The village of West Pawlet is a third of the way up the state of Vermont, on the New York border. Pawlet itself was chartered to 62 residents in 1761, held its first town meeting in 1775, by 1800 contained almost 2000 souls, and peaked ten years later, in 1810, with a population of 2233. Now it is around 1438, almost half of whom are in West Pawlet. The town lies in the foothills of the Taconic Range, in the Champlain Valley, and has always been very rural. Nearby lakes are Lake St. Catherine, Little Lake, Lake Bomoseen, and Cosayuna Lake.
Here is where Angela Miller, a successful Manhattan literary agent, and her architect husband Russell Glover, who had been visiting friends in neighboring Dorset in 2000, checked out some available properties and bought themselves a 305 acre farm!
“I was a child in Pennsylvania and grew up in a rural area,” she relates. “We lived near the Rodale Institute and my mother was a part of that early organic movement. I developed a career in book publishing in New York City and stuck with it, but I always wanted to get into small scale farming.
“My husband,” she continues, “is a city boy. He grew up in London, went to Cambridge, studied architecture, and ran a business in New York doing architec-ture for the rich people on Long Island. I thought I would like to live in Vermont and we looked at a few properties but they weren’t right and then we found this one available and bought it – land, houses and defunct buildings – all for $525,000, similar to what we sold our apartment for in New York City!”
They are both still working at their city jobs, combining telecommuting with the real thing, but have built a successful farm and award-winning goat and cow cheese business at the same time.
The first story of their brick farm house was originally built in the 1780s and expanded with a major 2-story addition which is still marked with the year it was added, 1814. A man named Consider Bardwell from Deerfield, MA, and his father-in-law, from Wells, a town 5 miles away, bought the farm in the 1840s.
In the 1860s the Civil War and the industrial boom was draining the area’s farms of men-folk and cooperatives were forming as a way to more efficiently man-age some of the farmwork. In 1863 Bardwell started the state’s first cheese-making coop, drawing from among the 40 or so neighboring dairy farms. Morning milk was all brought to Bardwell’s farm, where he had erected a cheese factory. A spring-fed pond he built was used to power the factory and there was a rail-road running through the property that enabled them to ship cheese to the city. Bardwell eventually sold the farm to his sons-in-law.
It continued as a cheese operation, although no longer a cooperative, until the Depression. In 1931 or 1932 it failed and returned to being just a dairy farm sell-ing to larger coops. The last owner got ill, auctioned off the cows, and closed the farm down in the late 1990s.
Half of the farm’s land is in Vermont and half is actually in New York. The buildings are all in Vermont, however, and the New York land has no access from New York roads, so for all purposes beyond taxation it is treated as a Vermont farm and its purchase in 2000 caught the eye of local officials.
Taking Care of the Land
“Because it is a relatively big property,” explains Miller, “it was very much under the nose of the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). We weren’t here for a month before the NRCS people were down here to show us what we needed to do to keep the river clean, asking what would we be willing to do to maintain the water quality? We didn’t even have animals then. But they told us we had a big responsibility, which scared the life out of my husband.”
The couple began working actively with the NRCS as they built up their herd of goats.
“They were giving us grants to build fences,” she relates, “so the goats on pasture aren’t getting in the streams and wrecking the banks. Every time we did something with the NRCS, part of the deal was that we transition to organic management. We have a lot of water around here they are concerned about protecting. We had to build 50 foot riparian buffers to protect the waterways and plant native trees and bushes there.
“We did a tremendous amount of that work as we were building the herd,” she continues. “We were the Sustainable Farm of the year in 2013. But we have pretty much exhausted all we can do with them in terms of projects. We sold a perpetual easement to the USDA to keep our land in grass. Even if we sell the land, it has to remain in grass. No one can plant annuals on it. It is designed to bring the soil back from when they were rotating corn on it. Our whole farm is now grassland reserved.”
