Don't Alert the Universe

Sidehill Farm News

Don't Alert the Universe

We have a running joke here at Sidehill that you must never make travel or vacation plans too far ahead of time. Planning ahead only serves to alert the Universe to an opportunity to wreak havoc, because in this Sidehill-vacation-centric understanding of the world, the Universe is sort of like the Empire, or the Dark Side. It is lurking just around the other side of the planet, accompanied by a low brass orchestra playing ominous music, waiting to glide on to the scene at the last minute and vaporize your plans. Invite us to a picnic two weeks ahead of time - we’ll never make it because a cooler compressor will go down just as we are pulling out of the driveway. Summer wedding planned for 6 months? Guaranteed tractor meltdown in the middle of baling hay. But invite us to come for dinner in half an hour? - we’re definitely there. Spontaneous flies under the Universe’s radar.

And so, with bated breath, we enter February. February is vacation month. We’re closing the creamery for a week during school vacation so Craig, Shahid, and Brian can spend time with their families. Stella is taking a week to go skiing and hang out at a bluegrass festival. Paul and Amy are leaving the country for 10 days. None of this can be spontaneous, and so we go into February with full knowledge of the truth. The Universe has Been Alerted.

Now, we have learned a few things about the Universe over the years. The first thing we’ve learned is that once the Universe has Been Alerted, there are just some things we can’t control. Like 4 feet of snow in 24 hours. Like an entire electrical panel failing so that Cecilia (Celia-of-all-trades-but-not-previously-including-electrician) has to rewire a 200 amp service with only Paul on the other end of an international call and a flashlight held in her teeth. The parlor wastewater system freezing solid so Hansen is in the ditch on his knees in 6” of poop water in zero degree weather. Or a state-issued a travel ban so we can’t deliver yogurt, which means everyone needs to deliver yogurt on the next day when they should be making yogurt, which means we won’t have space in the bulk tanks for the next few milkings because yesterday's milk didn’t get made into yogurt. We no longer stress about this type of thing, because they are just going to happen, no matter how we plan and prepare. And a little adventure is good for team-building and morale. Right team? 

The second thing we’ve learned, is that the more things that go wrong in the week before vacation, the better. It’s like the Universe puts a bunch of energy into preparation, and then runs low on calories when actual vacation occurs. So far, things are looking good. Three of the four delivery trucks have been in the shop this week for everything from bad wiring, to faulty transmission oil sensors, to locked up brakes. The PTO shaft on the bale chopper snapped in half. The tractor trailer got stuck on the ice at 6:00 am, and in the attempt to pull it off, we ripped the lift arms off the 100 horse tractor. The new waterers in the barn leaked and dumped an inch of water behind the headlocks and froze all the cow’s hay to the floor. Then at noon on Tuesday, the power went out. In the 4 years that we have been farming in Hawley, the power has gone out only twice before - once on a weekend, once at night. Yesterday, however, we were right in the middle of packaging yogurt. Now once the cultures go into the milk, we have only 2 and a half hours to get it in containers before it starts setting up and getting too firm to go through the filling machine. When the power went out there was only one hour left of culture time, and sixty gallons still to package. A quick call to National Grid told us that there was “damage to the underground infrastructure” - (read: someone dug up a buried power line), and power would not be restored until after midnight. Gulp.

So we pulled the big tractor mounted generator out of the machine shed, and drove it over to the main service panel. We’ve all been through the exercise of hooking it up before, but for some of the team, this was the first time for real, and under a significant amount of time pressure. We shut off grid power, hooked up the generator, and got power flowing back into the creamery. Lights came on. Milk pumps ran and filled the hoppers. But Sheldon the filling machine spit and fizzed, and shut back down. We shut off everything else on the panels. He still wouldn’t run. Paul was on the phone with C&S Electric motors, Craig with Sheldon’s manufacturer, both yelling over the roar of the tractor. Stella ran home to send emails and phone calls that had to go out that day. Things were not looking good, when Paul guessed that maybe the voltage was too high. He knocked the RPMs on the tractor down, and suddenly, Sheldon hissed and clanked to life. Yay! Craig and Shahid jumped into action and managed to get the yogurt packaged with less than a minute to spare.

Then, feeling confident, we restarted the walk-in cooler. Very, very bad electrical noises crackled from the controller boxes. But now, being experienced generator trouble-shooters, we guessed the voltage was too low. We revved up the tractor, and the compressors rattled into action. Next, heat pumps to the incubation room, the wash pumps, and, most desperately, the teakettle so we could make coffee. Then we figured we better stop, so we didn’t overload the generator. We were just putting our heads together about how we were going to get the cows milked, cool the milk, and cool the yogurt tonight, when the power came back on. Whew! 

