Autumn has absolutely arrived here at Conway Farms; the evidence is unmistakable. Everything from the morning chill, to the telltale **whiff** from the buck barn, to the higher cheese yield, and of course, the absolute panic that we don’t have all our winter stores in yet.
Every year we begin in June thinking about winter stock-up and we absolutely spend the entire summer ‘getting our squirrel on’, trying to gather up for winter, and then, inevitably, October arrives and we wonder what the heck happened to our summer and why we aren’t ready for winter. THIS.HAPPENS.EVERY.YEAR!!!! You would think that eventually we would get it right, but it seems that we are destined to live in a bit of panic each year. To keep in line with history, we are frantically trying to get the alfalfa in the barn, some fir for the woodpile, harvest the rest of the things from the garden and eek out those last few batches of cheese before the does hit production lows and limit our cheese making. Of course, this is also the time of the year that I always start thinking about being creative with cheese. “Oh Shaun, let’s do beer soaked cheddar…” or, “Hey, I have some white mold, shall we do some fancy brie?”….I might add that this is not the ideal time to be thinking about figuring out new cheese with so many other things to do, but that just seems to be the way we roll.
Our breeding season got off to a slow start. I think that has something to do with the ‘taking stock’ part of this blog post. As the year starts winding down and we are less harried, we always reflect on what went well and what might need some adjusting based on life changes. This year we have found ourselves at PDX more often than ever before. We are at this new magical place in our lives that provides us with a bit more freedom to move about—well except for that whole farm obligation thing—so true to our (flexible) form, we are adjusting. Our adjustment looks something like one of us jetting off for a short little break from the farm, while the other gives the gift of farm care. I am not sure which I enjoy more…the rest or being able to give that to Shaun. It isn’t the way most couples vacation, but we are embracing it and really enjoying our little ‘jet-setting’ life. The natural out-cropping of that life change has been us looking at our year-around milking. Of course, last year we took a break when we did the remodel (if you can call that a break), and to our amazement, our customers not only lived, they seemed un-flummoxed by our short absence. Good to know! We might just try that again. Heaven knows we hate those January nights in the barn with kidding does. March is a much nicer time to deal with new babies and new mommies. Okay, done! We really are trying to look at what goats are supposed to do and work more in line with the rhythm that they live. They are seasonal breeders and seasonal milkers. True, our girls have been very cooperative and happily given an abundance of milk year around, but more fitting with our life is to work with that lactational high, make cheese and gelato like crazy (make cheese while the milk flows, as it were) and then rest and let the girls do the same. We don’t have unlimited energy and we want to be smart about the way we operate our farm so we can continue to do it for decades to come. I know I have said it before, but this is not easy—and able mind and body is necessary to keep making it happen. Especially is the case with small family farms. This became a profound reality in our lives this past two weeks as we have watched my father, a lifetime farmer, prepare for shoulder surgery. The surgery recovery plan is absolutely NO lifting for six months. The questions of how to feed the cows, take care of the babies in the spring, and do the necessary daily tasks on the farm ended with the answer of 50+ years of breeding cattle being liquidated. My sadness is so profound I cannot even begin to express it. My father is a remarkable stockman. He has raised beautiful beef cattle my whole life. Watching him faced with the decision that will change the rhythm of his months to come brought me to tears. I know he will adjust (and so will I). I know his accomplishments will be appreciated by the stockman that purchased the girls, but still, knowing that this was a forced decision based on the need to recover from a surgery that is necessary because of the years of hard work, makes one very aware that one body means you have to take care of it. That being said, Dad has the right to slow down a bit and do less work too, so I am hoping that this will give him some opportunities to enjoy some new activities. Maybe he will get a few cows to mess around with next year when his ‘bionic’ shoulder is all healed up. In the meantime, we continue to ‘take-stock’ in our farm and how we can make it more manageable, always looking to that succession plan that we know is inevitable.
Autumn is a time that as farmers we can look at our year and reflect on what we have been given. Was it a good kidding/lambing/calving year or a tough one? Did the garden
produce abundantly or fail miserably…or did it produce abundantly only to be lost to deer or rabbits? What needs to adjust and change for next year? What have we harvested from this year that was successful (both figuratively and literally)? I think, for me, that is what makes the farm so interesting. It is a challenge! Every year provides new opportunities to learn and adjust. Mother Nature constantly keeps us on our toes never knowing what is to come our way. Some years are closer to perfect than others, but no year is devoid of learning!
I leave you with that—take stock while you are stocking up. Take time to reflect on what you have been blessed with even if the blessings are in the form of opportunities to learn and change and adjust to what life has given you.
Until next month~
Shaun & Lorrie