Angela and the farm staff currently milk 142 dairy goats (no longer by hand), have 5 bucks for breeding, raise 50 male kids for meat, and have 25 or so female dairy goat replacement kids. In addition they have 50 laying chickens, as well as 2 breeding sows and 50 piglets to drink the whey that the cheese operation produces. They also graze 27 Jersey cows owned by a neighbor and make cheese from that milk.
The goats are bred seasonally, the bucks moving in with them in October and the kids then being born in February and March — the busiest time of year on a goat or sheep farm. Goats born in February can be bred in the fall (or slaughtered if male) so fit neatly into an annual cycle.
Angela explains: “We market the pork and goat meat in the fall (at 7 or 8 months). We also market the veal from the Jersey cows — it is rose veal, not white veal. It is from very young calves that are fed milk and grain for a time, and then put on grass. Their movement is not restricted and they are not bled or denied iron. The chickens are layers. We market the eggs.
“After the goats have been on a paddock 12 hours,” she continues, “we move them to a new one. Once they have eaten that down to about 6 inches we put the Jersey cows on it. They will graze after the goats and chomp it down lower. We do that because the goats like the higher grasses but also they are sus-ceptible to intestinal parasites. Those parasites are mostly in the lower 4 to 6 inches of the grass. The cows will eat that without any problem. After another 12 hours we move the cows off and then put chickens on. They eat up all the manure and the parasites too. The goats don’t go back for 65 days, which is how long it will take for the parasites to disappear. We haven’t had to use any wormer for three years since we have been doing this rotation.”
Miller’s farm manager is Peter Brooks, son of one of the neighboring farmers from whom she buys Jersey milk. Having grown up on a grass-based dairy farm, Pete is used to the complex issues involved in managing grazing — time of year, expected weather, conditions in a field (wetness, type of grass, height of grass), haying needs, condition of animals – which need to be juggled. Rather than have a fixed plan for an extended period, he will determine the size and placement of a paddock almost on the spot.
“I never go by size,” he says, “but by pasture quality. We keep an eye on the bulk tank reading for each milking so we know if they have gotten enough pasture. If not, their milk average drops and I’ll give them a little more. It all depends on quality of pasture, too. There are a lot of variables. I grew up on a dairy farm raising cows. So I’ve been around pasture my whole life. And I’ve been here for four years, learning.”
Goats prefer browse to grass, but Peter doubts if they do better on it. They eat hedgerows down to nothing, but when given good pasture their milk aver-age is definitely higher. He says he likes to put goats onto a pasture that is between a foot and a foot and a half tall. That seems best for milk production. Too tall and much of the grass is lignified, too short and there is too much protein. They seem to love orchard grass, which grows well in West Pawlet.
Peter describes some of the thinking that goes into his management of the pastures: “Pasture management is a huge part of my job. We have a 65 to 70 day rest between grazings. So there is a lot of management of when to cut the hay on pastures so that when the goats get back into it, it is growing back. Which is what we did with this field. Last night’s paddock was the first half of this strip. Today we opened up the other half. Tonight this strip will basi-cally get moved sideways down the field. We will either take a cutting of hay between grazings, or we’ll put the cows in. The field the cows are in now is wet and it’s hard to get in with tractors, so that’s why we have the cows there. They’ll graze it down. We might try to go in there for hay later if it is dry-er.
“We rotate the chicken coop on these fields, too,” he continues. “They go into a wagon at night with egg boxes and roosts. Right now they are on a field we want to get more nitrogen on. We move them a couple of times a week. Everywhere they have been there is this dark green grass coming up!
“We cut the hay on 170 acres,” he concludes. “This field the goats are on now was never grazed for many years, just used for hay. But it is nice having so many fields near the barn that we can graze on. It makes the fields way more productive to have them grazed and animals spreading their manure on them. It works pretty well, but there is a lot of time spent moving flexnet around! These two fields are on one plug-in fencer. We have other fields that are run off solar fencers.”