The Universe has made some pretty good attempts this last week - and we’re hoping that as a result, it’s party-pooping resources are seriously depleted. But thanks to the Universe, this week we remembered the most important thing we’ve learned about going on vacation - that we have an amazing team here at Sidehill Farm. It’s a group of smart, generous, hard-working, fun-loving people who aren’t afraid of an occasional adventure and a chance to put their heads together and puzzle their way out of a mess. Craig and Stella, Sha and Brian, Faye and Phil, Anne and Dennis, Ken and Dave and Steven, thank you for being awesome. May the Force be with you this February.

No Cows in the House

Sidehill Farm News

No Cows in the House

I’m sure you’ve all noticed, that if you have a hobby, a passion, an unusual obsession, people give you stuff related to it. “Hey! I just found this John Deere tractor toilet paper holder, and immediately thought of you!” This is the whole reason for the existence of companies like the Franklin Mint, and the makers of angel figurines and sentimental snow globes that are advertised in the inserts in the Sunday newspaper. No one actually wants a collector’s edition hand engraved porcelain statue of a cat wearing a cowboy hat and boots; but everyone knows someone that needs a collector’s edition hand engraved porcelain statue of a cat wearing a cowboy hat and boots. For this reason - and well, also for our sanity - we long ago established what has proven to be the most controversial policy at Sidehill Farm.

No cows in the house. 

Now, the obvious interpretation is pretty self explanatory. Cows are 800 to 1200 lb creatures with hard hooves. They regurgitate their food and re-chew it while drooling. They poop. A lot. Anywhere they want. Right away, that qualifies them for exclusion from the house. Nobody really has any issues with the enforcement of this first level of the policy. It’s when the definition of “cow” becomes looser that folks start to have trouble. Like cow salt and pepper shakers. These are the gateway drug. Once you’ve let these in your house, someone wants to give you a cow cream pitcher. Then someone notices that you have a cow cream pitcher and cow salt and pepper shakers, so you must want some cow refrigerator magnets. Cow Christmas tree ornaments. Even… gasp!… cow toothbrush holders - because you definitely want to be thinking about cows while you have your hands inside your mouth.

This of course, sets up some awkward family moments when you open a charmingly wrapped cow figurine made in art class by your 4 year old niece. Fortunately, the rule is no cows in the house - not no cows in the barn, or no cows in the office. This is our out for the awkward moments. It also means the new cow weathervane on top of the creamery is fully within regulations. 

But we’ve had to take this even farther. When we were finally entering the world of grown-ups and shopping for our first couch (amazing what you discover about your spouse when you shop for furniture for the first time - right? How are you possibly going spend the rest of your life with someone who would voluntarily sit down on that hideous torture device?) - the salesman suggested a leather couch. Not just leather, but hair-on cowhide, looking for all the world like Toothpick or Pippin had gone flat and were draped over our living room furniture. I must admit, they were lovely in their way, but you know, when you come in from evening milking, probably having been pooped on at least once, and dealt with some sort of cow tomfoolery that made your evening an hour longer than you expected, you just don’t want a cow in your living room. In any form. Even skinned, (which is maybe the fate you were imagining for one or two of the evening’s troublemakers) and reclining on your couch. So the leather furniture was out, along with hide rugs, hide wall hangings, and idyllic paintings of cows in pastures. No cows in the house.

And so, we were sorely conflicted when offered the cow tchotchke of all times - a cast iron dinner bell topped with a cast iron Holstein cow, that came from the Ashfield farm of Bill Eddy. The offer of the bell was an honor - a passing on from one dairy to another - a hope that the spirit and determination that carried one farm forward could live on to inspire another generation. We were touched to be so chosen to carry on a piece of Ashfield history. For those of you who do not remember Bill Eddy, I am not qualified to be the one to regale you with stories. There are many others with deeper and more intimate knowledge of Bill’s life. Let it be said that Bill was a colorful character who lived life as he saw fit, and never backed down to adversity. His was one of the last remaining small scale dairies in Ashfield, and he milked cows until he just couldn’t. In later years, he lived in his car, swore like a sailor, and buried dead barn cats in the manure pile (we know because we found the skeletons in manure we bought from him.) And he collected cow stuff. Pitchers, creamers, magnets, statues, photos. Placemats, napkins, dishes. The house was literally packed with cow trinkets of every size and form. Every horizontal surface was colonized with herds of cows - kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom. And it was Bill who warned us. Once you’ve got one cow thing, he said, people just give you more. It never stops. So don’t even start.

