It’s only in looking back through photos of the past year that I can more clearly see how much we actually accomplished here. This is a reassuring exercise, since my eye is constantly drawn to what is still not done (or not done well enough, or broken…)
This year was one of exciting progress, but also one of a thousand long-overdue 10-minute projects (sharpen that chisel, fix that crooked fencepost, get that lumber pile out of our yard, fix that flat wheelbarrow tire, move that poor bike out of the rain already…) It has been such a monumental effort to establish a homestead from scratch, that we’ve constantly pushed these little projects off until “later.” Probably if we were more efficient, or focused, we could’ve kept up with our loose ends along the way. Well. Such is the great learning curve (a.k.a. “life”).
Last winter was long and snowy and lingered far into April, and we were leaping at the door to get things started outside. Most of our big projects of the year involved building, which required that the ground be thawed and dried out. Not knowing what else to do until then, I spent many hours slogging through wet snow, knee-deep, cutting firewood and clearing land. It was at least 10 times more work than waiting a few weeks for the ground to clear. But I had to do something or I might explode (and now we have 2 years of wood stowed away).
Life sure was good in our new high tunnel though. With snow still deep outside, the spinach was erupting out of the ground with the lengthening days and the balmy indoor weather. We kept the goats in there for the winter, and they too thrived in the bright, warm conditions. Plastic does, at times, make amazing things possible.
Once things did finally melt and dry out, the first order of business was to prepare a chicken coop, as we had chickens arriving in April. Like the farmers of old, we took the path of least resistance and dragged our wood shed over to hitch onto the back side of my little workshop, put some boards and a door on it, and were ready to go (knowing now we would of course need a new wood shed before long).
We scrambled to get our creamery built and did finish it, but ultimately concluded it was one thing too many to go online with it for the year. We instead decided to focus on fencing new land and building quality winter housing for the goats. Care of the animals comes first and foremost for us, and everything else resolves one way or another. We spent the season honing some cheese recipes, working out kinks with the creamery space, and will hit the ground running this coming spring.
Before we knew it, it was Real Spring—bees, blossoms, bright green grass, bright green trees, bright green weeds in the garden…
We kept the goats off the main pasture as long as we could to let it grow in, and finally cut the 4 expecting moms loose on it on a glorious day in May. It was the kind of day where you can’t take a bad picture, and all you want to do is lay in the warm grass and listen to the bees in the apple trees and watch the hawks soar. But, a Puritan guilt grips you and you know a long, warm day (without bugs, no less) can’t be wasted in idleness. “If you’re not preparing for winter now, you’re late.” In Maine, this mantra applies year-round.
And then…goat kids! I don’t think this will ever get old. It’s like having a bunch of new puppies every year. We call it the goat vortex—you suddenly realize you’ve been watching their antics for hours, having unwittingly blown off all your worldly obligations (or that’s your story anyway).
All of the kiddings were “textbook” goat births, if there can be such a thing. They were fast, easy and without any hitches. We are fairly hands-off when it comes to kidding, but when we know it’s imminent, we can’t help but hang around and watch. The moms are in their own world and never seem to mind.
The kids were all big, hearty, and full of vigor. And two-thirds girls! We’ve had amazing odds over the course of several years, with overwhelmingly female kids. It’s only a matter of time before we have a run of bucklings. But for now, we’ll take the good fortune. The two bucklings went off to play with (human) kids at Broadturn Farm’s summer camp (even spending some luxuriant time on an island off the mid-coast, though I hear they had a wee ordeal stranded by high tide on a rock outcropping). Each doe then had one doeling apiece to raise for the season (leaving a ton of extra milk for us!) They were excellent mothers, and the 4 doelings are looking like promising members of our dairy herd. They will be bred at the end of this season, and will become mothers themselves the following spring. Kids just grow up so fast these days…
As always, spring ramped up quickly into full-blown summer. Check back soon for a recap of our summer on the hill in Part III.