Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Hello! I'm Natasha, new to Flint Hill Farm as of mid-September. I'm here trying to develop useful skills related to my passions in food and social justice. I've worked with cows and goats for short periods before, but now I get a chance to learn everything that goes into cheesemaking and see if small-scale dairy production is what I want to do with my life. Hopefully, I will use what I learn at Flint Hill Farms to train others in farm skills and dairy production.
I'm incredibly happy to be here, and I'm most excited about learning cheesemaking! Other goals include: cow and goat care, creating baked goods for the farm store, and teaching bread or crafting classes,
Milking is the first and core farm routine I'm learning- which makes sense! Cheese starts with milk, after all.
After cleaning and disinfecting the cows' udders, we use milking machines (thankfully). We only milk by hand when we're finishing up each goat. So far, it feels like I need another arm to successfully manage all the tubing involved in setting up and attaching milking machines- Kathy and Alli make it look so easy! Once I have a good understanding of the milking, I feel like I will have my feet under me at Flint Hill. That, and adjusting to starting work at 6am are my first challenges!
I did my first work with cheese today! So far it seems that there are a number of farm tasks that take a lot of learning, checklists, and my full attention. Then there are farm tasks that are more simple-- straightforward chores that need to get done.
Cutting and weighing cheeses is one of the latter! I enjoy the process- it gives my brain a much-needed break amid all this learning! Plus, I can taste the cheeses-- BIG bonus!!
I also got to flavor some of our soft sheep cheese. Getting to be creative with flavors is one of my favorite things, so this was quite fun. Fellow intern Jay and I made a batch with blackberry, basil, and honey. So delicious!
I'm in my third week at Flint Hill now! I definitely feel like I've settled into a rhythm, now that I can successfully milk cows, goats, and sheep on my own :-) I'm getting to know the animals better too- the cows especially. Since we have only four adult cows right now -- Belle, Dotty, Trixie, and Valentine -- I'm learning their distinct personalities. Dotty is the sassiest, but a bit of a bully. Trixie is my favorite :-)
I've learned how to do some basic health checks on goats! We check them for anemia regularly by looking at their inner eyelids and comparing it to the FAMACHA score chart, and administering Iron shots as needed. We also take stool samples and observe them under the microscope to make sure our goats don't have worms or parasites. I was surprised by how technical and vet-like the animal care is.
I've also already made my first cheese!
I learned chevre first, the soft goat cheese that I love so much. Today we're making a goat Manchego, which is much more complicated. After pasteurizing and inoculating the milk (that's the term for adding the cultures!), and adding rennet to help the milk coagulate aka form curds, AND many specifically timed periods of waiting, it was time for me to cut up the big block of cheese that was slowly forming. Breaking the curd up like this allows for the whey to separate more easily. After this there are more periods where we will let the cheese sit, and then stir it, and let it sit again. Manchego is an all-day process.
October has already started- it's wild to think that this is already the 4th week of my 3- month internship! I've got a few fun projects in the works, and I've got to plan out my time so that I can get everything rolling. It's hard to set aside time for projects, special tasks, etc when there's literally always more farm tasks that need doing., Kathy calls it the "tyranny of the immediate."
First up is Fall Fest! Since we have so much outdoor space, we are uniquely able to offer fun
events this fall, as long as we make sure everyone is social distancing and surfaces are regularly sanitized. Alli and Lindsey and I are working to throw a fall event on the farm where families can come pet the animals, pick pumpkins, and do fun fall-themed games and crafts. It will be a lot of work to pull off, and we'll need a number of volunteers to support us, but we have some good plans in place and I think we can pull it off :-) Event planning has about a billion factors, and I think it will be really good experience to be one of the folks running this event start to finish! We're selling tickets here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fall-fest-2020-tickets-123703866595 if any of my readers are interested!
Also!! I'm working on a business plan to sell my caramels in the farm store! For the last year or two I've spent much of December making Vanilla Bean Caramels and Cardamom Caramels for my friends and family. Now that I work on a farm, I can use fresh cream from our Jersey Cow milk! I'm so excited to see the difference that this key ingredient makes, and I hope that our customers will enjoy the option of a sweet treat when they visit.
Phew! It’s been a long time since I last wrote- and a busy time on the farm.
I’m proud that by now, I have successfully made goat manchego, cheddar, chevre, and soft sheep cheese by myself. (Note that I said successfully- my first attempts weren’t always successful!) I’m still excited to try my hand at our ricotta by myself. We sell fresh cow ricotta, but also press cow ricotta or goat ricotta into a hard cheese, Ricotta Firma, that might be my favorite cheese we sell. It feels really good to sell cheeses I made to customers in the farm store. :-)
Making cheeses is only part of the farm work here though. I’ve been here long enough to be familiar with the farm routines that I take part in, and I’m starting to see how they fit together enough to plan ahead. With so many animals, orders, store products, etc, it’s a bit of a mental puzzle to make sure that everything gets done. This work definitely reminds me of managing a restaurant kitchen- it’s important to communicate a ton, to solve problems on your feet, to know what everyone’s skills are, and to balance prioritizing daily routines with long-term problem solving.
I’ve also had fun training out newest intern, Skye! She’s worked on farms before and catches on quick, so having another intern to help out has already been super useful. It also means I’ve had more time to work on my own project: ~Caramels~
I love making these, and it’s been fun to work out pricing and sourcing to make sure they’re practical commercially.I already have my favorite caramel recipe worked out, one that’s flavorful but still soft and a bit chewy.It’s also delightful to be able to use farm-fresh cream.They’ve been selling well in the store and I’m excited to try out new flavors I’ve been thinking about: Chai, Pumpkin Spice, and a tangy Apple Cider!I hope to get them up on the farm store soon too, I think they’ll be a great little gift to sell online!
