That Time I Volunteered on a Goat Farm

 

Despite the needling threat of snow flurries that continue to haunt the morning news, it is now official spring.  Sunshine is becoming less rare, the beautiful flowering trees are thrusting pollen up my nostrils, and people are slowly emerging from their Netflix-and-fuzzy-socks hibernation routines. This time of year, my biological clock starts ticking, and I find myself thinking about babies – sweet, squealing, fuzzy, cantankerous goat babies.

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I realize that goats are somewhat on-trend at the moment (when, I wonder, will cows become chic?) but this is a story that goes far beyond goat yoga, eco-farm AirBnBs, and goat cheese salad.  This is the story about that time I volunteered on a goat farm.

It was a weird time in my life, I’ll give you that. I was temporarily living in Durham, North Carolina. I was doing a heck of a lot of sitting on my butt – between my job as a communications specialist and a public health master’s degree program that seemed like a lot more fun before I actually had to start studying for it. And with a big move looming in my future, my anxiety levels were absurd. I needed a distraction. I opened Instagram. I saw a photo of a baby goat. I realized it was the cutest thing on earth. I did some internet investigation and learned that this particular baby goat resided on Prodigal Farm, a dairy farm just 20 minutes from my house that was in need of baby goat volunteers for kidding season.

I signed myself and my husband up immediately, though I didn’t tell him until after the fact. Whoops.  We attended volunteer orientation, a big crowd of us crammed into a farmhouse living room, learning about the various different ways goats could more or less explode on our watch, and then….we waited. And waited. For an email.

BABIES ARE HERE!

You know when you’re in your mid-to-late twenties and all of a sudden it seems like everyone you know and have ever known is pregnant or trying to get pregnant or bouncing a new baby on their hip (and if you’re like me it makes your blood pressure steadily increase with each new baby photo you see)? Goats are the winners of this game. One goat will drop her kid. And then the next. And then all of a sudden you have thirty babies coming a week (did you know that goats tended to have twins and triplets quite frequently?)

My first couple times volunteering at Prodigal were probably the stupidest I’ve ever felt. I spilled a lot of milk – on the floor, on myself, on goats. I was constantly asking my co-volunteer if this or that goat looked fat because she was full, or because she had a potentially fatal case of gas (happens a lot with the babies…they eat too quickly and can’t deal). I wiped a lot of goat butts (also a health concern). I was too weak to lift the five gallon paint buckets of milk and too short to successfully lift the bigger babies back over the fences to their pens. I was outsmarted by many a hungry little goatie. I came home with bruises on my shins, straw in my hair, and quite literally covered in shit and mud.

It was awesome.

As many mistakes as I made, I started learning, too. I learned how to coax a balky two-day old goat to take to a plastic nipple. I learned how to administer vaccines to a squirming month-old. I helped tube-feed a malnourished baby, who thanked me by peeing all over my lap – and I honestly didn’t care. Eventually I could, if not gracefully, efficiently lug the gallons of milk and mix around the farm thanks to a trendy new work-out routine called mucking out stalls. Everyday that I came home dirty, exhausted, and smelly, I was working a part of my brain that had started to calcify under years of academic work and mind-numbing hours at an office computer. How often do you get a chance to try something you have honestly never tried before?

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That was my last spring in North Carolina. My big impending move went more smoothly than I had imagined, with a job offer landing swiftly and surprisingly in my lap. At my final interview, my future employer asked me what I did for self-care – I was, after all, applying for a potentially stressful position.

I remembered how it was physically impossible to worry about my email while running after a baby goat making a break for a weak spot in the fence. I remembered how nothing in my public health or economics text books felt as real as properly vaccinating a living being, or speaking with the farm owner about what went into her goat cheeses and how seemingly abstract shifts in the economy could affect their farm acutely. I remembered the glorious, freeing feeling of being covered in crap and mud and straw and goat milk and just deciding not to care.

I smiled. “Do you know of any nearby goat farms?”  I said.

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Check it out for yourself!

Things to know:

Prodigal Farms

4270 Bahama Rd, Rougemont, NC

Cheese available at the South Durham Farmer’s Market and State Farmer’s Market, Raleigh.

School and group tours available by appointment. Join their newsletter or follow on Facebook for updates about cheese-making classes, goat care workshops, and other special events!

Each spring, keep an eye out for baby-goat days – basically open-farm festivals that feature music, local food and handmade vendors, and of course, baby-goat snuggle time. Tickets sell out extremely quickly, so get on it!

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From Prodigal's Website

"We create handcrafted farmstead cheeses, breads, produce and farm-crafted specialty items on our 97-acre farm in rural Rougemont, North Carolina. Our family farm is centered around our pastured Animal Welfare Approved goat herd.

We are Dave Krabbe and Kathryn Spann, and Prodigal Farm is our labor of love. Kathryn's mother's family, the Hamptons, farmed tobacco for generations in this small area. Kathryn moved to wicked New York City, where she practiced law for many years. There, she met Dave standing in line to see a musician from Nashville. Soon, we decided to return to Kathryn's roots and Dave's long-time dream of farming. We purchased a farm in Rougemont, in rural northern Durham County. The farm is bounded by Hampton Road—we have truly come home.

Our farm, with its 120-year-old farmhouse, huge old oak trees, and original log tobacco barns, mule barn, corn crib, smokehouse and other outbuildings, is a constant reminder of history. When we moved in, the longtime tobacco fields and even the barns were overgrown and had long been out of service. The old mule harnesses and tack hung in the barns; the wooden wagons sat under sheds. Time held its breath here.

We started with a few goats to help us clear away the poison ivy, brambles and other vines. Miraculously, the goats turned the overgrowth into milk, and Kathryn turned the milk into cheese—and it was good! We needed more goats. Then we needed a dairy."