The town of Andover, Massachusetts, a half an hour due north of Boston and home of the Phillips Academy, is generally considered one of the state’s classier places to live. It ranks 36th out of the 351 municipalities in the state when rated by its per capita income, which is $52,275. For some resident’s however, it has a fatal flaw.
“They don’t seem to want farms here,” says Lucy McKain. “Lexington and Concord are more forward thinking that way.”
Lucy has a small goat dairy at her home on High Plains Road in Andover and has had to put considerable effort into first getting the right to raise goats there, then to finding enough land to give them a healthy space to browse. She finally has worked out an arrangement to lease a couple of nearby acres of town conservation land, however, and feels her goats are slowly warming the hearts of town residents to the idea of living near livestock.
McCain grew up in the city, as did her husband Jim, but he at least spent his summers working on his uncle’s large Kansas farm. It was an important experience for him.
“They had a huge farm with multiple trucks and cattle,” she says. “Jim had his own truck when he was 12! He didn’t want to get into farming himself, but when we were married I suggested we buy some land where we could have animals. I wanted our kids to learn about life and the ups and downs and how things work, and there is no better teacher than having an animal.”
Because of his business, however, they ended up buying a place in Andover and Lucy had to scramble to enable the kids to have a farm experience.
“We ended up having 7 kids,” she recounts, “and we all joined 4H. There was one family from Lynnfield, one from Tewksbury, one from somewhere else. But the kids got to know those kids and they all enjoyed it. Those were their fun friends that they went to fairs and shows with. They learned, by taking care of animals, how to take care of themselves.
“The 4H teaches excellent communication and leadership skills,” Lucy continues. “The kids all grew up to be amazing people doing amazing things. A few of them even attribute it to 4H now. They’ll say ‘Yeah, 4H really gave me a leg up’. They have a program in the winter that has the kids do visual presentations in front of a group. They encourage that from the time the kids are six. By the time they have done that a few years they have no fear of going before groups for presentations.”
The agricultural activities Lucy chose were raising chickens for eggs and meat, and goats for milk.
“We found a spot with a couple of acres on it,” she recalls. “We had trouble with the town, though. There is no agriculture left in Andover. We went through hearings and all in order to just have the goats. Finally they decided we could have some, as long as we kept it under control – make sure the kids locked the gates so the goats didn’t get out! I didn’t sell milk from there. I worked another job and the kids took care of them.”
As the family got bigger they needed to move to a larger house. The one they found, however, did not have a yard suitable for keeping animals at all. McKain was not prepared to give up the family’s livestock though! She said: ‘if the horse people can do it, we can too.’ So she boarded the goats in sort of a stable.
“We built a small structure at this other place,” she explains. “The woman would feed them in the morning and I would take the kids after school for the nighttime feeding. All they ate was hay – there was no pasture or browse. We would milk them and take care of them, so of course we wanted to be right there when it came time for the births.”
When it was time for the kidding, the family brought the goats home and turned the garage into a hospital. Doctors living on the street would come down and watch the births. But afterwards they had to move the goats back to the other place, where they were boarding.
In 2007 four of the McCain children were all leaving home at once – for grad school, college, etc. — so Lucy figured they didn’t need a big house anymore. They found a smaller home just being built, and moved to the High Plains location where they are now.
“I knew it was private enough to have goats without bothering anyone,” McCain recalls. “And because of all the hearings I went through before they gave me a license. It is from the town — a permit to keep animals.”
The animal officer comes once a year and checks out the barn, a small 12’ by 20’ structure they built as a barn/farmstand.
Lucy actually has two herds of goats now – the old goats and the younger girls. The reason she does that is that somewhere along the line someone sold her a goat with Caprine Arthritis and encephalitis and didn’t tell her. CA&E compromises a goat’s immune system. It is transmitted from one to another through their saliva, when they drink out of the same bucket. So the older goats now all have it but she has kept the younger girls in a different herd so they don’t get it.
“I even have to take the kids away right at birth,” she sighs, “so they don’t get infected. I bottle feed the babies and I can even give them the colostrum, but it has to be pasteurized! It is much more labor intensive, but I’ve been doing that for 7 years.”
McCain credits NOFA for a lot of knowledge about how to properly take care of her goats. When she first started, everyone said goats needed to eat hay. So she fed hay year-round.
“All they talked about in 4H was feeding them hay,” she laughs. “My first NOFA Conference was in 2009. It was a total brainshift for me to learn about browse! They are supposed to be on that? I could save some money that way!”
She learned that pasture was better for the goats, the world, and her own financial state. She also learned at a NOFA conference about getting a license from the state for selling raw milk. She first received hers in July, 2009, and has renewed it every year since.
“I sell the milk for $19 per gallon and $12 for a half gallon,” Lucy says. “A lot of people are using it to make kefir, some are lactose intolerant, some want it for babies or younger kids. Here is my refrigerator, my log of customers, my cash boxes. It is all self service. I haven’t had any trouble with people stealing cash. They might steal the milk, but not the cash!”
At peak production she can do up to 4 gallons a day. One doe gives about a gallon at peak production and she staggers the lactations when possible. The last three years she has been able to milk right through the year. This year she didn’t do it because she is planning on moving again and wants to have them on the same schedule. She brought a buck in who bred them all, so they are due the end of March.
“I never have had to market my milk,” McCain grins. “I’ve been on the NOFA/Mass website, but that is all. People hear about me from that and the Weston A Price Foundation.”
