(Editor's note: Doug Clough, is a staff writer for Farm News and a self-proclaimed city boy. He visits area farms and works for part of a day and writes about his experiences.)
ROCKWELL CITY - I remember tracing around my hand in first grade to form a turkey. I was preparing for Thanksgiving by drawing a Tom.
I was introduced recently to my first actual turkey, a Bourbon Red, at what used to be the Calhoun County Farm facility, near Rockwell City, in early July.
Doug Clough tries his hand at milking a dairy goat for his most current market experience. He found the Bourbon Red, in the foreground, to be a constant companion. “It was a bit unnerving at first,” said Clough. “I had never been around a turkey before. They move slowly and with purpose. I felt a bit like he was being protective of the farm.”
After meeting this full-fanned feathered Tom, I understand why Ben Franklin lobbied for this bird to be our national symbol of strength.
My host, Kathy Rose, introduced him, calling him "Red." Red had a presence about him, quiet and collected and with purpose in his step. Rose stroked his head and feathers, not unlike the owner of a family dog.
And like a farm dog, Red followed us into the old three-tier barn that housed horses for the Calhoun County Farm. I learned from Rose that county farms arose during the Great Depression, a product of the Works Progress Administration, which tried to help those who couldn't get work by creating self-sustaining farms in each county.
"We could work with latchkey kids, town kids, the disabled, and anyone who needed the benefits of learning about and practicing agricultural activities," Rose said. "We could have field days, collecting data that would keep us learning.
"My dream is to establish a creamery and educate others on how to make dairy products."
Rose contacted me weeks ago, pointing out that I hadn't dabbled in dairy. I ventured the hour drive to learn how to milk goats. She demonstrated how I needed to lock the milk into one of the goat's teats, and then force the milk into the bucket with the middle, ring and pinky finger following with pressure in sequence. "It's like playing the piano," she said.
Meant to put me at ease, this writer - who hasn't a musical bone in his body - had less confidence than he began with, and that wasn't much. It would be a hoot if I could play the piano as a result of learning to milk a goat.
After a formal introduction to Alisa the goat, I did what Rose demonstrated to no avail. I did it again and nothing. I did it a third time and a dribble and then a small stream. Good ol' Alisa is a bit like my mower, you have to prime 'er a few times before she sputters.
Startled at a brush of feathers on my backside, I turned to see Red. "He's just saying 'I'm here,'" said Rose. I preferred to think that Red was sharing the joy of successful milking.
"Try to alternate hands now," said my instructor. Alternating allows the milker to have one teat fill with milk while the other teat is being expelled. A goat's milk smells like newly cut hay in liquid form.
Alisa "bahhhhhhed" at me in a voice that I would barely understand during my short internship. Having finished her Purina Custom Feed, she grasped the side of the feed bucket with her teeth and tossed it to the ground with a goofy smile.
Goats have personalities. Who knew? The Lamancha Vaga, a white goat with short ears, apparently knew. I'm pretty sure she snickered at me from the stand close by.
After milking Alisa, Rose brought out a small 1940s-era milker that was run by a 1950s compressor. She said, holding one of two suction devices, "Here, put your thumb in the hole." I felt a gentle alternating tug. "This is actually easier on the goats," explained Rose, who milks twice a day to prevent them from getting mastitis, an inflammation of the udder.
I was a better hand milker, not being able to attach the automated milking apparatus to the teats.
I opted to try my hand at clipping a white goat.
"Clipping is done for show and to keep the goat insect-free without chemicals," Rose said. "Afterwards, the goat will roll around in the dust and the lice will fall off."
"Lice?" My mother's phobia of any bug gripped me like a vice. "Will I be leaving your farm to get special powders and shampoo?"
"It's not the kind of lice you're thinking of," said Rose, matter of factly. Relieved, I clipped away.
"Make sure to go against the grain of the hair," she tutored. Red's foot caught the extension cord, pulling the razor's plug from the socket. Red could be perceived as clumsy as he was attentive.
Finding Red unharmed, I plugged the cord back in and worked until I declared the clipping "done." Rose demonstrated just how close of a clipping a goat should get, shedding more piles of hair.
After packing the clippers away, she pulled a neighbor's donation from a refrigerator - muskmelon seeds and rind.
"Goats love this," Rose said. "They eat the seeds first; both the rind and the seeds are a snack and natural dewormer. Cut them into bite-sized pieces."
Red hung out behind me, keenly interested in my cutting behavior, and then following us to deliver the snacks.
Rose is as attentively present as Red at the former county farm. "It's a life I love," she said. "I'd love to bring the public to get to know it." Her desire to educate and work with livestock is only half the workload. Rose rents the property and is working to find funding to acquire it for her endeavor.
"Couldn't you just see this property used for agriculture in the classroom," she asked, sharing her vision, "master gardener classes, tree stewardship, master conservationist, photography opportunities and more?
"We'd schedule events like antique tractor shows, field day events, and ongoing research projects. There would be open barn events for the schools with interactive learning with the livestock ... perhaps they could milk the goats."
I'm certainly hip on the idea. While playing the piano is out of the question, I can just imagine myself as a student of dairy at a newly refurbished Calhoun County Farm.