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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Taking Stock (and a link-fest)

Lately, there’s been so much going on in my brain it hurts…ideas and emotions and plans all rolling around in there, it can feel all a little overwhelming at times. But good busy.
One day, I’ll get all of the important ideas onto a page, I’ll record the brainwaves and document those fleeting moments of up and down. Until then here’s a snap shot thanks to Kate at Fox’s Lane and Pip shares.

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Making : a crochet blanket for a friend’s first baby, whilst sitting next to fire watching The Hunger Games movies.

Cooking : anything slow cooked, chocolate filled or mushroomy (not altogether!!).
Osso bucco, spicy pumpkin soup, chocolate brownies (x3), roasted field mushrooms with goat’s cheese, homemade yoghurt. Then late today,  into the slow cooker went mushroom and white bean soup.

Drinking : Hot lemon water with Apple Cider Vinegar each morning. And lots of smoothies – now with banana and coconut milk, not water for the weather has gone chilly. Plus lots of green stuff hidden inside too.

Reading: SLOW magazine, and The Renegade Collective Hub magazine. And The Saturday Paper…proper writings to inspire and comfort and inform.

Wanting: more sunny autumn days but knowing we need the rain more. So please, keep the rain coming but maybe just at nighttime, OK??

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Looking: out in the paddock for field mushrooms. And scanning up in the pine forests for more edible delights; blessed to live in a place with such plentiful fresh produce just a short walk away.

Playing: Asgeir “In The Silence”, on repeat every day. The haunting melodies and lyrics still move me to tears and then uplift my heart all at the same time.

Wasting: plenty of time on Instagram these days.

Sewing: nothing; I don’t sow…not even hem my pants; I use sports tape and safety pins instead.

Wishing: my family lived closer nearby

Enjoying: pretty autumn sunny days filled with lots of colourful trees and reading books in the sun and cups of tea

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Waiting: for a sign, to pluck up the courage and take the plunge: to plan the next adventure and travel some more. Patience, little one.

Liking: after nearly 18 months living in Central Victoria I finally got to go to my “local” Farmer’s Market today; sell cheese and chat to the locals….my locals. For a gypsy like me, it’s a new feeling to find a place to settle comfortably.

Wondering: just how much firewood is enough, and exactly how many hours a week does it take to keep a 3 bdr Farmhouse clean.  (answer to both: too much!)

Loving: fiction – escapism at it’s best.

Hoping: for my flannelette sheets to dry so I can snuggle between fresh, clean, cozy linen tonight.

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Marvelling: just how magical the outdoors is during my favourite season, Autumn.

Needing: to chop some more wood. And collect dry kindling. Then start knitting the next scarf.

Smelling: nothing better than being woken by the sweet aroma of a new slow-cooked meal early in the morning

Wearing: my beanie inside these days…

Following: Mindful In May’s 31 day meditation program this month – taming my monkey mind and fundraising water for African villages. Go here to join in or donate or sponsor me.

Noticing: just how many new lambs are running around the paddock next to my Farmhouse with each day that passes by.
And already just 4 days into May that just ten minutes a day spent in meditation really does ground and calm me.

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Knowing: once the mind is stretched into new territory, it can never retreat. Knowledge is power and freedom. That we never reach the end destination; the finish line keeps shifting, the goal posts move and what we once felt important in life will be constantly redefined by new moments. That the only constant in life is change, and we can only do what we can, with what we have right here and right now.

Thinking: To upgrade the phone, or not?? The USB connection is hap hazard, and the screen freezes in my nigh-on 2 yr old Samsung are becoming more frequent and more frustrating. But oh, the cost. And then Android or Apple?
I’ll probably just keep going with the one I’ve got…til I smash it up or drop it in water.

Feeling: inspired by all the possibilities that are ahead of me, but just a teensy bit scared of the next step. Which direction??

Bookmarking: at page 714 through my next read for #fiftytworeads: Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini. The last of the Eragon books – epic but captivating.

Opening: a block of French-made dark chocolate my boss’s bought back from Paris last month. Mmmm…dinner perhaps?

Giggling: with a fellow farmer chick this morning on our way to the local Farmer’s Market about terrible reality TV, Twilight movies of yester-year and just how much cheese is enough…!?

Feeling: Challenged. Proud. Grateful. Just happy to be alive, here and now.

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How about you??