The pigs were down in one of the back fields the day I visited. They are brought feed a couple of times a day and rotated from field to field every season, generally into fields that aren’t productive for hay or pasture. They root the fields up pretty badly and Peter replants them by frost seeding. Red clover does well for that, as well as orchard grass. He has put in trefoil with a no-till drill and that is doing well. The trefoil makes a nice hay which is also high in tannins, helping with parasites for the goats. The goats don’t seem to prefer the trefoil, but they eat it. The farm works with UVM on seeding research and is currently trialing red clover and forage chicory.
Building the Goat Dairy
Although knowing nothing about building a goat dairy, Angela set to work to do it once they bought the farm and tended to some badly needed repairs.
“I connected with a woman who had been milking dairy goats in Provence, France,” she recalls. “She had come to Vermont and wanted to do her own dairy. She helped me find goats of the same breed she used, build a primitive milk stand, and taught me to milk them by hand. We started by buying 6 dairy goats from a farm in New Hampshire in 2002. She made cheese with me in my kitchen so I could learn how to make fresh goat cheese. It was just one kind of soft cheese – chevre.
“But she decided she didn’t like Vermont,” Miller continues. “The food wasn’t good enough! So she moved to Maine to be near seafood. Green Mountain College is nearby, however, so then I got a young girl from there who would come and take care of the goats if I couldn’t be here. I bought more goats and gradually grew the herd to where it is now. But we don’t milk by hand anymore. It isn’t really clean enough, and it’s hard on your hands!”
In 2004 the Consider Bardwell plant was certified by the state.
To get enough milk for a while they bought in goat milk from a local goat farmer. Since goats are seasonal breeders they need to be bred in the Fall and then stop lactating until they pick up again until the Spring when they kid. So in order to have a product you can sell all year, you need cow’s milk. Angela started buying milk from a cow dairy called Jersey Girls 50 miles away.
“We also hired a guy who was a professional cheese maker,” she relates, “who had trained in Europe. I didn’t think I would ever be able to develop my skill to the point where I could make an outstanding cheese. So we hired him to help us develop the different cheeses.
“Fresh goat cheese can’t be stored,” she continues. “It will go bad after a week. Once I got the professional cheese maker, we developed 3 different kinds of goat cheese. My husband built a cave or big room in the barn where you can age cheese. So pretty soon we were aging three cow cheeses and 3 goat ones.”
In order to visit the cheese plant I had to go through some standard food safety steps – put on a disposable coat and hairnet, change my shoes, wash my hands before entering every room, refrain from touching anything, wear no jewelry, carry no food or drink, and wipe down my camera and recorder with a sanitizer. Then, once they had read me the list of prohibited activities, I was allowed in.
It is easy to see why such precautions are taken. Cheese making is all about which microbes are present. This has to do a lot with how hot it is and how damp, but also with how clean and sanitary it stays. Since the proper microbes are continually purchased and reintroduced, the best environment for them to thrive is a totally sanitary one.
First I visited the packing room, where the finished cheeses, once ready for market, are wrapped and labeled. All the Consider Bardwell cheeses are named after towns in Vermont, currently: Manchester (goat), Danby (goat), Dorset (cow), Pawlet (cow), Slyboro (goat), and Rupert (cow). Once wrapped and labeled with the cheese variety — and the Animal Welfare Accredited (AWA) label that the farm has earned — they are sent to a cooler to await ship-ment. Here they are kept below 40˚F to arrest the further development of the cultures the cheese maker has been so careful to introduce. There is a recipe for each cheese, and certain microbes or cultures will develop the specific flavors wanted for each one.
“Cheese making starts,” explains Angela, “with raising the temperature of milk in big several hundred gallon vats. The outside wall of the vat contains water in a jacket that is heated to warm the milk to whatever temperature the recipe calls for. A rotary machine in the middle has stirrers or paddles or knives that you can put on. When the milk gets to the right temperature you put your cultures in. Those are bacteria that create the flavors you want. We get them freeze-dried from France. They ferment the milk sugar or lactose into lactic acid. For about a half an hour they do their work while the milk is stirred. Then you put in rennet to make the milk form a curd. We use a synthetic chymosin that is a vegetarian alternative to the original rennet — which comes from the stomach of calves. Europeans say calf rennet is the only one to use, but we have many vegetarian customers who would object to an animal product being used. Then knives are mounted on the stirring machine and the curd is cut, which releases the whey. Then the curd is packed into hoops (actually into linen cloths in the hoops which leave a nice pattern) and the whey is drained off. The total process takes about four hours.”