Whether her assessment of the town’s cool attitude toward farmers is faulty, or she has an inexhaustible amount of energy to plead her case, shortly after she learned that goats should be on pasture, Lucy managed to secure a lease from the town for her goats to browse on 2 – 3 acres of town conservation land.
“I happened to be at a Boy Scout event,” she recounts the story. “My youngest son became an Eagle Scout. There they announced that one of the boys was doing a project for the town conservation land. I approached the man afterward and said: ‘I have goats. Can we talk about my goats going up to the conservation land and clearing some of it for you?’ I was thinking: ‘What would they like to get out of this?’
“He said: ‘I’m so glad you said that. I was going to reach out to you.’ So we talked. His goal was to eradicate some invasive species. My goal was to get browse for the goats. We laughed at it. There was a lot of sumac, poison ivy, different things. There are about 3 acres of open land, altogether, but I don’t have goats on all that. It used to be a town community garden area, but they stopped that because they didn’t have water out there.”
The man she spoke with was a volunteer and had to go to the Conservation Commission to get their okay for the goats. He reported back that: ‘Some are happy to support this and some are not. So you have to be really good with this and make sure the goats don’t get out. Nobody else in town is asking to do this, it is unusual, so be careful!’
“I got them up there in the fall of 2009,” she continues. “I brought the older ones, who could learn to browse better than the young ones. They were not sure of it at first, until I stopped giving them hay. Then they got the idea! The goats went right for the sumac, as soon as they got there. They left nothing but the stumps. Now they come back full and I don’t give them any hay. They come back exhausted and just want to be milked and go to bed!”
Moving the goats each day Spring, Summer and Fall, and getting them water have been challenges for McKain. The conservation land is only 500 feet from her driveway, so the distance is not great. But she does not want to mix up the two herds, and needs help walking them to the browse each morning after milking, and carrying their water.
“We transport it up there with the goats,” she explains. “We haul water up in gallon jugs, and can drive up four jugs in a milk crate without spilling. Then we pour it in a drinking bucket that we hook to the fence. At first we were walking the older ones up with two people, and sometimes customers would come and help walk them. I have found people love to help, once they are here. One day a blind woman came with a group and she was quite intent on walking a goat. She did, with a friend!”
Fencing was also a major challenge. Lucy bought some fence to surround an area up there, but soon realized they eat fast! So she had to expand the fenced area. She got an EQIP grant to supply the fencing materials and got a state grant to cover her portion of the expense. Her son helped her put up the posts and install it. She also got some boy scouts to give her a hand, too. I called them up and asked: ‘Do you have any scouts who need community service? Can they come help me put up a fence?’
“A lot of kids don’t want to do that kind of physical work,” she says, “but one kid helped me over and over until it was done. He would come in 90 degree weather with long pants on. He said ‘My mother doesn’t want me to get any ticks on me.’ I just went to his Eagle Scout ceremony!”
The area she has fenced is small for both groups of goats, 8 in total, and McCain has made rotation plans to figure out how best to use it. She has broken it into several paddocks, but is amazed at how fast the animals eat! She asked last year if she could extend the fencing to take in more of the rest of the cleared 5 acres, but they said ‘no, that is as far as you can go’. Some people on the commission are apparently still not happy that she is the only resident doing this.
That town conservation area has a lot of biking and walking trails through the woods, but to get here they go through the open part and Lucy has left a lane open for people between the goat pastures.
“People have been walking through,” she says, “and seem to enjoy watching the goats. They stop me when I’m bringing water up, or something, and tell me how much they enjoy watching them. At the beginning there was no parking area, but the town cleared a spot and put in parking by the road. I’m sure the goats helped bring people out.
“We’ve never had any complaints from residents,” she continues. “There is one guy who plays the bagpipes. His wife kicks him out of the house when he wants to practice so he goes up there and plays for the goats.”
During my visit a couple came up and told McCain how much they enjoy the goats and asked what they might feed them. They asked: “Crackers?” She answered: “How about organic fruits and vegetables, instead.” They thanked her.
Lucy had Andover’s senator, Barbara L’Italien, to the property recently. The senator wanted to see her raw milk operation and the goats.
“She was impressed at how clean it was,” McCain says. “She asked me about what issues I had. I told her it was land. There is no land here you can buy to farm. You can’t afford it.
“When the Senator came,” she continues, “I invited the director of the Conservation Commission here too. We had 10 or 12 people here. It looked like a NOFA event! Of course he promoted the goats being on town land!”
Lucy has taken soil tests on the town land where the goats are. After the first year of browsing, in 2011, it showed a surprisingly high 6.3% organic matter. But a test she just took shows an incredible 8.1%. She figures it must be the manure and the hoof action!
“You can see here,” she points out as we tour the site, “where the raised beds were for the community gardens. When the senator was here she stirred up things a bit and now the town has given the go ahead for the community gardens to be here again. Apparently they found a way to tap into the town water up here!”
Now that the kids are gone (the oldest is 36 and the youngest 24) Lucy and her husband have decided to move again. This time they are really looking for a site close enough to his business for him to commute, but with some land for her farming as well. They are considering anything reasonable. But first they have to sell the Andover property. And the realtor tells them to move the goats out of the back yard if they ever want to house to sell. So Lucy is in the process of finding another temporary home for them.
“After the senator’s visit,” she relates, “I was in the newspaper again. From that article I heard from this woman who has some land and a barn we could rent. So we are renting space from her. The younger groups of does is there now. We have to sell the house this time! We’re taking down the fencing and can’t bring them back here!”
I expect we will hear more from Lucy wherever she lands!