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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September:

 

 

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\\Last goodbyes

//New backyards

 

 

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\\Final stitches, sending parcels

//New projects

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\\Coffee dates

//Birthday love

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\\Blue skies, pretty clouds

//Heavy Melbourne rain drops on new blossom

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//Pedicures

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//Morning walks

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//Farm feasts with friends

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Of course there’s things I don’t photograph…like un-packing boxes, doing washing, painful physio sessions and lazy Sunday sleep-ins.

Thank you September, for bringing with you the sunshine and flowers and new beginnings of spring.

Until next year.

Two perfect winter days.

Time and Space.

Space and Time.

It’s all I need really….time to heal, to reflect and recharge. Space to feel, to breathe, and to explore. To recalibrate and grow new ideas. Or simply, the opportunity to spend some quality time immersed in the pristine, calming world of Mother Nature.

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I hate to overuse the work “perfect” – but that’s what it was. Last week, I spent two nights at Wilson’s Promontory for the first time in about 20 years…when I was last there you could still buy a big bag of bird seed from the general store to feed the birds. Holidays as a kid were chaos in tents, icy cold swims and (equally) icy cold showers. Changeable weather, adventures up the creeks and across squeaky sand.

As a kid this was an endless wonderland.
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This trip it felt like I was transported to a different era – where the measure of time was not a watch but the waves carving into granite cliffs. Or the tidal river engulfing moss-covered boulders and trespassing into the wetlands. The sun peeking up over the mountains, fanning out to light the sky and sparkle on the seas. Where your eyes cast out across the ocean…to nothingness – so close to the edge of the universe.

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If you haven’t been there yourself, do. Put it one your list to visit and soon – winter is kind to this part of the world (if you bring your woolies and hiking boots!!).

The days seemed to start brighter and crisper than what I am used to.

The sun rises gently but firmly, changing the landscape and bringing the world to life.

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It really was just me and the birds on the beach that morning.

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Squeaky beach wasn’t as squeaky as I remembered, but I had it all to myself.

I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, or stop thinking just how lucky I am to live in this part of the world.

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If you’re blessed as we were, the weather will be kind. The days will feel long and glorious. The views will not disappoint.

We chose an ambitious 17km day walk, and didn’t regret a minute of it.

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There were chats and laughter (mostly on the downhill parts). Jokes and some serious debate.

A lunch picnic in the sun.

Wildlife spotting – poor little thing, didn’t like being the centre of attention really!

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Many beach strolls – the water blue and the sky bluer. The clouds all pretty and wispy.

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Obstacles to negotiate, icy waters to test.

Photos to take, and [more] food to eat.

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And sunsets to melt your heart and give strength to weary legs.

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Time and space – two days in paradise really is proof that the simple things in life give such pleasure.

How blessed I truly am.

REVISITED: Walking Yosemite (part 2)

If you misssed Part 1 of my adventures to Yosemite in 2011, catch up here.

It figures once you have explored the valley floor over, then the only angle left to explore is the views from above.

View from Glacier Point, across the valley floor to Yosemite Falls

And so we did – although not by any dare-devil means like rock climbing, abseiling or jumping off anything, even though that seemed pretty much what everyone else has come to do (I decided I really wanted to do the rest of my trip and arrive home in one piece, not a body bag!!).

Somebody did die rock-climbing the week before we visited. And someone else had to be rescued by a helicopter….

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climbing up along Sentinal Dome: view out over Half Dome.

But back to walking to the top of the park….the breath-taking views I saw really can’t be compared to anything else I have seen in my life – you’re up higher than anywhere in Australia, looking down over something that has taken millions of years to form and is thankfully protected again human destruction (mostly).

You can (if brave and foolish enough) walk from the valley floor all the way up to the top. That’s nearly 5 miles up, and right on 1000m elevation gain. My maths skills put to the test, that’s a pretty steep gradient. Thankfully there’s another, easier option – to drive!

In the car on the way up, the landscape swiftly changes from lush and evergreen conifers to sparse and windswept. The engine worked hard, we wound on past boulders, wildflowers, and picnic spots.

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a little windswept…

The actual walk up from the road to the top of Sentinel Dome (8122ft high) is really short comparatively….a steep rock-hopping puddle jumping affair. But with the elevation came two things: wind chill and views. Standing at the top – as I said, higher than Australia – the colours are different. The contrast a little sharper, yet distances deceptive.

From here, after another rock scramble down without any mishaps we landed at the edge. Quite literally.

Glacier Point is iconic, and you won’t be disappointed – if you’re short on time while visiting at any stage, don’t cross this peak off! You might even spot a wedding party (as I did!) amongst all the day trippers…