Fieldnotes – The Dairyman

Susan and Melvyn Brown are used to getting a lot of visitors at Amaltheia Dairy: students from MSU wanting to learn about farming, elementary and high school students from the area (including students from Sue’s own classes), curious passers-by who have never seen dairy goats, and people buying cheese or milk or pork. So when I showed up on short notice, they graciously took time out of their incredibly full schedules to show me around the place.

They are both really proud of what they have accomplished at Amaltheia. What struck me about the place was how relatively calm it seemed for such a productive operation with only four employees – Mel, Sue, their son Nate and their daughter Sara.

Mel told me they usually have between 230 and 280 milk goats (which have to be milked twice a day), along with 100-150 replacement goats waiting in the wings. The goats seem to be about equal numbers Saanen, La Mancha and Alpine. They also have pigs, which feast on the whey from the cheese-making operation (from which I deduce they are probably very tasty, though I haven’t yet tried Amaltheia’s pork.) All of the Browns seem to do everything, but Nate is mostly responsible for the pigs and the gigantic greenhouse; Mel for the goats; Sue for the cheese; and Sara for marketing.

By the way, Amaltheia (with the stress on the second syllable) was the goat (according to some scholars of Greek mythology) who suckled the infant Zeus.

Amaltheia is more like a European dairy than anything I’ve visited in the U.S. I guess that’s not surprising in a place founded by a fellow from a rural and remote part of northwestern England. In fact, the Browns’ farm reminds me in many ways of the dairy I once worked on in Jutland, Denmark. There the milk animals were Holstein cows instead of goats, but the atmosphere on the place was very similar. I remember all of us who worked at the farm trooping back to the house at the end of the day, leaving our wooden shoes or rubber boots in the mudroom, and sitting down to eat together.

Mel told me (in his clipped Cumberland accent) that what he enjoyed most about his life was this: “After a long day at work, we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor – our own meat and milk and vegetables…and finish off a great meal with some of the best cheese a person could hope to find anywhere.”