Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Series 1: Opening Farmer Profiles, Episode 3
When Cyndi Wright was in high school her friends thought she was most likely to become a comedian. She even tried her hand at stand up. Briefly. It was harder than she thought. If it was comedy she was drawn to, she found it on Main Street in Andes, New York, where she and her husband Lester Bourke have a small goat dairy farm that produces milk, chèvre and clabber.
The goats and the creamery are just one part of the story though. Tune in to Episode 3 and see what Cyndi and Lester are building and how you can take part.
XOXO Farm Girl
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Music: Lobo Loco, All Night Long (ID 774) and Spencer Bluegrass (ID 1230)
www.musikbrause.de Creative Commons License (by-nc-nd)
Animal Sounds: From Farm Girl's accidental farm or from Dirty Girl Farm
Lester Bourke: 00:00 Having a herd of goats is the same as trying to raise a herd of toddlers. They understand the word no. They don't like it. Most of them know their names. They'll come when they're called, if they feel like it. And they'll put absolutely everything in their mouth at least once. The more you pay for a toy for them, the more likely they are to destroy it. They're much happier with an empty box. It's toddlers.
Farm Girl: 00:23 (music) Welcome to Talk Farm to Me. I'm your host, Farm Girl. On Talk Farm to Me, the farmer takes center stage and we find out what they do and how they do it. And no matter how you spend your time, I'm pretty sure you have more in common with farmers than you think. So, sit back and relax and I'll bring a farmer and maybe a cow or two right into your living room for a chat.
Farm Girl: 01:07 Come with me down Main Street in Andes, New York to the only traffic light blinking yellow at its intersection with Delaware Avenue. Just a hundred paces from the center of town is Dirty Girl Farm, a small goat dairy and creamery with two plucky farmers who have an emerging vision for a town farm that is far more than just a farm. Cyndi Wright together with her husband, Lester Bourke, their young daughter, and some 40 goats on 37 acres are producing milk, making cheese, and other dairy products and they want you to come for a visit. Let's hear how they got started.
Cyndi Wright: 01:45 My husband was a farmer before meeting me. He grew up in Lew Beach on a 200 acre sheep farm.
Lester Bourke: 01:54 The farm actually had belonged to my grandfather. He purchased it back in the early 1900's. I guess I was probably one or two years old and my mother decided she wanted a couple of sheep, so my father got her a couple of black ewes. Well, you can't have just a couple. You got to have a ram so you can have lambs. So they got a ram. So we wound up, we had about 60. We told everybody it was the largest herd of black sheep on the east coast. I wound up learning to spin when I was, I don't know, probably seven or eight years old. I was spinning yarn. Every now and then in the winter time when we were having lambs, dad would come in, wake me up at two o'clock in the morning, seven years old, "Having a problem with a lamb. Your mother and I need help." While I hold the flashlight and dad holds the sheep and mom tries to get the lamb out because there's a problem. So that's how I spent most of my years.
Cyndi Wright: 02:56 And I could not have been more than seven years old and I was mesmerized by these goats. I tried to crawl in the pen and every time we were taken away from that area, I kept trying to crawl back in with the animals. So, that was the start of my love affair with wanting a farm.
Cyndi Wright: 03:25 Dirty Girl Farm was named after my daughter. When I was having her, everybody was giving me pink little dresses and pretty frilly little things. And then once I had her, her favorite thing to do was really to play in the dirt. She'd be in my garden crawling around, picking tomatoes off, picking elderberries, blueberries, just crawling around and eating, and she hated those stupid little dresses. And of course, not knowing what I'm supposed to do because I was a first time mom, I was like, "Oh no, I have to wash her every 20 seconds when she gets filthy dirty and I have to put her in a new dress." And eventually she just started taking the dresses off and walking around naked. And then once I got her pants and some more rugged clothes, she was a lot happier.
Cyndi Wright: 04:28 We started back in 2012. I actually wanted Jersey cows, but because we only had three acres, there was no cow that was going to be walking around the three acre forest we were living in. So somebody said, "Get goats." They said, "You know what? If you can have a dog, you can have a goat." And we eventually ended up having our neighbors come over with Mason jars and ask for milk. And we had got a few more goats, to make sure we had enough for everybody. And then they started asking for cheese, and we started making cheese. And a very nice milk inspector for New York State showed up at our farm and said, "Ma'am, you have a business." And I said, "No, we're just doing this for some neighbors." And lo and behold, somebody pulls in the driveway I've never seen before asking for milk. So he said, "You really need to kind of go legit and make this a business." And that's how we got started.
Cyndi Wright: 05:34 "Come on girls, come on girls. Come on. Oh yeah, come on."
Farm Girl: 05:44 Becoming a dairy farm is a lot more complicated than it sounds. Of course, we all think about the animals, the milk producers, but there's a lot more.
