Linda was the first person to work for Fraser and I, joining us back in 2016 to help us with some relief milking so we could get away to visit family, and later in the year so Fraser could be with me when our son Gabriel was born. She came with a wealth of experience of working with animals, and though goats were a new one to her, she very quickly rose to the challenge. Four years later, she still works for us milking and looking after the goats, and is a key member of the team.
I caught up with Linda to ask her a bit more about her job with us.
Can you describe a typical working day at Norton & Yarrow?
A typical day for me being a milker is to turn up on time and start setting up the parlour before I let the goats out of the barn to race helter skelter across the yard and into the parlour for their first milking of the day. Depending on the weather some may go out to graze the paddocks until evening milking, but as these girls don’t seem to be fond of wet weather it depends very much on the forecast. After milking the parlour is washed down and sanitised and the yard is swept. All is set up for the next milking. The late afternoon milking is slightly quicker because there is less milk in their udders.
What are the goats like to work with?
I love this breed of goat, they are utterly charming, very stoical, and most of the time are very co-operative. What surprises me most about them is their willingness to walk off and leave their kids, you would never separate a mare from her foal because there would be high drama, but goats seem to be very laid back mothers mostly.
How did you come to work for Norton and Yarrow Cheese?
Pure luck, I was introduced to Fraser and Rachel back in 2016 by a family member. That was right at the start when there were just a handful of goats and they were hand milked.
What other work did you do and do you still do?
I have run my own dog grooming business for about 20 years and juggle my clients' appointments to fit in with whatever farm work I happen to be doing. My original qualification was in Stud Management, I have run studs all my life, and taught stud management. I stood stallions at public stud (taking in clients mares for covering and also foaling) and was responsible for the health and wellbeing of breeding stock of all ages. I kept a flock of pedigree Wiltshire Horn sheep to help with paddock maintenance and those skills have been very transferable to the goat scenario. For many years I was a Kennel Club Assured breeder of Border Terriers, showing my dogs at championship shows and achieving a third place with a home bred Border Terrier at Crufts in 2012.
Do you feel similar skills are needed?
Although goats are very different to sheep in their demeanour (and even more to horses) you learn over the years to have the eye to notice when an animal is ‘not right’. Horses are my main area of expertise having been trained well over 40 years ago and worked with them ever since. The skills from a lifetime of handling animals are very transferable to these goats. Although I can’t claim to be an expert, I find them very amenable and love their personalities.
What are your favourite bits of the job?
Well, obviously bottle feeding kids! I expect everyone says that. Also I enjoy learning new things and am proud that I have managed to get my head around the workings of the milking equipment, and all the procedures. The first time I ‘flew solo’ was terrifying, and I’ve made all the mistakes rookies do, more than once. But thankfully my bosses are very forgiving and extraordinarily patient. I also greatly enjoy spending time with the girls as individuals, some love to come up for a chat and a neck scratch, and I have to say that they are a lot easier to deal with than sheep, who spend their lives trying to get away from you, with good reason!
And what about the downsides – which are the hardest or least enjoyable bits of the job?
The ageing body influences what are the most and least enjoyable tasks I find. Too many years wrangling horses has left behind a legacy of old injuries and painful joints. The farm is not mechanised at the moment so a state of the art wheelbarrow is the workhorse and actually a really good work out. Cheaper than the gym!
Actually I can’t think of many downsides to this job, being part of this journey at North Farm is a real privilege, the business has grown beyond all recognition in a relatively short time and we’ve all learned such a lot along the way.
Do you have any particularly funny memories from working here?
Every shift I do lifts the spirit, the goats are great fun to work with. Calling them in from the field for evening milking is priceless, they can really shift; to see a herd of 40+ galloping towards you with those long loppy ears and legs flying in all directions is hysterical - they look like cartoon characters.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career working with animals?
Working with animals brings many rewards, but a person has to be prepared to first and foremost accept that working with animals is a LIFESTYLE not a job. The hours can be long and gruelling in all weathers, animals need to be fed and cared for 24/7, putting their needs before one’s own. The joys of working with wonderful creatures can be balanced by the heartache of losing animals and you do learn to toughen up. But every loss affects you and you do your utmost to protect the animals in your care to minimise these losses. The pay is never going to be great and if that is a high priority in life, it's not for you, but working with animals is the best therapy in the world, and nothing is better for the soul.