Once the whey is drained, the hoops are removed and the cheeses placed in a brine for a few days. That brings down the pH to the right level, adds salt, stops the growth of bacteria, and hardens the skin to start a rind.
The recipe for each cheese is designed for a specific size and age, as well as flavor. The moisture level in the cheese will affect how long it takes to age properly. The Manchester, for instance, is a 3 pound cheese called a tomme and is dryer and ages out longer (90 days) with less water activity than, say, a Dorset (2 pounds and 60 days). The Dorset has what is called a washed rind and has more moisture than many other cheeses. It gets tastier faster. But if you made the Dorset bigger, it would not ripen all the way through properly because of its higher moisture level. You don’t want the outer edges to be dif-ferent from the center.
The skin or rind of a cheese begins to develop while it is in the brine. When it is removed from the salt solution, mold spores are brushed on the rind and the cheese is stored in a cool “cave” where it continues to develop. The cheeses in the cave get almost daily attention. They’re washed twice a week, brushed with bacterial solutions to form the mold, turned. That is part of why they are expensive!
As they get older they develop more of a rind. You can tell how old each is because the shelf it is on is marked. The rind of the Dorset turns bright orange and is super active. The Manchester is covered with a black and blue mold, which acts more slowly. Each cave has a dehumidifier that controls the hu-midity and brings it to the proper level for that cheese. The caves are kept at 50˚F to 55˚F, and 85% to 90% humidity to help the cultures develop the best flavors.
“Each batch will have a somewhat different flavor,” adds Miller, “because of slight differences in the production process – the temperature or humidity in the air, the cheese maker was in a bad mood, etc. We try to record every thing we can think of just so we can determine what affects the taste. Each batch has a wheel that is devoted to testing. We insert a probe, pull out a piece of cheese, and taste test it. We have tastings on Friday – three of us taste them and grade each cheese. We save out cheese batches in which the flavor profile is perfect for the competitions. We haven’t lost a cheese for any reason for a while. We used to, sometimes a batch would go bad. But now we seem to know what we’re doing!”
The cheeses, meat and eggs from Consider Bardwell Farm are marketed locally, regionally, and nationally in various ways. There is a farm store at which all their products are sold. Because the farm is in somewhat of a tourist area, and has such a history, up-scale people stop by almost every day. When I was visiting a middle aged couple from Philadelphia was in the store. They were just staying nearby for the week, they said, and heard about the farm at the local farmers market. They wanted to visit and buy some cheese.
They also do a large business in the New York City Green Market system, which is the city’s farmers markets. Those markets serve 75 neighborhoods. Angela had always been a customer of them when living in the city. Once she was making goat cheese and had a product to sell, she wanted it at those markets.
“Mayor Bloomberg wanted a new market at City Hall,” she recalls, “so I filled out the 28-page application and went there every Friday to sell. It was just the chevre at the time, but I sold out! It was pretty wearing because I had markets up here all weekend, so I hired a part time kid to do another Green Market location. He was from Brooklyn and liked selling the cheese so pretty soon we got him to sell at markets Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I didn’t have to go anymore.”
Now the farm has a staff of three full-timers and four part-timers selling in New York, and a warehouse in Long Island City. They are in 14 of the markets now. The Green Markets together represent about a third of their total revenue, Miller estimates. Everything else is wholesaled across the country through 9 distributors with separate territories – a Vermont one does New England and Eastern New York, another does the Whole Foods stores on the east coast, one in Chicago, Seattle, etc. They ship out cheese twice a week on an 18 wheeler. It is now more cow cheese than goat cheese, and it is all aged. They stopped making fresh cheeses because they mold so quickly.
