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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Finding my peace

Today was the beginning of a new day.

It started with my alarm going off at the usual 5.15am. But without the pressing need to get up for work (hello only working one job now!), I rolled over.

At 7am I was woken again to a delightful melody of birds in the darkness of pre-dawn. Singing at the top of their voices on my doorstep, I caught myself in the briefest moment of their raw emotion: the joy-filled promise, belief and celebration of a new day dawning. Maybe it was the unseasonal autumn warmth, the gentle pitter-patter of rain, or the recent new moon but I feel the shift. Big one.
(yeah, it may also have something to do with me recently downsizing on stress/moving house/changing jobs too!)

I climbed out of bed and up the nearest hill here at my little farmhouse, just in time to sit a moment on a rock whilst I witnessed nature’s blessing: sunrise.
With every metre I climbed up that hill I stepped out of the dark cloud I’ve existed in for the past week. And at the top the rewards was waiting for me – a stunning autumn sunrise complete with epic clouds rolling in.
That moment I realised one more big thing:

I am right where I need to be.

This was nature’s way of reinforcing to me something I had ignored for the past few months…

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Rewind about four months when I was living what I thought was every girl’s dream: a carefree, inner-city life full of potential and opportunity, great friends and the job I had always wanted. Except, my health was failing. I was feeling badly alone: hormonal imbalances had left me fighting depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep and horrible mood swings. I was proceeding to feel less “alive” and even less motivated to explore Melbourne, the city that had captured my heart mere months before. I had pain and digestive issues that saw me eliminating more and more of the foods I loved and enjoyed. Where was the light at the end of this tunnel…?

But still, I felt trapped into putting on a brave face – I had everything I needed to be happy, didn’t I??

See, the thing my body was trying to teach me is that you can’t buy happiness living other people’s dreams….not a new dilemma for me, but one presented to me with a sense of urgency given my poor state of health.
There and then I made a decision to tackle these challenges, and their lessons I was destined for. When my mental and physical health miraculously improved during a three week holiday in late December, the path was clear: my whole lifestyle needed a reboot. With that, I worked on moving back to the country, to a job working outside in nature, and to a slower pace of living.

I became quickly attached to this change being a solution for all my angst. This would surely be the catalyst for my happiness to return: to eliminating stress, anxiety making way for joy and fear being replaced with courage, excitement. Of course, that is not the way this story goes. I found myself stuck between two worlds – not quite ready to jump off the safety step into the future unknown. Clinging to what I had lost, rather than focussing on the future potential I had made room for.

So I hid myself in a world that was busier, more chaotic and unsettled that I had previously known: we’re talking 50-60 hr work weeks, plus driving between two cities, bunking with friends and taking on way too much responsibility in my new job. Oh, did I include moving house, to live on my own for the first time in my life? (yeah, like a real grown-up!).
As expected I did my best “just-cope-and-get-through-the-chaos” performance…but I cracked.
Well, once again my body did. As has happened before – brave “game face” on as long as necessary then crash and burn.

Fast forward to last week when I completed my hospital work in Melbourne (i.e. free time and fresh country air) I did what anyone in denial does: flip out, ramp up into an anxiety driven ball of stress then curl up in bed with a block of chocolate and listen to my harsh inner-critic in overdrive…..why wasn’t I instantly “happy” now that I wan living the life I had wanted all those months ago? It culminated in yesterday finding myself working away on the farm exhausted, shaking and anxious (at 7am!) for no obvious reason. Looking over the edge into darkness again…

Today, though, is a different day. I woke up to find it was easier just accepting my world as it is. I’m OK with this ongoing battle with anxiety and managing my health. There will be no quick fix, no escape, no remedy that doesn’t include a lot of reflection and hard work. I’m pleased to say by the end of today, my list of “should do’s” is gone and replaced with my shortlist of things I do just for me, of things that bring me joy and make my head find peace. My stomach has unknotted. And my heart is filled with gratitude for my lesson taught by the glorious Mother Nature.

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Standing stuck

Lately I’ve been feeling it. Hard.

This morning I walked into my room no fewer than 3 times, only to stop inside the door…what was it indeed I had come for? Where would I find it? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it…unsettling as it was, there is a lesson to be learnt.
What did I need to do to quieten that gnawing feeling inside my stomach that threatened to spill out?

