I don’t like working with machines. They are expensive to buy and to run, and especially when I’m involved, they break easily. So, I want to learn to work with goats with as few machines as possible. This is a good place to do it. Agathe and Romuald milk by hand and make cheese by hand, and there’s not a tractor or a pasteurizer in sight.
While most people assume that working without machines creates an impossible amount of work, I don’t think this has to be the case. You just have to design your farm, your schedule, your habits and your herd to make it work.
Romuald told me that when he’s selecting which doelings to keep for his herd, his first criterion is that she’s healthy. But the second thing he selects for, more important than milk quantity and quality, is easily hand-milkable teats. This is so important – when the milking machine broke at Coonridge and we had to hand-milk for a week, some of the goats took five times as long as the easiest ones. Their teats were tiny and extremely hard to work with, which made hand-milking seem like a harder chore than it has to be.
We also muck out the barn by hand. We do it between every day and every three days. It usually takes about 20 minutes or half an hour. It’s doable and not too backbreaking. But if that’s the way you’re going to do it, you have to keep up with it. If you go a whole season without mucking out the barn, you’re going to need a tractor.
Although I’ve been enjoying working by hand here, I have to report that Agathe and Romuald have not succeeded at fulfilling my ultimate dream: running a farm without owning a car. I don’t think the thought has ever crossed their mind. However, all they have is one big van: no trailer. This works because they feed their goats very little. They don’t have to truck in tons of hay to last for the winter. So selecting a site that has plenty of wild food makes this possible. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find (or afford) land this good in the U.S., but it’s something to hope for.
Of course the number one thing that makes working by hand possible is having a small herd. No, you don’t get as much milk, so you don’t earn as much money. But you don’t have to pay to buy and run all those machines. Sounds like a good trade-off to me.