Cyndi Wright: 05:56 We started with the 15 gallon pasteurizer, then we've got the 45. It'll tell you exactly how long it takes to get up to be pasteurized, and then you legally have to pasteurize the milk for a minimum of 30 minutes. The chart recorders basically make sure we do everything up to Ag and market standards. There's no way for us to fake it, because they are sealed, and if you break that seal you get in a lot of trouble. We had milk inspectors come out, walked us through the entire process.
Farm Girl: 06:40 When a dairy farm is starting out, a trained and licensed milk inspector evaluates the sanitary conditions of the farm, and the health of the animals as well as the farmers. From there, other specialists get involved and inspections continue twice a year at a minimum.
Farm Girl: 07:03 Dirty Girl Farms sells its products regionally and right off the farm out of a cute little yellow farm stand barn, complete with a fridge or two, lots of information on the local area, and an on your honor jar, where you pay for what you take.
Cyndi Wright: 07:20 We started just bottling milk in half gallon jugs. Then people started asking for cheese, so we just make the soft Chevre in four flavors. We did start making yogurt, but the butterfat in goat milk yogurt is not the same as cow milk yogurt, so I had to call it something else. They considered it false advertising. So we call it [collabor 00:07:48], which is basically just an old fashioned word for yogurt. I call us lazy farmers because most cow farmers get up at two o'clock in the morning, three o'clock in the morning. We don't do that. Goats are very forgiving about what time you milk them. We usually milk at eight in the morning and at eight at night. Now we have about 40. We have Alpines, Saanen's, a couple of Nubian's, a lot of mutts. Most of them right now are pregnant, so we're not getting much milk at all, so hopefully by the end of January we'll start having babies. We'll be back flush with milk and making cheese and milk again.
Lester Bourke: 08:30 Because we're a dairy, they're all pulled at birth. We take them away from mom, it's why we're selling the milk. The first day to two days we're milking them, but that milk is going to their babies. That's the claustrum that has all the antibodies from mom, which will help keep the babies healthy. At the beginning of the season it's not bad. We've got two babies that we've been bottle feeding every day for two and a half months. Oh, that's fine. It's two babies. When you have two or three or four born a day every day for a week, all of a sudden, "Okay, now who did I feed? Which, wait a minute, why do you all look alike suddenly?"
Cyndi Wright: 09:14 It's always cute when we have the first few. I'm like, "Oh yay. The babies are here." And then by the time we have 50 I'm like, "Bunch of maggots."
Lester Bourke: 09:28 Well, the one that we're milking right now is right around three quarts a day. We've got a couple of our older goats that are really good producers that are well over a gallon a day. Some of the younger ones, first fresheners, last year actually were right around three quarts a day. Milk is usually done in pounds, not gallons or quarts. We've had goats that were milking 12 pounds a day, which is right around a gallon and a half. That puts her right up there with some of the top producing Holstein cows by body weight. Because you got to remember this is a 130 pound goat doing 12 pounds or 10% of her body weight a day, versus a 900 to a 1,000 pound cow doing a hundred pounds of milk.
Cyndi Wright: 10:16 I wish some of our cow neighbors would go into goats because they would make triple the amount of money they're making on cows. And I personally think goats are easier to take care of. They make less waste. They're easier on the lands. They look at us and they're like, "Those people are milking goats. Who milks a goat?" We're like the red headed stepchild. We're the clown of the dairy family. There's no explaining that they would make more money doing goats because that's just not how they were raised.
Cyndi Wright: 10:58 So God bless cow farmers who have done it for years and a cow has four tits as where a goat only has two. And they've done it by hand for decades and decades. Now, we're in the process of buying milk from the little farm up the road here. They've been here for a hundred years and we're going to buy his cow milk and start playing around with mozzarella cheese and different flavors of yogurt, and hopefully he'll then get a better price for his milk because the market for cow milk is not good right now. And if that's what you have to do to hold onto your farm, diversify, then that's what you got to do.
Farm Girl: 11:50 While Cyndi manages a Facebook page and sometimes a website, their business is really built on word of mouth. As word got out and demand grew, Cyndi and Lester looked for a way to expand their farm and Cyndi really applied herself to put her own, "Diversify the farm," advice into action. There are, after all, a couple of months a year while the goats are pregnant that the farm is low on milk and on milk money.
Cyndi Wright: 12:18 We started selling down to Manhattan and we kept getting more orders than we could produce milk for. So, we kept trying to expand on our little three acres, which eventually became impossible, and we decided it's just time to get bigger. So, we had been looking at this farm just to see if we could pasture some goats here because it was abandoned for about 30 years. And the owner said, "No, I don't want anybody on my property but I'd like to sell it to you." And we basically said, "Oh, that's great, but we don't have that kind of money." And he said, "Well, I will wait for you until you do."
Lester Bourke: 13:07 He'd had other people that wanted to buy the property to develop it, and he wanted it to be a farm again.
Cyndi Wright: 13:16 It took us five months of going back and forth with the town board that really did not want a farm in town. "It's going to smell, there's going to be flies. If the animals get out, it's going to be a disaster." We were hoping to be an asset to the town to bring more people here. There's a lot of great stuff to do in town, but there's not a whole lot to do for kids. And we put in a hiking trail. We also have the town ice skating rink on our property, that only the older local people know because they went as kids. So, we're hoping in the next few years to get that back up and running, and then there would be a trail up to that and people could, maybe we could put a little shack out there with hot chocolate.
