Kidding season at CaroMont – Feb 5 2009

or ‘Fifteen Degrees?  You MUST be Kidding’
(excerpted from ‘cut’ portions of “A Day on the Farm:  Making Cheese at CaroMont Farm” by Lisa Reeder, published in Edible Blue Ridge, Number 2 – Spring 2009)
Although the sky is still grayish black, the farm is unmistakably stirring to the smells of coffee and oatmeal with fresh Jersey butter and the sound of the televised weather forecast.  Last night the temperature fell to 15 degrees, and Gail is concerned about her flock of dairy goats. Sheathed in scarves, hats, thick coats and work coveralls, we move outside at a brisk pace as Gail explains the merits to living onsite. “In a farmstead tradition, the animals are here; part of cheesemaking is learning animal husbandry and getting them through that first phase so that they do produce…a large amount of milk so that you can make your cheeses from it.”  Our breath and Gail’s coffee bravely steam in the frigid air.  She also repeats a farming adage that goats (and sheep, and cattle) tend to have their babies in the most adverse weather, a theory which I am hoping will prove true as I have spent the night at CaroMont hoping to see the arrival of baby goats.

What follows is a flurry of activity leavened with apprehension; the night was cold enough that the very welfare of the goats and their brand new kids is in question.  Gail flicks on the lights and walks quickly around the Moo-tel, which is filled with straw, hay feeders, and her entire dairy herd. Gail circles the pen to assess any acute problems, and to formulate her plan to get through the morning with everyone intact.  One by one she checks the new babies, sorting who belongs with whom, drying them with towels from the house, calling out ‘it’s a doe!’ or, with less enthusiasm, ‘a little buck!’.   Gail encourages her girls, pats them and rubs their faces, all the while assessing their physical condition and keeping up a stream of lighthearted banter which cannot entirely hide her sharp concern for their welfare.  She gives the new mothers molasses dissolved in hot water to reward them for their labors.  “Molasses has a lot of calcium in it, and everyone deserves a good drink after they’ve had a baby,” she says with a smile, then moves on to the next one.

Meanwhile, I use my boot (and the frozen foot inside) to crack the ice on the top of the water trough (which has frozen two inches thick since yesterday at 5 PM).  The girls push forward to get a drink and nibble at my coat.  Despite the extreme cold and the presence of a stranger, their eyes are calm and their movements peaceful, even those whose flanks are ballooned out with their unborn kids.  According to my tally, it looks like Portia kidded with a buck and a doe, Charlotte with a buck and a doe, and Lizzie with two black and white la Manchas just like her.  She has rejected the buck, and the poor little guy just keeps bravely bumping into other does, hoping for a reassuring nuzzle or possibly an udder full of milk.  Brave Penelope birthed three yesterday afternoon, the first of which had to be pulled into this world through a breech presentation by Michelle Bessette.  This round of kids was sired by a ‘meat buck’ and is causing some problems with their larger frames and heavier birth weights.  “I won’t do that again,” says Gail, marveling at the unforeseen repercussions of a seemingly pragmatic  decision.  “That buck is for sale.”

As Gail cycles the new mothers through the milking parlor, I sit on a hay bale and feed the ‘older’ babies milk through plastic nipples on recycled water, beer and wine bottles.  The newest babies get colostrom soon after birth; the yellowish pre-milk fluid is imperative for immunity and immediate nourishment, and makes the kids skip and kick immediately.  Gail gives each one a thorough once-over, checking eyes, legs, and general health while she cleans them up and begins to love them. Each weighs less than a cat, although they are leggy and feisty from the first, wagging their bitty tails and nibbling on the fingers of my black leather gloves.  The bottles have been warmed in a milk pail filled with hot water; the little ones can feel the warmth and snuggle up against the pail, then fall asleep in a pile of hooves, ears and knees.

Old World Traditions vs. New World Regulations

We continue chatting about the famed cheeses and meats of Parma, Italy which have evolved together over time into una filiera integrata, or integrated row or thread: The pigs that are destined to become prosciutti are fed whey that is a by-product of the manufacture of Parmigiano-Reggiano, giving their meat a distinctive odor and flavor that has become famous the world over.

While European customs allow for this exchange and recycle of farm by-products, and in fact encourage filiera integrati as a means to establish and protect regional terroir, in the United States a more regulatory approach to food safety has been the rule.  For instance, it is unlawful for a farmer who produces pigs for resale (as opposed to personal consumption) to feed those pigs any by-product of the dairy industry, even nutrient-dense whey from Gail’s cheesemaking.  Recently, smaller farmers and food advocates have been critical of the parallel development of large-scale agricultural operations and the sprawling bureaucratic agencies charged with their regulation. They argue that legislation developed for large-scale producers places an undue financial and managerial burden on smaller food producers.

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~ by a local notion on May 13, 2009.

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