“It works,” Angela says, “because the milk is good, from good farming practices and good cheese-making. We have won national prizes every year at events. Winning prizes is probably the best way to get attention from national distributors. We’re now making 130,000 pounds of cheese a year (one-third of it goat, two-thirds cow milk) and have 4 full time cheese-makers. Last year I hired a general manager who has really made things easier around here! He was the manager of a giant cheese importer in New York, but wanted a lifestyle change so he brought his family up here and was willing to take a giant pay cut. He does the marketing, too. I go to the fancy food shows in New York, but otherwise have been involved on the farm side rather than the cheese side.
“They are all raw milk cheeses,” she continues, “which is a very fast growing sector of the market, as well as being artisanal, handmade, and farmstead cheese. We get $26 to $30 a pound, retail. Not that anyone buys artisanal cheese by the pound. You might buy $5 worth.
“We sell our eggs for $8 a dozen, retail,” she concludes. “We just sell them at Green Market or our store here. The AWA certification doesn’t matter so much around here. If the customers come to the farm store they can see how things are raised.”
Miller feels the certification helps with sales of their meat, though – goat, veal and pork. Heritage Meat in New York did a promotional campaign around goat meat and insisted all suppliers they bought from had to be AWA certified. That created a market all around the country in really high-end restau-rants for goat meat.
“They have a month called ‘Goatober’,” she reports. “They figured it is top down — if you get the highest end chefs introducing goat meat to their cus-tomers, then they will go to other restaurants and ask for goat meat. It tastes very similar to lamb, but is less fatty. It is very, very good. I don’t know what old goat tastes like. We make sausage out of our culls, when we have to do that. But that is a little sensitive for me because I know some of these old goats and babied them and milked them for a while. I hated seeing my old girls go off. But it is a business!”
On the expense side, their $52,000 a month payroll is the farm’s biggest expense. Milk supply is second, which they buy in from two neighboring farmers raising a total of 67 Jerseys, Brown Swiss, and a few Holsteins. Insurance is third (including workers compensation), then feed is next.
“We have 20 people on the payroll,” sighs Angela. “We’ve been growing every year for the last 12 years. Every year we up our production and have to up our payroll and infrastructure. Now we have 7 caves in our barn. Very shortly we are going to have to build a new plant altogether. I want to stop at 300,000 pounds of cheese a year — I want a nationally recognized brand making a top notch product. Then maybe one day one of my employees or some-one else will want to buy it.”
So far Miller hasn’t taken any money from the farm for her services, choosing instead to plow it back in. While the farm is marginally profitable, she says, there is so much to do she doesn’t want to impede its growth.
“I had an unexpected second career,” she smiles, “and I’m very proud of what we have done.”
One of the hassles of owning a food business is needing to pay attention to the strict standards required to protect public health. Angela doesn’t have any problem with the requirements for sanitation and testing with which any cheese maker must comply, but she feels it is an extra burden having to deal with federal as well as local inspectors.
“The FDA is involved with us,” she sighs, “because we make raw milk cheeses. Their inspectors visit us, as well as the state ones. They are mostly con-cerned with listeriosis. It has actually been more prevalent in pasteurized cheeses and meat, but they are still wary of us not pasteurizing.
“We test our milk four times a month,” she continues, “once for the state and 3 times for their food safety quality. If anything is wrong we will have al-ready made the cheese but we can flag that batch and have the finished product tested.”
Largely at the suggestion of NRCS and UVM advice to consider organic certification, in 2009 Miller cut off the 2 farmers who were leasing some of their land so she could make the 3-year transition. The farm was certified organic for its pastures and hay in 2012.
That means they could sell their hay as organic, but they use all they produce for the goats and cows. So they don’t really sell anything as organic. But as long as they are keeping everything in grass, Miller feels, organic seems the right thing to do.
The animals aren’t certified, however, nor is the milk. Angela says there are two barriers to organic certification for the livestock and animal products.
