1 of 52 things to do in Manitoba: milk goats

Doubtless, there are a number of small, visitor-friendly farms in Manitoba, but Aurora Farm is remarkable for the effort it makes to educate the people who pass through. Louise May, the farm’s owner is a busy lady. Google her and the web unfurls a list of links, including her active Twitter feed and her appearance at Winnipeg’s City Council with a live chicken during the city’s backyard poultry debate.  What brought us to her farm on a Sunday in March? Some friends and I, all city girls with a penchant for natural food and scenic outdoors, decided to take a Goat Milk Cheese Workshop. One workshop was offered in the city, but the one Louise was hosting on her 160 acre farm in St. Norbert promised its participants the opportunity of milking the goats. We donned our boots and headed out.

My farm experience is limited to literature and ancestry. I told my dad that I was going to milk goats.
“They’re easier to milk than cows” he said.
“Well yeah, they only have two teats” he said.

We arrived at the farm just as morning chores were beginning. The seven-month-old kids in one pen were bleating, anxious to get back to their mothers. Does are separated from their young for the night so that the farmer can have a good supply of milk at the beginning of the day. The barn had several stalls and one heated room for milking. Louise had devised a wooden stand where the goats hopped up and ate grain while we each tried our hand and extracting their milk. Cats dozed, perched on top of shelves or tucked inside cubbyholes.

Washed and stripped (i.e. the first few squeezes of milk are discarded), a doe’s teat is warm and soft. The technique calls for a little dexterity; the teat needs to be pinched between your index and thumb trapping the milk inside, and then squeezed from the top down with your remaining fingers. Aiming for the bucket is the next challenge. When we’ve all had our turn, Louise finishes off each one in a matter of minutes, the milk producing nice foam on top.  

Louise hosts the cheese making in her open-plan kitchen with burgundy cupboards. The area in front of her stove fireplace is a circular mosaic with a large heart-shaped stone in the middle. She rescued the house from demolition, choosing instead to tackle the black mould and other problems it presented and adding on to its exterior as the need arose. Shelves laden with scented goat-milk soap line a yellow, wood-beamed eastern-facing room, while a few of her heritage chickens live in a comfortable southern facing add-on, across shelves of seedlings and containers full of soap-making supplies. Louise hopes to soon add a bungalow with a converted commercial kitchen to her property. She talks to us about the garden they’ll be planting this year on a prime piece of property full of freshly composted soil. It will supply about 200 fresh produce boxes for families in the city. It is a new project she’s taken on with the help of Mary, a resident university student of agriculture. The property is also home to visiting WWOOFERS (young people who are part of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) who benefit from the organic farming experience and who, on Louise’s farm, have no shortage of animals to care for, including horses, alpacas, sheep, ducks, and the house trained cats and dogs. But Louise, with her long grey-streaked hair doesn’t look like a harried woman. She doesn’t go on about how busy she is. In fact, sitting in her kitchen as she explains the process for making one or another kind of cheese, you lose track of all the work involved in owning land and caring for animals. In her house, the hassle seems like fun; juggling animals, property, workshops and artisanal wares looks like a pleasant possibility, an almost enviable way of life. That is the charm of Aurora Farm, and just the thing a couple of city women needed to be reminded of.