We’re a family farm in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where we landed a dozen years ago after leaving Maine for my husband’s job in public broadcasting. Our site has always been a farm, historically of much larger acreage with large barns and a silo, but never in good repair. The scrappy 1843 farmhouse has been expanded many times, and we cringe to think of the underlying structural makeup. Our fields are only suitable for pasture, but the 7-stall modular horse barn was enough to lure us (me) here in the beginning.
I added horses within 2 months of our arrival, a story in itself, then our son requested chickens … years later, a day-long Joel Salatin session at a NOFA conference and a few CISA annual meetings with the farmers, and Dirigo Farm was born (Dirigo is the Maine state motto and means “I lead,” even if we’re only learning).
In the last twelve years we’ve updated “the little barn” and much of the fencing, converted pastures close to the house to vegetable gardens, added permanent and mobile chicken coops, built a run-in shed for the horses and acquired 20 acres of pasture and forest across the road. We’ve even managed to hay two fields the last few years with several pieces of renovated haying equipment and a friend with a baler that helps when the timing is right.
In 2009 I took a 1 day a week job at a grass-fed Black Angus farm in Shelburne, working on the business side to coordinate freezer beef sales, herd tracking and butchering. It’s been interesting seeing the farm manager’s classic farming methods at work, vs. much of what I’m reading and learning about in Holistic Management.
By then we had three horses, were selling eggs, had the additional 20 acres (mostly woodland) to manage, and every conference or class would yield a dozen new ideas for what we could do — from livestock, to woodlands, to mushrooms, to cut flowers and herbs. I liked fiber and had always wanted to learn to spin, so was set on sheep, until I took a dairy goat class at a NOFA meeting in early 2010 and decided friendly animals you could lead were preferable. Since I’m on the farm full time, I also realized my need for the daily routine that herd animals might not require.
After goat breed research that spring, we acquired Nubian goats and a Pygmy buck with intentions to breed for Kinders, a dual purpose meat/dairy breed that started in Washington state and hasn’t quite made it to New England. Our first Kinder kids were born this spring, a doe and a buck. And twi more nubian kiddings fillowed in June and July — all bucks! cute, bute slated to move on, while we focus on Kinders going forward.
I’ve now milked through two winters, learned to make a variety of fresh and aged cheeses (Camembert, Valencay, Parmesan, Blue) and Goat’s milk soap. I’d misunderstood the laws around Raw Milk sales for VERY small farms, and now have a much better understanding of the regulations surrounding Grade A dairy and cheese operations. My research has led me to many great people with common goals (and frustrations) — and I’m still convinced there is a way to make micro dairying work for our farm.