And so, we said no to the bell. At first, we felt it disrespectful to the memory of Bill to turn down this gift. But we got over it. He told us not to start, and so we won’t. Hopefully, he’s joyfully cussing away up there, pleased that we bothered to listen.

Loretta Lynn Loves A Bucket

Loretta Lynn Loves a Bucket

Sometimes a smart cow is a good thing. Well, occasionally a smart cow is a good thing. OK - let’s be truthful here - it’s really only VERY RARELY that is a smart cow a good thing.  Smart cows (read: all Jerseys, and maybe, oh, let’s be generous and say approximately 2 Normandes), while charming and extremely interested in the odd doings of humans, begin their careers harmlessly enough. They steal a granola bar out of your back pocket and gallop off to the back pasture with it in their mouth. They learn how to open gates. Then they learn to open the new style of gate latch you installed because they learned how to open the old one. Eventually, it's opening headlocks so they can rodeo gleefully around the barn while the vet is trying to take a blood sample. Then it’s letting their friends out of the headlocks, because rodeoing gleefully around the barn while the people wave their arms and say bad words is much more fun as a group. It’s when you realize that both Houdini and Miney know the passcode to your smartphone that it dawns on you that you actually have a problem, and maybe those intellectually challenged cows are just fine. 

Now on the other hand, you don’t want truly dumb cows either. One seriously, doornail dense cow can really snarl up the works for the whole herd. Toothfairy took two months to learn that the exit door to the parlor was to the right, not to the left. 18 months later, she still has to stop and think after she’s milked. But Loretta Lynn? - she’s in a special class of her very own. Loretta Lynn is the great-granddaughter of Princess, our 16 yr old matriarch and head nurse cow. Princess has had many, many heifer calves in her long career, and one of the finest is Loretta Lynn’s grandmother, the Principesa Maria. (Pesa, for short.) Pesa is a champion milker, has a lovely grazing body type, and very few of the bovine bad habits that annoy the humans. Unfortunately, while Pesa is the perfect balance of not too smart, and not infuriatingly dumb, she has failed to pass that on to her offspring. Her daughter Loretta often couldn’t use both brain cells at once; and her granddaughter Loretta Lynn, well, wow.

Since the cows came into the barn for the winter, Loretta Lynn has been struggling to learn to use the waterers in the barn. Now, I’ll admit, they are a little tricky. You have to stick your nose into a large hole in the top of an insulated tub to get to the water. Pretty challenging. Calves learn to do this in about 30 seconds. All the other cows have learned to do this in less than a minute. Loretta Lynn? We’re going on 2 months now. Eventually she figures it out, but you can tell that all that thinking is really taxing for her. But just last week, her world changed dramatically.  We always have 5 gallon buckets of warm water in the milking parlor - the water comes from the plate chiller that pre-cools the milk like a heat exchanger. We use it for washing off the milking platforms and rinsing our hands. Loretta Lynn has watched these buckets before -watched them fill and be emptied, fill, and be emptied, and that day, apparently some previously shorted connection finally made contact. Loretta Lynn has always been the last cow to come in the parlor, but that day, she came charging into the parlor right after the bossy cows. She pushed a couple loitering cows aside, pulled her ears back, and jammed her head directly into one of the buckets. Fifteen seconds of noisy slurping, and the bucket was dry. She lifted her head, looked around, and jammed her head into a second bucket. Slurped that one dry. Lifted her head, spied the third bucket, and jammed her head in that one too. Only this time, when she had slurped it dry, yep - you knew this was coming - the bucket was stuck. 

Now any other cow would have completely freaked out, charging around the parlor, crashing into things, trying to rub the bucket off on anything available, including people and other cows. This sort of activity being unpopular with both people and cows, the entire scene would have devolved into a chaos of milkers being kicked off, bellowing, and free and voluminous pooping. (The cows, not the people - although there might have been bellowing from the people.) But this is not what happened. Loretta Lynn stood there with the bucket on her head. She turned her head once. She turned it back. She took one step forward. She took one step back. And then just stood there. With full knowledge of the risks, I decided to see just how long she would stand there, and went on with milking the other cows. Ten minutes she stood there. Ten full minutes, apparently completely content inside her bucket. Eventually I had to pull it off and milk her. 