“I can’t get over the problem of not being able to treat them if they are sick,” she explains. “I would have to sell them or have a separate facility. Here we are having a closed herd and not bringing in other animals, and breeding for high production instead of raising the population like crazy. We had one goat get sick with an untreatable mastitis and we did cull her. But if a goat had a treatable mastitis we’d take her out of the line, give her the antibiotic, put her on hold for the required amount of time and dump her milk, and then when she is ready to go back online she is still a really good goat. Organic means we would not be able to put her back into the milking string and would have to cull or sell her.”
The other problem with having the animals organically certified is the price of organic grain. Although the goats on Consider Bardwell Farm and the cows whose milk they buy in are all grass-fed, they do get a small amount of grain at the time of milking — a cupful each when they are on the milk stand. Right now that is from a local dealer who grows GMO crops. Just going non-GMO is a big hoop to jump through, but Miller is committed to doing that.
“I joined a group called the Northeast Dairy Project,” she says. “We did some research and the only place where I can get non-GMO grain is Morrison and Sons, right above Montpelier. It’s twice the price of GMO, and there are 3-hour hauling fees. But nobody else makes a goat pellet around here except Morrison. We need a truck full every two weeks to serve the 2 cow farms and our goat farm. We use 3 tons every month here, for the goats. I forget how much the cow farms get. Our supplier currently is Cargill, and Cargill has made a commitment to start selling non-GMO in 2017. But all of us in the Dairy Project are going to go non-GMO in the next year.”
The certification program Angela feels has helped her farm a lot is that of Animal Welfare Approved. Their blue, green and white sticker goes on every cheese and helps validate the farm among buyers who care about the treatment of farm animals.
“AWA made a pitch to the Green Market,” recalls Miller. “The executive director of AWA, Andrew Gunther, and the Green Market set up a luncheon in a New York City restaurant for all of us who sell animal products. AWA spoke at the luncheon and talked about the benefits of the program. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea, so the following year I applied. It has been quite beneficial because we can put the logo on our products. The people in New York City want to know how the animals are raised and believe in animal welfare certification.”
AWA standards are pretty strict and are based on research into animals, their origins and natural behavior. The standards are designed to minimize stress and pain on the part of the animal, even if they impose new expenses or management responsibilities on the farm. Not everyone can or is willing to abide by such strict requirements. Consider Bardwell Farm, however, feels that most of the standards are things that they ought to be doing anyway.
There are, of course, exceptions. When AWA first inspected the farm they had 75 layers in their outdoor wagon. For that many, the inspector said, they needed two doors. The whole wagon would have had to be rebuilt, so Angela reluctantly got rid of 25 birds. She figures they will build another eventually and increase the flock. Similarly, AWA feels that the space in the barn is full and there is not space to expand the goat herd unless a new barn is built, a major and costly project!
Another issue is that AWA, like the organic program, does not let you use preventive medication. You have to have a diagnosed problem first. And then if an animal is sick you have to have a vet in, develop a treatment plan, and do a herd check-up.
But there is one intestinal parasite, coccidiosis, about which Angela is particularly worried. It is caused by a protozoan, results in diarrhea in goats, and even if a doe is ultimately cured of it the disease leaves her weakened and less productive for the rest of her life. Most goat dairies buy a “medicated” grain (containing a parasiticide) to feed kids for this purpose. AWA won’t allow it’s use, however, and the farm has lost baby goats because of it.
Also, the AWA standard on reproduction for goats is that a doe can’t kid before she is 13 months old. Since gestation takes 5 months, that means a goat can’t be bred before she is 8 months old. So a goat born at the end of February could not be bred until November.
This is somewhat controversial, says Miller: “The vets I have talked to say it is better to breed them early. Over a lifetime they will be healthier producers. On the other hand, there is a very strong contingent of goat people who feel it is bad for a goat to be bred at 8 months. It would be like a thirteen year old girl having a baby.”
Peter would rather leave it to the farmer, or have a weight standard rather than an age one, because goats vary so: “If there is one that is really small at nine months, I wait until she is a little bigger. They will keep coming into heat for several months.”
Because goats originated in mountainous areas, AWA wants them to have chances to climb. To certify goat operations they require the farm to have some sort of platform or other device to enable climbing.
