Herdsman/Cheesemaking Intern- Skye

Updated: Mar 15

Hello! I'm Skye, and I started my internship here at Flint Hill Farm on the 15th of October. I've worked with goats for several years now, but never on a dairy farm before! For a while I've wanted to get the experience of working at a commercial dairy, to find out if it's something I'd be interested in continuing as a career. Thanks to this internship I'm able to do just that, and so far it's been exciting! I've already learned a lot, but there's a lot more to learn too.

A picture of me with our cow Trixie, and Belle standing behind me.

October 15th-29th

My first week here I spent most of my time learning how to milk the cows and goats. It involves setting up the pump milkers, cleaning the animals' teats, attaching the milker, and hand-milking them afterwards to make sure they have no milk left. Then I filter out the milk and pour it into a refrigerated tank, which we use to fill up milk jugs or to turn into cheese, yogurt, ice-cream, etc. After that I make sure the milking equipment is washed and sanitized, and the milking area is clean and swept.

One of our cow's udders with the pump milker attached.

I also spent some time learning how we package our cheeses using a vacuum sealer, and how we flavor our yogurt smoothies. After they're packaged, every item needs a label with the type of product it is, its weight in ounces (if it's not an item that has a standard weight, like a jug of milk) and an expiration date (if it's perishable). I also learned how we smoke cheeses. Wet woodchips are placed on top of a small burner, where they create flavorful smoke. A hood above the burner directs the smoke into a refrigerator where the cheeses are kept. I can't wait to start learning how we make these products!

Recently we processed some of our chickens and ducks for meat. It was interesting to learn how it's done. Everything is as quick and humane as possible. First, a cut is made on the bird's throat. Then it is put into a cone-shaped container with its head at the bottom. As the blood drains, the bird slowly and painlessly loses consciousness. After a few minutes, the blood will have finished draining and the bird will no longer be alive. After this, we placed each bird into hot water to loosen its feathers from its skin. Then it was put into a device like a centrifuge that spins and helps remove most of the feathers. Once the feathers are gone, the other non-edible (or non-desirable) parts are removed, such as the intestines, bile sack, head, etc. All the internal organs are removed, but the heart and liver are kept, while the rest of them are thrown away. After that, the bird is refrigerated as soon as possible.

A bird after its feathers and feet have been removed.

October 30th-November 13th

On October 31st and November 1st we held a fall festival! The other interns did a great job planning the logistics and activities for it, and getting the word out. Even though the weather was bad on the 1st, it was still a success. Quite a few people came on the 31st, and they all seemed to have a great time! We sold homemade baked goods, snacks, candles, and earrings I had made, and had several games and arts-and-crafts areas for the kids. We also gave hayrides and held a raffle for a gift card to the farm store. All the interns hope that it can happen again next year, but with better weather!

The past couple weeks I've been learning how we make our buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, ice-cream, ricotta and cheddar! Buttermilk, kefir and yogurt are made using a very similar process. The biggest difference is the type of bacterial culture added. Each one has a specific strain of culture that helps it develop. Our ice-cream is made using the cream we skim from our Jersey Cow milk, mixed with sugar and whatever flavors we might add. Those ingredients are all poured into the ice-cream maker, which stirs and chills the mixture until it's homogenous and the correct texture. So far I've made strawberry, blueberry, apple cider and pumpkin spice ice-cream.

A few of the ice-cream flavors we sell in our store.

Ricotta is made by heating the milk, and then adding a mixture of warm water and citric acid to cause the milk to curdle. After a few minutes, most of the whey is strained out and the curds are packaged. It's surprisingly simple! To make ricotta firma, the curds are pressed together until the remaining whey drains and the curds form one solid cheese.

Making cheddar is a more complicated process, with a lot more steps. First the milk must be heated and then cooled again, and then the culture is added. After a while, the rennet is stirred in. This causes the curds to form on top. The curds are cooked and then cut into a grid so that the whey underneath can float to the top. After this the temperature is raised again, and the curds are stirred so that the ones on the outside are moved to the inside, and vise versa. Once it reaches the right temperature, the whey is strained from the curds, and the curds are salted (for cheddar- some cheeses don't have salt added before they're pressed, instead they are brined) and flavored (if not making a plain cheese). Then the curds are pressed into a cheesecloth inside a mould, where they sit under pressure until they form a solid block. The cheese is flipped in the mould about twice or three times a day until the rest of the whey has been pressed out, and a wheel of cheese has been made. Finally, the cheeses sit in front of a fan until they develop a rind. Then they can be cut, packaged, and sold.

Two cranberry date cheddars, an apricot sage cheddar, and a goat ricotta firma.

November 14th-28th

Recently I've been learning how we make frozen yogurt, mozzarella, butter and chevre. Frozen yogurt is made the same way as ice-cream, but with yogurt instead of cream. Typically we flavor the frozen yogurt with citrus fruits like lime, orange and lemon, using zest as well as juice.