Fall is lovely here on the farm. And for the first time I’m truly appreciating daylight savings! Bright mornings really help when I’m up at 7 for morning milking.
We’re preparing for winter in a few ways. Breeding is seasonal for our sheep and goats- we breed them every fall, so they will give birth about 5 months later in the spring.
Back in late September we moved the 3 adult female sheep (Big Mama, Freckles, and Grace) in with our ram Rambo for a couple weeks. We also brought our 2 Billy goats (with a variety of names between them) in with our 9 milking Nanny goats, and 3 younger female goats that are ready to be bred for the first time. They’ve all calmed down by now, but there was a ton of snorting and snuffling and carrying on for a few weeks. And of course the Billy goats stink to high heaven when they’re in heat! The barn was an extremely stinky place to be.
Another part of preparing for winter is processing ducks- a tidy way to say that we slaughter, pluck, and dress the birds. We keep all the female ducks, as we’ll sell the duck eggs, but a working farm can’t afford to feed all the male ducks that don’t produce anything. I was excited to learn the process- I figure that if I eat meat I should be willing to see how it gets to my plate.
We cut the birds necks, so that it is quick and painless for them, and then hang them upside down to drain the blood out. Next, we have to put the ducks in a pot of 150 degree water just long enough to loosen the feathers. We have a machine next, that spins the bird around with a bunch of rubber nozzles that catch at the feathers and get most of them out. After we pull the last few feathers out, we bring them to a clean cutting board to cut off the heads, feet, and remove internal organs.
It was sadder than I expected it to be- I’m glad that the birds had a good life on the farm here, but I don’t think I could stomach being part of the processing with a mammal.
I've finally learned the last of the cheeses that we make here! I learned Chevre, cheddar, and manchego early on, ricotta and ricotta firma after a while, and this week I finally made mozzarella.
There are multiple ways to make mozzarella, but we do a short, single-batch process that gets a great fresh and stretchy cheese. Using a gallon of milk at a time, we add citric acid and then heat the milk to 88 degrees. At this temperature, we'll stir in rennet, and keep heating the milk until it heats about 103 degrees and has the texture of a large custard with clear whey on the sides.
We then cut the curd, to allow the whey to separate out more, and pour the curd into a strainer. We save the whey of course, for the chickens! This strained, soft cheese curd goes in a bowl for the next stage in the process: heating and stretching.
We then heat the curd in the microwave for 1-minute and 30-second intervals. Between each heating, we gently squeeze and stretch the mozzarella to release whey. We add salt after a couple heatings (if added to early you'll lose all the salt in the whey!). After about 3 or 4 rounds, once the mozzarella is almost too hot to touch and looks incredibly smooth when stretched, it's done! Time to form a smooth ball, wrap it tightly in saran wrap, and let it firm up in the fridge.
What a delicious cheese! This recipe is especially fun because it's so hands-on.
These past few weeks, the flint hill interns have spent some time caring for a sick old goat. A working farm wouldn't usually keep old goats on, or spend the time and money to nurse them, but Flint Hill being an education center means that we can do this for some special goats. Thelma is one of those special old sweeties!
She usually stays with the babies and other goats that are too old for milking, but Kathy noticed that her head was held low and she was shaking, signs that she was severely anaemic. We check our goats for anaemia regularly, and give them iron supplements as needed, Thelma though has a thyroid problem, in addition to her old age, and is more susceptible to anaemia and other health problems. She was also feverish, so in addition to iron supplements we started her on a round of antibiotics and monitored her temperature morning and night. We also set up a heat lamp in her stall and put a couple of spare sweatshirts on to keep her warm.
With the fever and the anaemia, she was really sick for a few days. Kathy even called the vet at one point thinking she needed to be put down. Sometimes there's only so much you can do for an old goat. That very day though, Thelma started improving!
Once she was well enough to handle it, we could also give her a de-wormer for the anaemia. A common cause of anaemia in goats is certain stomach worms.
She might not have years and years left, but it felt great to be able to get her healthy again. She's such a sweetie! Thelma and the younger goats of the herd like to cuddle up in the evenings. Such good goats <3
It's getting cold out here! The animals don't mind yet though- as long as we break up the ice in their water troughs each morning so they can drink, they're happy.
We have a new cow! Well, 2 new cows, Hayden and Rita. They were necessary to even out the farm's milk supply. None of our cows have given birth recently, so the milk supply is low, and we have Belle due to give birth in January and Dotty in February. This means that we've had to start drying them off (aka slowly stop milking them), so that they can have a break and a bacterial reset before they give birth.
Hayden is a 2 1/2-year old heifer. She's pregnant and due in May, but that will be her first calf! This means of course that she's not milking yet, so I don't interact with her as much as with the other cows. Rita, on the other hand, gave birth in the Summer and is still full of milk! We hang out a lot-- don't tell but she miiiight replace Dotty as my *favorite cow.*
At first Rita was incredibly excited to get here-- she was raised on cement, so when she first got out in the pasture here she was dashing around and kicking up her heals like a calf! There's a great video up on our Instagram, @flinthillfarmag, that I HIGHLY recommend you check out if you need to brighten your day.
She had a harder time adjusting to her new life here than the first day suggested. Kathy purchased her from a university, and we're pretty sure she was used to having lots of students around her all the time. She seems to think she's a person, not a cow! Rita is not really interested in hanging out with the other cows, and for her first week or so she would bellow anytime she didn't have people near her or paying attention to her. She just wants pets and attention allll the time.
She's much less stressed now, but she still loves attention! I think she's gonna really love Summer, when there are more people visiting the farm to give her chin scritches.
My last day today! Best of luck to the farm going forward ^_^ I'm gonna miss my fab coworkers, our heavenly milk, and of course the incredible animals here.