The morning chores are my favorite; the cows, with sleep still in their eyes, lumber slowly to the fence to see what I am going to bring them; the chickens are ready to be released for another day’s adventure; the lambs are eager and bright-eyed for their breakfast. As the sun rises over the Mission Mountains, I feed, water, talk to, and pet our numerous animals that call our farm home, and there is no other way I would rather start the day. I think Connie prefers the evening chores, walking the pasture to see when and where we are going to move the cows, collecting eggs, and of course, feeding the lambs. Together we are starting a new dairy, called The Golden Yoke, in western Montana.
Connie, the other owner of The Golden Yoke, grew up on what she likes to call “Old MacDonald’s Farm” in rural, southwest Virginia, where her family raised tobacco, beef cows, and vegetables. Her mom was raised on a dairy farm, and when Connie switched college majors to dairy science, she thought that her daughter had gone mad. But Connie has found a passion and love for dairy while working on farms across the United States. On the other hand, I grew up in a military family. I showed horses for many years, but that was my only large animal experience until I studied abroad in New Zealand. I was able to work on a dairy there and fell in love with it, so when I returned to the U.S., my dream became to learn more about dairy cows and some day have my own farm. Now with several years of experience, I am sure this is the path I want to take.
Similar to the rest of the nation, the dairy industry in Montana has been in decline for the past few decades. With around 70 dairies remaining across the fourth largest state in the nation, farms are few and far between. While almost all of these 70 produce fluid milk for processing by larger companies, there are also three dairies that bottle and/or process their own milk, but that is the extent of the dairy industry in Big Sky Country.
The vision we have for our dairy is a different model than what is found in the state right now and is much more similar to our farm experiences in Vermont. We are going to be intentionally small, seasonal, pasture-based, and will process our own milk into value-added products. Connie and I have chosen to be dairy farmers because we love the lifestyle: interacting with animals, being a part of a vibrant, farm-based rural community, and managing a farm with the human and ecological community in mind.
Our dream is slowly becoming reality. Last fall we joined a LandLink program and found the property we are now farming. We moved onto the land in December, so this is our first season here, which means we have a lot of learning to do about the forages, water rights, and the grazing potential of these 40 acres. Just as we were about to commit to purchasing our first bred heifer, I found out that I had received a Fulbright scholarship to study dairy policy in New Zealand. Because of this amazing opportunity our game plan has been slightly altered, and we chose to buy more young stock, which we will discuss in next month’s posting.
Until next time, the girls of The Golden Yoke.
Thanks to Stonyfield, Profits for the Planet, for funding the 2013 Bootstrap blog series.