Last night I stood in the centre of the room, taking all the chaos in – and not a moment before time. Given how much my world has shifted in the last month it was bound to catch up with me eventually.
I had thought that when the last box was unpacked I would settle. That when I walked around my new neighbourhood I would grow more comfortable. Or as I spent quality time with family and friends in Melbourne I would be filling my life with the balance and contentment I have always strived for. I figured now a few weeks in my new job, I’d start to see why I chose to leave the last adventure behind and return to physio for the next chapter.

But there it was again. The shadow had reared itself up and cast across me. The doubts crept in at night when I lay my head on the pillow, exhausted by having more time free than I was used to.

There was a heavy empty space that lingered, where one thing had ended and another just begun.
The “shoulds” and “coulds” had returned to my vocabulary.
My creative outlets – writing, singing, creating – all dried up.

The more I fought to fill my time with people and places, the more I felt alone and stuck in a fast-moving world.

Paralysed, struck with fear that glued my feet firmly to the floor, unable to fathom the next step forward.  The to-do lists in my head grew…I was  stuck wanting to and wanting not to all at the same time, with such fierce conviction that sometimes it took all my energy just to breathe.

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I thought making the choice would be the hardest part.

I figured saying goodbye to what I had out-grown was tough enough, but I was wrong.

It’s finding the next thing, searching for the next hand hold or stepping stone.
Looking out into the unknown with a plethora of opportunities in front of me has freaked the hell out of me.
Ironically, it is a circumstance of abundance that has sent me into a tail spin. I’ve always been challenged in life to act rather than just dream – I’m well practiced at procrastinating the days away, worrying myself into inaction as I “think through” the potentials. But this time – the anxiety, the fear, the worry of right versus wrong – have taken over and rendered me a chaotic mess.

Today when it all came to a head, I was floored by the overwhelming desire to curl up under the bed and wish the world away. Hoping that if I screwed my eyes closed tightly enough the chaos would be gone.  But instead I put on my shoes, headed out the front door and down the hill. I walked and thought and walked and thought some more.
My eyes let tears spill over – from emotion or the gale force winds blowing in my face, it didn’t matter.
Slowly the knot loosened in my stomach, my breathing deepened and the shadow lost its grip.

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And then I remembered some wisdom from last year:

it is not making the “right” decision that matters, but making one and giving it your 100% effort

We are strange creatures, us humans.
Lessons come from the most unexpected circumstances.

When your body speaks, listen well.

I’ve been laid low in recent weeks, and last Monday everything came to a head.

I found myself sprawled across my bed, barely able to move. The whole right side of my head, face and neck felt hot and inflamed; like it was on fire.
My brain fogged and my limbs were heavy.

My back had locked up – just one spot right behind my right shoulder blade.
And my digestion stalled – I was experiencing some not-so subtle signs from my body, highlighting what I have tried so hard to ignore over past months.

I had it coming my way for sure – a result of hectic travels on my recent holiday (3 states in 7 days), the long work days here on the farm, and ignoring the transition in weather this chilly autumn. My body was trying to speak to my mind: stop running and deferring, start dealing.

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So I gave into my body’s demands – I shed the “everything’s OK” story, lost my “brave face” and HAD to rest.

I must admit it was very very hard to hear what I was being told; as a perfectionist and meticulous analyser I find it hard to admit when I’m gone wrong. I also find myself regularly paralysed by indecision and fear – so hard to act when I’m so caught up in the “what ifs” and making the “right choice”. But my body insisted that my mind needed to LET GO.

LET GO OF IT ALL.

Let go of others’ expectations for me.
Let go of right and wrong, black and white.
Let go of things that no longer serve me.

Ironically, the only way forward to recovery was to relax and seek more space in my life. Where I would normally go into overdrive to fill my days with busy-ness – to do more, be more, see more – I was forced to stop and watch. To retreat and listen not to others’ but to my inner self (a hard thing for me always!)

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A little over a week on and I’m feeling more centred. More content. And there’s definitely more space and time in my life. But I’m working hard at it – meditation, lots of sleep, staying warm, and [most importantly] good eating. No caffeine, no grains, limited dairy. Plenty of fresh and greens.

Now that I write all this down, it seems like a simple lesson. But one that I’ll cherish – I am reminded how enriched our lives can be with the addition of conscious “pauses”; to reflect, assess and recalibrate. For that, I am grateful I chose to listen well to my body.