“We put some of the original milk stands out for them to jump on,” laughs Angela, “when they are loafing in the barn. No comment! We’re trying to run a business!”
AWA also requires that all slaughter occur at AWA certified slaughterhouses. Peter struggles to meet this one.
“I don’t know the exact standards for slaughter,” he says. “I know the unloading process has to be stress-free, so it feels more like you are just taking them to a different farm. That just has to do with the gates and the way they are set up. It cuts down on the adrenaline. But finding slaughter dates is hard, especially for goats as a lot of the slaughterhouses don’t like working with goats. Both of the ones we use are in New York state, an hour or more away. But we’re on the back burner for them.
“Another one of the things that we have been frustrated with,” he continues, “is that AWA wants us to give the goats constant access to the barn. That means we would have to leave the gates open all the time so they could go back to the barn whenever they want. If they are on pasture they are making milk, but if they are just laying in the barn they aren’t making anything. AWA is particularly interested in that access if it is raining. They don’t want goats to be in the rain. They don’t mind if cows are in the rain. They say it is scientifically proven that goats don’t like the rain.”
So he has developed moveable shelters for all the young goats, but finds that to give a shelter to every 40 goats in the milking herd, along with moving them every 12 hours and changing fences, etc. is impractical. So they leave a gate open if the weather is really bad.
“To us,” he says, “it seemed a management thing that we should be able to decide, based on the weather — hot or stormy. Our argument is that this time of year (early July) the pasture is so good that they make way more milk when they are out on pasture.”
I asked if AWA has much to say about the types of grasses used in the fields.
No,” Angela replied, laughing. “Don’t suggest it to them!”
Perhaps the most upsetting standard, as far as Miller is concerned, is that AWA wants them to take fecal samples from all the animals, including the chickens!
“How am I going to go around,” she wonders, “and catch chicken poop? I think most of the AWA standards are things that we would be doing anyway – pasturing the goats, having them outdoors, doing fecals on them and the young kids — things that any good farmers would do. Except for taking chicken fecal samples!”
AWA inspections occur once a year. Angela is impressed by the knowledge of the inspectors: “One guy who has inspected us twice is a former convention-al dairy farmer. A woman has inspected us twice, too, who is super thorough! She is a vet in the south, I believe. They are really nice people.”
They seem to want to schedule the inspections, however, for the exact time when Miller is most busy – kidding time in February.
“Twice they wanted to schedule when we were kidding,’ she groans. “That is a terrible time, when all the goats are having babies. I pleaded with them that I couldn’t spare a minute with them. That guy said: ‘What do you have to hide?’ I said, ‘All right, come. But don’t expect to talk to me!’
AWA seems to have no need for money. They give competitive grants to certified farms to help them design and upgrade housing and other facilities for the animals. Consider Bardwell got a grant for a doeling house on wheels. (Doelings are baby girl goats who have not reached reproductive age.)
“We give them their mothers colostrum right after birth,” Angela explains, “then move them to a separate barn where we have an AWA required square — a bucket with ten nipples — per pen. For the meat goats they get goat milk for the first 2 weeks, then cow’s milk. For the replacement does they get goat milk throughout.
“But AWA is amazing,” she continues. “They stay very involved with their farms. They do any kind of marketing assistance you need and don’t charge a fee. They are the only certifier who doesn’t charge a fee. I believe they are funded by a foundation formed by a very wealthy couple. The woman was dis-tressed about animal use and suffering in medical research and brought a lot of attention to that.”
Another humane label is Certified Humane, which is also pretty well established. But you have to pay for their certification, and Miller feels the onus of paying has a little taint on it. It is like you have to buy your way in, she says.
I asked Angela if what she has wrought in West Pawlet is what she was hoping when she decided to buy the farm 16 years ago.
“My intention at the outset was just to dabble with animals and cheese making,” she laughs. “The hardest part of building this business has been manag-ing and keeping all the people necessary to make it work. I didn’t have to do that in New York. I guess I didn’t really have a vision of something of this size at all.”