And now it’s a pattern. Each milking, LL comes in the parlor, drinks a few buckets dry, and stands there staring into the empty bucket. She’ll stand there for a long time, gazing into that bucket with all the longing that those big cow eyes are capable of. I have no idea what happened in those ten minutes with the bucket on her head. Some kind of religious conversion maybe. Whatever it was, is hasn’t made her any smarter. She still struggles to put her nose in the hole in the top of that waterer. But let me tell you, she can jam her head in a 5 gallon bucket with the best of them.

Halves and Quarters of Normande Grass-fed Beef!

In France, Normande cow milk, and the cheese and butter made from it, are considered a national treasure. In the same way that only sparkling wines made in Champagne can be called champagne, only milk from Normande cows in Normandy can be use the coveted label Le Lait Pur de Normandie. But a more closely guarded secret, is the fact that among French gourmets, Normande beef is considered the finest beef in France. Traditionally raised on pasture and hay instead of grain, the beef finishes beautifully on the sweet summer grasses we have here in New England, and doesn't need to be force-fed corn in a feedlot in order to develop it's deep flavor and tenderness. The beef is lean, and full of old-time rich, beefy flavor.

Despite the very dry conditions this summer, our beautiful Normande steers have been chowing down on our lush organic pastures, and are looking fat and glossy going into the fall! This fall, we are offering quarters and halves of our flavorful Normande grass-fed beef for those of you who would like to buy in bulk and save some money. In your quarter or half, you will receive a range of cuts, from fancy steaks like tenderloin, ribeye, NY strip, and sirloin, to roasts, stew meat, and ground beef. All meat is vacuum sealed in individual packages - one steak or roast to a package, and ground and stew in approximately one pound packages. If you are ordering  a whole cow (share with friends!), we can customize the cut list to your specifications. Quarters will weigh 100 lbs and cost $7.50/lb, for a total cost of $750. Halves will weigh twice that, but at only $7.25/lb. for a total cost of $1450. This year, we will also be offering the opportunity to add on 30 lb boxes of ground beef for $180 - that's $6/lb. 

The animals that we raise for beef are treated exactly the same as we treat our milking herd. The calves are raised by their mothers or by nurse cows, drinking milk and grazing fresh green grass. Once they are weaned at 5 months, they are out on pasture full time with their herdmates. Since Normande beef often takes longer than American beef breeds to develop it’s full, rich flavor, the beef animals stay with the herd, grazing certified organic pasture in summer and eating organic hay in winter, until they are 28 to 30 months old.

We have a limited number of animals ready to harvest this fall, so be sure to place your order soon to make sure you get on the list! To reserve a quarter or half, please send an email to by Monday, October 17th  Once we get your email, we will ask for a $100 deposit to hold your order - the balance will be due on pickup day. Pickup day at the farm will be in early November - most likely on Saturday Nov 4th. 

The Piggies Head To Market

In June of this year, these adorable tiny Berkshire piglets arrived at Sidehill Farm, and took up residence in 4 acres of brushy woods beyond the pastures. They spent their days rooting, playing pig games, and foraging for wild berries and mushrooms. Now, after 4 months of a diet of wild foods, yogurt, colostrum, whey from our Schoolhouse Cheddar, and certified organic grain, they are nearly 250 pounds each! Just this morning, we bid them goodbye, and they headed off to become delicious Wild Forest Pork. We are sad to see them go - we love their antics! - but they are going to be SO TASTY when they come back as bacon and sausage! Keep an eye out in the farm shop in the next couple of weeks!

2015 Green Pastures Award Winners!

We are incredibly honored to have been named the winner of the 2015 Green Pastures Award!

Begun in 1947 as a challenge over pasture management among the six New England governors, the award is presented by the agricultural colleges in each of the six states at the annual Eastern States Exposition to honor an outstanding dairy family for overall management and their contribution to the region's agricultural community.

It is very satisfying to be recognized for all the time and effort we put into managing our dairy well, and for the commitment we have made to our local community. We always strive for quality, and we're glad it shows. We confess we're a little bit proud! Thank you so much for all your loyalty and support - it has made all the extra effort and energy worthwhile!

Normande Field Day, May 13th!

