibility and trust we humans must bear. I am humbled by this life-force that is far bigger than anything humans could imagine or build on our own…we hold the power in our hands, yet are mere players in the endless cycle of life and death on our planet. Each day I am reminded that I work (and live) in the clutches of momentum we can’t control…the ebbs and flow of the seasons bring tangible reminders to me that there is a time and a place for everything.

CONNECTION. Once we are aware of this web of life there’s no going back, no shrinking of the mind or shirking of responsibility.

I farm to see the power of nature flourish, to work with people who have similar ideas.  By doing so, I have begun to heal and flourish in my own right.

 

Let me return back to reality – I have never been so dirty or dusty or tired in my life. Not to mention overwhelmed at times, stretched and challenged (both physically and emotionally) in my life. But never have I felt so alive and free. It must be true – nothing worth doing is ever easy. Each night, when I climb into bed there is a very firm sense of achievement, satisfaction that I’ve rarely felt in any other job I’ve had. When I look out in the paddock and see the young kids dancing and running care-free it makes me happy. Being sure of my place in this big world doesn’t come easy, but knowing that I have played my part in fostering new life, that is enough.

 

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The extraordinary artisan cheese we make as a result of this circle of life, is really just an added tasty bonus.

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Move over 2013, there’s a new kid on the block!

I am forever grateful for the adventures and lessons of 2013. It was a year that at times felt like a decade, yet other weeks flew by in days. It was twelve months in which I worked harder, yet smarter and learned more than I could imagine possible.

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I am so lucky to have travelled widely this past year – to new places and to revisit old favourites, close family and friends.

I am glad I found music again – choir, guitar, ukelele.

I have learnt (and continue to learn) the value of good health through ills and dis-ease; and feel better, stronger, more “real” for the lesson. I’m embracing all my imperfections, and just trying to value the little things that go a very very long way to securing my happy equilibrium.

I cooked and ate and drank merrily through 2013.

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I am blessed to have met new inspiring folk. I have found more inspiration in places I didn’t think to look. I have read well – devouring novels, memoirs, non-fiction, journals and food magazines alike. I have de-cluttered, recycled and downsized my worldly possessions from 3 separate interstate locations to one (well, almost).

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But the biggest lesson has been finding my own space and time.
Space to just exist and have fun and cook, laugh, sing, sit, drink coffee and write.
Space also to reflect and truly learn from the hard things that are thrown my way – not just to shove them deeper and deeper down and just go on “coping”.

Space in nature to nurture (and be nurtured). I am busy each day cultivating a little parcel of space that allows me to grow, create, and push the boundaries.

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I found time to celebrate birthdays and milestones and new beginnings. Time to feel sadness and disappointments. Time and space to live in the hustle and bustle of a city paced life; to watch and feel the throng of busy-ness around me. Other times to relax in good company. Or time to be alone.

2013 was the first year in my life that I thought about myself (my bliss, happiness, hopes and dreams) more than others. Not in a selfish “the-world-revolves-around-me way, but more accurately I committed to looking after my self before I gave over to anyone else. There is reward beyond what I could imagine when you bravely place the highest value on your own self and what brings you happiness. So, I have finally made peace with myself and 2013 has taught me there is no shame in walking away from something that isn’t the right fit.

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One week into 2014 and the priorities are shifting further…the dreams and visions are becoming clearer, my inner voice is calling me to let go and live a more AUTHENTIC existence. 2014 will be about further refining my world, not being afraid to leave behind stale beliefs and old worn-out dreams. It will be about bucking my life-long habit of avoiding commitment and seizing each new day. There will be more travel, more reading, more time for singing and talking and of course eating and drinking well.

It will be more adventures to discover a stronger and leaner body. But a softer, gentler mind. And an open, grateful heart.

Welcome 2014.