My fourth farm was Coonridge Dairy north of Pie Town, New Mexico.
The farmer is Nancy. Since she was young, Nancy has loved milk. Cows didn’t interest her, but even though she’d never met a goat, she knew that was what she wanted. Two goats quickly turned into a herd of Alpine, Nubian and La Mancha goats. The farm started in the early 1980’s when Nancy and her husband Andy bought 250 acres of remote property in New Mexico so Nancy’s goats could roam freely. Fifty goats were transported from California to New Mexico in an old school bus. There was no road through their new property so they built one as they went, finally reaching a valley where they set up the bus as their home. Thirty years later, the farm has WWOOFer cabins and trailers, a cheese making room, a milking parlor, goat pens, pig pens, a sheep pen, a duck pond, the main house and the old, blue school bus. All the water the farm uses is collected from the rain showers. Power comes from solar, gasoline and propane. The farm makes a fromage-style soft cheese that’s seasoned with spices and oils.
My Farm Experience
The morning-milker’s day started at 6:00 am when we got up to a wide canvas of stars in the sky and the faintest dark orange band in the eastern sky. It was November and cold in the mornings. We relished making our way to the main house with its warmth from the wood stove. After a pre-breakfast of homemade granola and goat’s milk yogurt, we went out to feed the bucks, pigs and ducks and set up the milk parlor for milking. The animals knew what we were up to when we went outside so the compound was filled with a cacophony of quacks, grunts, bleats, baas and snorts. It was nice to feel so popular. I enjoyed listening to the sounds of eating. Piglets chewing alfalfa, sows slurping whey and ducks pecking at dog food. I’d linger at one of the pig pens to listen as the pigs crunched their corn kernels.
The goats were milked twice a day, twelve hours apart. Two or three people milked at each shift. The milking equipment, like much of the machinery on the farm, was vintage World War II. (The pulsators which attached to the milk vats had leather parts inside.) When the door from the pen to the milking parlor was opened, twelve goats came stampeding in and jumped up on the metal stanchion. After they put their heads between metal bars so they could eat the cottonseed we’d given them, we closed the bars so they couldn’t remove their heads. Then we rolled over the two milking vats which had long lines attached to them. On the end of the lines were suctions that we put on the teats. Each vat had four suctions so a milker did two goats at a time. It took less than a minute to milk each goat. A few of the goats didn’t like to be milked. Little Corazon would go under the stanchion and we’d have to crawl under it to pull her out. Banish would stomp and be agitated if we touched her udder. I was told it was because she was a good mother and didn’t want some other mother’s pesky kid drinking her milk. So to milk Banish, I had to put my arm around her back and press my head against her stomach, and then put the suctions on from the front instead of the back of her udder. That way she was fine and allowed me to milk her. Wisdom, the herd queen, had one long horn which she used to let herself out of the neck hold. We’d be milking away and suddenly notice her either patiently standing at the door or turned around staring down at us on the stanchion. Another special goat was Alfonso who hadn’t been on organic feed for a whole year so her milk couldn’t go into the vat with the others. She got to be hand milked. I was pleased that I remembered how to hand milk from the first dairy I was on. My right hand strongly squirted the milk into the small pot. My left hand less-strongly squirted the milk all over the stanchion and me. Aim is important. After a few days, I was able to get both hands consistently hitting the pot. The main house always had a little jar of Alfonso milk in the fridge. After milking was finished, we let the goats out of their pen to enjoy the day roaming ridges and eating sage, juniper and pine needles. On some mornings they really let out their goat, rising up on the hind legs to butt heads with another goat or springing down the dirt road kicking their back legs out to the side in typical goat fashion. For us, it was time for breakfast and our morning meeting with Nancy.
