La Ferme des Petits Changeons turned out to be a beautiful little patch of the Norman countryside nestled right up next to the not-tiny town of Avranches. They had 28 goats (French Alpines) and five cows (Canediennes.)
The goats and cows got some hay and grain, but they ran free all day. The cows and the goats were fenced into the same large area that contained pasture, where the cows usually stayed, and browsy areas full of brambles where the goats ran around.
I got to help milk (by machine) a few times for fun, but the farm couple and their one full-time employee pretty much had that covered. My WWOOFing duties changed every day: pulling down blackberry brambles and feeding them to the goats, harvesting figs and making jam, hand-cutting and burning docks that were going to seed in the pasture. One of my favorite tasks was building a new aeration chamber for the cheese aging cave. The cave is naturally cool because it is sunk into the ground and lined with stone. It needed more air circulation, but the air coming in had to be cool. So we had to dig a big trench in the ground and bury a pipeline – hopefully the air will cool enough as it travels through the underground pipeline before it reaches the cave.
They only milk once a day. I’ve been to several farms in Europe that only milk once a day, and I’ve thought that it’s definitely a good idea to at least consider the option. Here, Emeric explained that based on some studies he has read and his own experience, he thinks it’s almost always better to milk only once a day. He says that not only do you save your own labor and the electricity used to run the milking machines, but also, because the animals are making less milk they are less stressed and suffer from fewer health problems. According to his calculations, the money he would make by increasing the yield from twice-a-day milking would not offset the costs.
The couple running the farm is in their thirties, and neither of them comes from a farming family. They started from scratch. It was nice to see them doing something similar to what I’d like to be doing in ten years – and especially to see them succeeding.