Eleven miles west of us lies Goatsbeard Farm, our local artisan goat dairy and cheese-makers. The proprietors are good friends and have been willing resources for us from the beginning of our own goat herd. All our goats have come from their herd, and we’ve bred with their buck. Keeping a reasonably closed herd is a good way to manage disease and other issues, and we’re very happy to have a good working relationship with them as we build our experience.
One of the best aspects to running a small, diversified market farm is the contacts and connections we are able to make with our colleagues and peers. We’re all pretty scattered around the region, our vegetables, goats, and so on separated by seas of corn and soy and overgrazed cattle pastures. However, we manage to keep a pretty good network of cooperating friends who can share work, ideas, assistance, and materials as needed. For example, our milling days have been attended by several farmer friends who exchange their work for some useful lumber. One friend in particular and I have been exchanging work days on each others’ farms for a long time, travelling back and forth over an hour’s separation to give full days of work on tasks that can’t be done along while our significant others are away at off-farm jobs.
We’ve built an especially steady and helpful relationship with Goatsbeard, getting advice and support on our animals in exchange for help at their place. Now I’ve taken the next step in that connection, starting employment there. Since early this spring, I’ve been working one day a week as a general farmhand, managing the animals, helping with dairy tasks, and general farm labor as needed. It’s an arrangement that benefits everyone. For me, it’s some reliable income that is appreciated, and a chance for more hands-on experience with running a full-time dairy & cheese operation, something I have no other way to learn. For them, it’s another reliable employee who can be called on any time, and who makes their life a bit easier through delegation of basic work (they use many such part-time employees to keep the operation running). Our farms also complement each other well; we’ve been supplying regular truckloads of firewood and lumber for their use, while getting cheese, milk, and more in return. We keep good records of these transactions to make sure we’re balancing the books right.
In any case, I think I’m getting the best end of the deal, earning useful money while really getting an education in full-time animal management throughout the season. Spring is naturally a busy and exciting time, as kidding is going full-blast and milking & cheesemaking is just starting up. There’s a great deal to learn, and I’m doing my best to absorb everything for our own future use. And, as Joanna puts it, this arrangement keeps me from getting to aggressive in expanding our own population for the next few years while we really need to be focusing on growing our vegetable production, which is still the only product we’re actually allowed to make a living on at our scale. So in the meantime, I’ll be over at the dairy every Monday, working with 60+ goats and amassing knowledge and ideas for the future. And this year, we can still look forward to kids from Garlic in April and a steady home milk & cheese supply through