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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mozzarella is made by adding citric acid to the milk and then heating it. When it reaches the correct temperature, the rennet is added and stirred in. The heat is increased, and soon the curds begin to form. The curds are cut into a grid pattern so that the whey can escape, and the whey is drained off. Then, alternating between microwaving the curds to keep them warm, draining excess whey, and stretching and pulling the cheese, the mozzarella soon begins to form. It starts out loose but becomes stretchy and smooth. Then it can be wrapped up to refrigerate overnight, and packaged the next day.
Butter is quite easy to make nowadays, in a world with blenders! It used to be that you'd have to hand-churn your cream for quite a while to make the fat and whey start to separate. Thankfully now all we have to do is pour the cream into a blender and add ice-water. Then we rinse away the whey, and either salt it or leave it plain.
For chevre (which is just the French word for goat, but also refers to goat cheese, typically soft and fresh cheese) we heat the milk and cool it again, and then add rennet diluted with water. At the same time as the rennet, we add "MM", or mesophilic culture. Mesophilic means that it is a bacterial culture that grows best in moderate temperatures, as opposed to thermophilic cultures, which thrive in hot temperatures. We stir in the rennet and culture, and then leave the milk to set and coagulate overnight. In the morning, the curds will have formed and we can hang the chevre in cheesecloths so that the whey drips out. Then we either leave it plain, or add spices, herbs, fruit, etc. to flavor it!
November 29th-December 13th
Recently we made manchego! Manchego is a cheese that originates from the La Mancha region of Spain, and is traditionally made with milk from the Manchega breed of sheep. It can also be made with goat or cow milk. It involves a lot of steps! We make it by first heating the milk to a moderate temperature, and then adding both mesophilic and thermophilic cultures. The milk then sits for one hour, and then the rennet is added. It sits for another 45 minutes, and by that point the curds and whey will have separated. The curds are cut into a grid and allowed to sit for another five minutes. Then, the curds are stirred with a whisk in order to cut them into smaller pieces, while the temperature is slowly raised. Once they reach the right temperature, the heat is turned off and the mixture sits for another 5 minutes. At this point the curds are ready to be pressed into a cheesecloth. In the first hour of being pressed, the curds are flipped once every fifteen minutes, but after that they can be left alone overnight. The next day, the cheeses are brined in saltwater for several hours. Finally, they can be left out in front of a fan to develop a rind.
December 14th-January 22nd
In the past month or so, our goats have stopped producing milk in preparation for kidding season in March. One of our cows, Belle, had also stopped, but has started up again after the birth of her calf last week! Baby Gigi was born with some assistance from Kathy, and is healthy, happy, and steadily growing.
Unfortunately, the next day Belle developed "milk fever", which is when a cow's calcium levels in the muscles drops dramatically. This can sometimes happen when the cow's body is unable to mobilize calcium quickly enough to keep up with the sudden demand for colostrum and milk production that occurs after birth. This can cause the cow to lose control of her muscles, because calcium aids in muscle contraction. We were able to quickly give Belle calcium orally, subdermally, and intravenously, which helped her regain control of her muscles and get her back on her feet. At this point Belle's body has gotten accustomed to having to produce so much milk for her calf, and she's back to normal. Dottie is due next month, so fingers crossed that her delivery goes smoothly!
Last week myself and our other intern Alli worked together to trim the hooves of all our goats and sheep, and to check their FAMACHA scores. FAMACHA is short for FAffa MAlan CHArt, named after Dr. Francois "Faffa" Malan, one of three South African researches who developed this method, in conjunction with Dr. Gareth Bath and Dr. Jan Van Wyk. The FAMACHA score is a quick and easy way to tell a ruminant's iron levels. By gently pulling down at the skin beneath a goat or sheep's eye and comparing the color of the mucous membrane to the chart, you can determine if the animal is iron deficient. The chart is scaled from one to five, with one being bright red in color (healthy), and five being white (extremely deficient). If one of our animals scores three or above, we give them an injection of iron, and make sure they have access to iron-rich mineral feed. Sometimes, the reason why ruminants are iron deficient is because they've been infected with a common parasite called barber's pole worm, which feeds on their blood. This can be treated with certain dewormers. However, it's important not to over-treat, as this can cause worms who are resistant to the dewormer to multiply.
Wild goats (and sheep) don't need their hooves trimmed, because they spend most of their days naturally filing them down by jumping and climbing on rocky terrain. However, most goat farms are primarily grass and dirt, so their hooves can grow long and cause problems for the animals. The hooves can get so long that they bend over on themselves and make it difficult for the goats to walk, or trap manure and other debris inside them, causing infections like hoof rot. We prevent this by trimming them down with clippers, and cleaning out any dirt stuck inside.
January 23rd-February 19th
Lately I've had the opportunity to experiment with making a type of cheese never made at Flint Hill Farm before, parmesan! The recipe we use calls for skim milk, which helps give the parmesan its hard and flaky texture, as opposed to a creamier cheese with more fat. The milk is heated, and then thermophilic culture is added and allowed to sit. Then, the rennet is added, causing the milk to begin to coagulate and form curds. After the curds form and are cut into smaller pieces, the heat is increased, and the curds are allowed to settle and stick together ("mat"). When the curds are done cooking they can be drained and pressed into moulds.
On February 13th, I went to bring hay to our cows Dottie and Hayden, and saw that someone else was there with them! Dottie had given birth without any sign that she would deliver that day, and with no help. Both mother and daughter are doing very well. We've named the new calf Daisy, after the white spots she inherited from her mom.
The below-freezing temperatures and lots of snow we've had lately can certainly make things harder! Everything is a little slower, because we have to walk carefully to avoid slipping on ice, and be cautious of where we lead the horses and cows so they don't slip either. Snow cleats have been a big help. Hoses have to be disconnected from pumps and brought inside so they don't freeze, and any water buckets without heaters will often need the ice on top of them broken through. Everyone is looking forward to Spring.
February 19th-March 15
It's kidding season! In the past few weeks almost all of our goats and sheep have given birth, though there are a few that are still due. Kids and lambs are typically born as twins and occasionally triplets. Single babies are rare. This year, two sheep and one goat had triplets, and the rest have had twins.
Yesterday was my last day of work at Flint Hill Farm. Kathy, Jen, Bruce, Vicky, Alli, Natasha, and so many other workers, interns, and volunteers here have taught me so much. Thank you all. I'm so grateful for the experience I had working and learning here, and for the kindness and generosity of all of you.
Now, on to my next adventure!