Normande Genetics is having a Field Day at Sidehill Farm Yogurt on Wednesday May 13, in Hawley, Massachusetts, 11 am to 3 pm. We hope many of you in the Northeast or further away can make it. Side Hill Farm has been breeding Normande for 10 years and use the breed for its milk and beef qualities, as they produce yogurts and sell meat as well. It's a wonderful illustration of the breed's direct marketing and added value potential. There will be many Normande enthusiasts to meet. Come and mingle. To RSVP, contact Jerome Chateau at Normande Genetics:

Help Wanted!

Once again, we are expanding, and need more fun, talented, dedicated people to join our team.  We are looking for people who believe in the work we do here, are always looking to improve, like to work as part of a respectful and supportive team, and like to laugh and have fun. Take a look at our job descriptions here, and see if any of these fit you, or anyone you know!

The full beauty of winter

Here in Hawley, winter is full upon us.

Snow has fallen and drifted, and receded and fallen again, but the ground has been covered for weeks now. The skis have come down from storage, and trails have been broken and drifted in a dozen times already. The cows are all tucked into the warm barn, sheltered from the wind, and snuggled into clean dry bedding. The half the herd expecting calves in February is drying up their milk to put energy into growing their babies, and with fewer animals in the parlor, we are only milking once a day.  The giant snow push and snow blower are mounted on tractors, ready for the call. The barn lights glow gold and soft at night as we do the evening chores.

As much as we love the summer here - that brilliant and airy season of waving grass and swooping birds - it is the winter that reveals the true nature of this ridgetop. The wind strips life down to it's essence - field, drift, cloud, sky.  The light is searchingly clear. The cold is purified and clean, sometimes brutally so. And while most work shifts inside this time of year, there are still chores that must happen outside every day. To work outside on those days when nature is exercising her fury is often electric in it's dangers, always humbling in it's honesty.  In some ways, winter leaves no space for humans here - to survive is to yield up your self - to become one with the wind, to be the weather itself. But just when you are feeling that all this purification, this raw cathartic truth is nearly too much,  there is the beauty. There are days of stillness and sparkling clarity. Sunlight on blowing snow, moon on fallen snow. The alchemy of wind and water glazes and illuminates every twig and needle in endlessly changing forms of crystal and flake and curve. And it is the fact that this beauty forms and unforms regardless of whether humans are here to have their breaths taken away that is both the redemption, and perhaps the most humbling revelation of all.

And so it is with these thoughts that we enter this holiday season, these celebrations of miracles and hope. We place candles in the windows, because it seems the ancient promise of guidance to warm sanctuary just might still be needed by some traveller. We all linger a little longer at the end of the workday, savoring warmth and the company of our companions and coworkers before venturing out into the dark. And then, we do go outside, again and again, because it is always beautiful here, whether we have the fortitude to witness it or not.

Blessings to you and your families in this holiday season,

Amy, for Paul, Cecilia, Sean, Craig, Hansen, Stella, Faye, and Phil, and all the girls who make the milk.

Rocky smells spring in the air!

Even up here in Hawley, we are really beginning to believe that it is spring!

The crocuses are up and blooming, and the daffodils are not far behind. The massive snowbanks - even the one that crashed off the barn roof, blasting open the door and filling the milking parlor with snow and burying it up to the roof, have faded into trickling streams of water.  The ice is off the pond. The peepers have returned to the swamp. The cows know that pasture is coming soon - they can smell the impending green in the same way we can see those slight shifts of light and hue that tell us the grass is really going to grow again this year. They can smell it, and by the gazes of longing out the barn windows, we suspect a plot afoot for an escape... Just a couple weeks girls - there's nothing out there to eat yet!

We are approaching the close of our first full year at the farm in Hawley, and to celebrate, we decided it was time to update the website!

The new site is much more dynamic - we can change photos to show you the newest and cutest calves, the glorious long evening light during haying, the latest shenanigans the cows have been up to. Some of the text is the same - we are the same old Sidehill farm after all - and we still feel the way we always have about health, and natural systems, and stewardship of the land. But now we have pages that introduce the personalities that make up our fabulous Team Sidehill, that explain the history of the farm, that share the absurdities of living with cows, and that help you easily find places to buy yogurt!

And photos! We think this farm is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and now we can share lots of photos of all those gorgeous moments of light and color we come across nearly every day. We think the new site accurately captures the spirit of what goes on here - lots of projects, lots of energy, lots of teamwork, all surrounded by this amazingly beautiful slice of glorious grass and endless sky. We are truly blessed, and we want to share it with you!

So take a little time to explore this site - and hopefully it will inspire you to come up and visit!