This last week has had it all.

 

Hot, dry tinder days that you pray no-one starts a fire. Days where it’s nice just to sit in the shade and watch.

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Stormy overcast days that bring big splotchy raindrops from the thunderstorms to cool the singed earth and revitalise. Rain, glorious rain – even when I was drenched wet to the core, I was smiling.

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Happy mail days.

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Cuteness wrapped up in a kitten’s fluffy joy.

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Tastes of summer picked fresh from the vines with family.

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One black eye inflicted by a goat (and gate) at 6;30am on a Sunday morning.
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Cheese. cheese and more cheese. Relief from the heat and harshness of summer is found in strange places; like the peace and repetition of making hand made cheese.

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It summer, there’s no doubt.

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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.

Be careful what you wish for…

For it might just come true! I mean this in the most awe-inspiring, miracles-do-happen and dreams-can-come-true kinda way.

But it nearly didn’t happen…I was almost too scared to take the leap and say “yes” for fear of what may (or may not) come.  Oh so glad I did make the call late in 2013.

(more on this next time)

Because as it turns out, listening to that little voice inside me, saying yes and committing to the move has been the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

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Fast forward to this week, and I’m moving house. And not just any old house…but into  a 90-yr old farmhouse.

My dream farmhouse.
Yes, it’s currently covered in several layers on dust, mice droppings and flies, but this house is alive.

Oh, the stories she could tell!

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I can’t quite begin to explain the feeling I get driving in the driveway, up to my house….and there she sits, a little withered by the harshness of summer but no less impressive in her old age.

I love the wonky floor in the kitchen, sloping away towards the sink. The pot-belly stove tucked away with a peak-a-boo window behind.

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I love padding down the long hallway from the kitchen to my bedroom, noticing the squeaks and gaps in floor boards as they yield under foot after all these years.

I love the five – FIVE! –  fireplaces, the antique door handles and screen doors that don’t quite close properly. The lounge room, large enough and grand enough to hold a gala ball.

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Then there’s a study attached to my bedroom, with built-in book cases and just waiting for a desk to sit under the broad window. Complete with a view across the valley that will certainly prove a lovely distraction from any future work to be done.

There’s the bathroom….ah, maybe you’d call this look “rustic”?
I love it.
(minus the cobwebs)

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I love the pantry. Did I mention the walk-in pantry? Complete with blackboard for list-making and drawing.

And the cellar down below, waiting to be swept out and filled with wine, cheese, preserves and root vegetables.

But the fun’s only just started. Now I must spend a few days sweeping and cleaning and polishing her up. There’s a few things to fix, a few to find, and some big ticket items to buy. There’s a garden to grow, a verandah to sit on and more dreams to realise.

Then I can  begin to make this house in the country a home.

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28 years in the making….

I’m not much of a birthday fuss person. No big celebrations for milestones or designer gifts needed – just a day with some fine food and good company. Last weekend was my birthday – not a significant number – but it was a weekend filled with exactly what I could have wished for, and more!

It started on the Friday – school was out! To celebrate the occasion, the lovely farm where I am currently WWOOFing, had a weekend trip planned to “The Island”.
We [WWOOFers] hastily wheelbarrowed out all the mulch to get our day’s work done…

Jumped into the car and journeyed across some picturesque South Gippsland hills to The Island.

Pitched our tent at the beach house (the rest of the beds were taken).

Discovered a secret path from the backyard to the beach….

And this magical view was the reward for our day’s hard work!

We all wined and dined wonderfully – made even more splendid because I watched my footy team win; just a week later, the reward for them was to be their second premiership in seven years.
I climbed happily into my sleeping bag that night, realising that twenty eight years ago [to the day] my darling parents were getting prepared to welcome their daughter into the world a few hours later…I slept like a baby to the sound of waves and swaying banksia trees.

The next morning was better than you can imagine – first a trip to the local farmer’s market (on historic Churchill Island) to stock up on all things fresh and fabulous. Then a coffee with paper reading for an hour or so. And a little bit of strange animal spotting…

Beautiful scruffy Scottish Longhorn cattle
Lunch, birthday style – all I asked for was eggs, and a side of croissant!
Of course there was birthday cake, thanks to my lovely WWOOF friend Miriam (chocolate and beetroot).
With the sun out, I could no longer ignore the beach at my doorstep.

The water was cold…toes in was far enough for me!

Sun on legs, book in hand….I could happily spend the rest of my days here. But there was more important things to prepare for in the evening; PENGUINS!!
Yes, I was being thoroughly spoilt for my birthday – being sent along for a tour of the lovely fairy penguins that call The Island home (and have even displaced some humans from houses built on their habitat – how cool is that!!).


As darkness descended, the little fury things ventured carefully out of the waves and up the cliffs to their homes. Cute doesn’t begin to describe this “parade” that they do every single night of the year; I only wished I’d bought some more winter layers….

Later that night storms were brewing. I woke to thunderstorms at 5am, hoping the tent was waterproof!
Indeed mother nature was letting up know how quickly the world can change that morning – the sun was gone, the temperature was wintery again…perfect for a beach stroll up to Cowes for coffee. And more paper/magazine reading in a very cute cafe.

With heavy hearts we packed up a wet tent and left The Island to drive home.
Stopping along the way in Yarragon for a bite to eat and to browse the shops; lingering in the sun, savouring the relaxed sunday vibe just a little bit longer…
Home to unpack.

Late afternoon as the heavy clouds lifted I pulled on my shoes and went for a jog.

Who wouldn’t when this is your view….

All that for a weekend that I had originally thought would be quiet and uneventful.
It left me thinking, what a beautiful country we live in. And how blessed am I?
Thanks to Phil and Cathie here on the berry farm, and fellow WOOFer Miriam. And everyone who sent birthday wishes – I really couldn’t have asked for a more splendid time.

Here’s to 28 years and to savouring every moment that comes our way.

xxoo