Cyndi Wright: 14:12 The barn has taken on a life of its own. We have been asked to have dances here and classes here and maybe the prom here, and it's taking on its own form of what it wants to be at this point. We get a ton of visitors, which I love. It's the Italian in me. I like people just showing up and hanging out, but it also doesn't help you get anything accomplished and especially, July, August, September, that's all we're doing all day long.
Cyndi Wright: 14:51 When people come up for the weekend, they ask us a lot of unusual questions.
They really don't know. People will ask us, "Do the males make milk?" Yeah. They don't know that... Just like human beings for something to produce milk, you have to have a baby. It doesn't just magically happen.
Farm Girl: 15:20 Farming goats presents its fair share of unique challenges. Goats are mischievous and smart and fencing them in is difficult.
Cyndi Wright: 15:31 People say if you can put water through it, you can get a goat through it.
Lester Bourke: 15:35 They broke the fence in back of the barn this past summer. About two weeks after we got the fence up, they started looking and saying, "The stuff we have here is nice, but that stuff on the other side looks better. Let me lean over the fence a little bit because I can reach that." Well, if one goat sees a goat leaning over the fence, "Oh, well I want to eat that too." And the next thing you know, you have 10 or 15 goats all leaning on the same section of fence trying to reach what's on the other side and they snap off a steel fence post.
Farm Girl: 16:07 Goats are animals with their own personalities and community norms.
Cyndi Wright: 16:12 They are animals and this is a herd. Some of the older goats will try to stomp them to death. They'll chew off their ears, they'll chew off their tails. It's like wild kingdom in there.
Farm Girl: 16:27 And sometimes there's heartbreak.
Cyndi Wright: 16:30 This batch of goats is extremely healthy. We ended up getting one goat with our
last batch of goats that had a disease that ended up giving it to my entire herd. So, I had to call all 60 goats and we do have names for some of them now, but not like we used to. I tried not to get as attached to this group, because it was gut wrenching when we lost the last ones.
Farm Girl: 16:58 And the animals aren't the only ones you have to consider.
Cyndi Wright: 17:02 Family sees you struggle. They see the years when you're paying $60 for hay and making no money and try to gently tell you, "Well, maybe this wasn't the greatest idea. You should go get a job." But my husband and I are thick and stubborn and we are going to do this as long as we can.
Farm Girl: 17:37 When we talk about the future of Dirty Girl Farm, it's easy to see that the wheels are still churning. Cyndi gets grants, farm and business mentors, takes classes at Cornell, and listens carefully to her customers. She's got cheese making down pat and even though Lester complains a little bit about all the work they have to do on the farm, it's clear he's in it too.
Cyndi Wright: 18:03 I love building things from the ground up.
Lester Bourke: 18:07 I've still got two acres of the property that I need to clear cut, so that I can get an area set up for the apple orchards, an area set aside for Christmas trees, an area set aside possibly for a bramble orchard doing either raspberry or blackberry.
Farm Girl: 18:30 With the young goats that they raise, some join the herd as milk producers and others have built a new farm demand.
Cyndi Wright: 18:37 Usually if they're boys, they go to Muslim community, the Filipino community, pretty much every community eats goat except for Americans. We just constantly are asked for goat meat, which I didn't think would be that big a deal. I figured, "Oh milk, everybody likes milk. Everybody likes cheese." Nope, everybody wants meat.
Farm Girl: 19:07 Cyndi is always thinking about the future and how to make Dirty Girl Farm an active part of the community.
Cyndi Wright: 19:16 If people want to make their own cheese or just test drive something and see if they think that they're interested in doing it, we already have the equipment. So why would somebody spend the money with buying all this infrastructure if it's something they don't think is going to fly? So, we'd like to open up the creamery for people to use, and then eventually have what is our creamery turn into a little commercial kitchen.
Farm Girl: 19:50 Sometimes a farm is just a farm. A place where food is grown and produced, but Dirty Girl Farm is developing in a new direction. One that is an important player in the life of a small town. One that wants you to visit to buy some milk and Chevre and to go for a hike, attend a class, a square dance, or a farmer's market. And if you happen by during kidding season, you could definitely feed a baby goat. No kidding. I couldn't resist.
Farm Girl: 20:28 It's been great to have you along for this episode of Talk Farm to Me. Special thanks always to our farmers for talking farm and doing what they do best. For more information about this episode, including a look behind the scenes, head on over to talkfarmtome.com. This season's music is by Lobo Loco. You can find more episodes as they come out on talkfarmtome.com or subscribe to the whole season, wherever you get your podcasts.
Farm Girl: 20:58 Either way, please share your feedback right on the website or give us some love on iTunes. I'm your host, Farm Girl. Stay tuned for a new episode every two weeks when I bring a new farmer and maybe a cow or two right into your living room for a chat.