Besides granola and yogurt, our favorite breakfast was chopped potatoes with cheddar cheese melted over it. A few of the WWOOFers were quite good at cooking it. While we ate, Nancy told us what we’d be doing that day. During the first few days I was on the farm, I worked in the gardens weeding out mallow plants and digging new beds to plant garlic and spinach. The weather was warm and sunny and it was a pleasure to work outside. As it got colder, I was happier staying by the fire in the main house washing the breakfast dishes and sweeping. I also got to do all the steps of the cheese making process except for the pasteurization. Only Tim, who was a long-time employee, did the pasteurization. That step also involved adding the culture and rennet which turned the milk into cheese. (Additionally, the process of pasteurizing heated up a lot of water which we were able to take and use for a sponge bath. I went two weeks between sponge baths and did not feel or smell (as far as I could tell) dirty.) The next step in making the cheese was pouring the curds and whey into trays lined with cheesecloth which were hung up from hooks to let the whey drain out. After a couple of days of draining, the cheese was taken down and put into a mixer. Salt was added for flavor and whey was added for texture. Then the cheese was put into what we called the Squasher which was actually a sausage maker. The dairy has over ten flavors of cheese, each with an oil and its own seasoning blend. A little oil and seasoning was put into the bottom of the small glass jars and then the Squasher was turned on and the jars were filled in the way a soft ice cream cone is filled. More oil and seasoning was put on top of the cheese. The jars were boiled for ten minutes to help weed out any bacteria, and finally a label was put on the jar and it was ready for purchase.
The lunch bell sounded at around 2:00. Nancy would frequently cook up stir-fry greens from the garden, goat meat stew from her own butchered animal, and bean, lots of beans. Sometimes we worked on projects like moving hay in the barns in the afternoons but generally we had a siesta until we had another chore to do like the 4:30 feeding or the evening milking. I took the weather data at a little NOAA weather station next to the main house. I recorded the high, low, current temperatures and on one day I got to record rainfall. The weather information was posted on the Internet.
In the afternoons, I liked to take a walk along the dirt road down to Cow Lake toward Pyramid Mountain. The farm is at 8,000 feet elevation and I would feel that there was less oxygen in the air when I went up a hill and couldn’t quite catch my breath. Sometimes I’d come across the goats. The first time this happened the five maremma guardian dogs let out a warning bark, formed a pack and seemed threatening. Then they began running towards me. The only thing I could think to do was to back up slowly and say “Hey, you know me!” They burst upon me almost knocking me over with their long wiggly bodies and endlessly wagging tails. After some pets and hugs, they went back to sitting under trees as the goats went off ahead up a ridge. Nancy said the goats move like an amoeba through the forest. The front of the herd goes ahead of the others and then stops to eat. The rest catch up and they bunch together. Then the front goats extend forward again. Flocks of noisy birds flew overhead but otherwise the only wildlife I saw were a small tarantula and a long-eared jackrabbit. The sky was large and the sun always shining. A good place for meditation.
The goats would come home at around 5:00 pm. After eating sage and rubbing their heads on juniper and pinyon pine trees all day, they smelled lovely. I put my forehead against the top of their head and breathed in their fragrance. Zampa and Zulu would rub their heads all over me so my clothes also had the sagey smell. When we heard their bells, we went out to herd them into their pen. Usually this took a bit of effort. We’d get half the herd in the pen, go out and get the rest of the herd moving towards the pen only to find the goats who were in the pen filing back out. Or we’d be at the back of the herd moving them up the road to their pen, but instead of the goats making a left to go towards their pen, they would continue straight and make a right. One time I saw Nancy out herding them in by herself. She walked behind them making a ‘shhh’ sound. The goats obediently went straight to their pen.
Dinner was on our own. Sometimes a WWOOFer would stir-fry some greens and cook up lintels or make popcorn or cookies. I spent some time in the evenings hanging out in the main house either chatting or using the Internet. Then I went up the path to my cabin to read a book, watch a movie or practice my fiddle.
I had a private cabin that was on top of a small hill. It overlooked a broad meadow that was ringed by ridges and had layers of mountains in the far distance. I watched the sunrise in the morning and the stars or moon at night. I also used the privacy to teach myself how to play the fiddle. I’d rented a violin in Albuquerque to see if I’d like to learn to play it.