Katie Barbeau is taking up farming on South Church Street in North Adams. Barbeau is also one of the first to receive a Friends of Animals scholarship toward her studies as a veterinarian technician.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A local mother and daughter are taking a natural approach to farming on their recently purchased farm.
Jen and Katie Barbeau pull into their five-acre farm at 1360 South Church St. every morning at 5:30 to start a long, laborious, yet satisfying, day at Mountain Girl Farm.
Between milking the goats, tending the chickens and wrangling the ducks, every day is a new challenge for the new farmers who have had to improvise every step of the way.
A McCann Technical School graduate, Katie now studies veterinarian technology at Mount Ida College in Newton. She only decided last November that she wanted to be a farmer when she came home from college during Thanksgiving break.
"We started looking for different places that were close, and we found this place," Katie said "It grew from there; we started from one little goat to two and it kind of escalated."
Katie said the primary focus of the farm is the goats; they have seven adults and six babies. Along with the goat milk, they also produce fudge and soap.
Jen said soap is their biggest seller because goat soap is much healthier alternative. Goat soap naturally exfoliates skin leaving healthier and smoother skin cells, she said, and also contains skin repairing vitamins and minerals that may prevent skin cancer.
"We just had a dermatologist in Pittsfield refer all of her patients to us," Jen said. "Our soap is all natural, and there are no fragrance oils. Its natural oils and goat milk."
Katie said originally they were going to start a goat meat farm, but that quickly changed. She said they only sell the goats as pets or for dairy.
"When you name them and bottle feed them as a baby for eight weeks you can't do that," Katie said. "It just doesn't work out; we bottle raise all of the babies here every baby is hand-raised."
Katie said she studies animal medicine because animals are extremely important to her. She carries this philosophy into her farm.
"People like to see where things come from and see the animal is not in a small little cage somewhere," she said. "Every animal here is loved and even our 6-month-old baby goats like to be held. They are a little big, but they love it."
All of the farm's goats, nearly 40 chickens, and nine ducks have been raised naturally. Katie said they use no antibiotics, hormones, or chemicals and they always look for a natural way to handle things.
"I think that if it's not good for them, it is not good for us, and if it's not good for us, it's not good for them, so I try to feed them things that are natural and healthy," Katie said.
Jen said that even though a commercial dairy farm goat produces double the amount of milk as their goats, Mountain Girl Farm goats are happier, healthier and their milk is better for you.
"Our girls aren't getting hormones, they aren't getting any chemicals or being stuffed with grain and corn, and that makes a big difference," Jen said.
Animal lover Roy Thompson has created a scholarship for high school students looking to work with animals. Katie was a recipient of the scholarship and the money went toward her studies.. Thompson said he was deeply moved when he heard about what his scholarship was helping with.
"I love animals so much and when I see young people turning back to nature, I get a chill," Thompson said. "It is great to know people are exposed to this wonderful thing, and the more I see of this the happier it makes me. This is humanitarian work; this is from the heart."
Barbeau and one of her goats. The goats' milk is made into soap. She hopes to expand the farm to produce cheese.
Following Thompson's vision, Barbeaus said they see an extreme importance in turning back to nature and helping animals. The also said there is something therapeutic about spending time with the animals on the farm.
"You cannot be here and be stressed; you have to be with the animals," Jen said. "You can't be a control freak, and you can't force anything with the animals because they won't allow it."
She said many people volunteer at the farm including a mother and son who come help out a few times a week for some "Mountain Girl Farm therapy" after a bad day.
Jen said every day is a new challenge at the farm, and the way they do things changes so frequently because they have to adapt. She said it is a job in which you have to have a sense of humor.
"We make mistakes every day," Jen said. "Here is a tip; you never hang a fly tape in a chicken coup. The chickens fly into it and the fly tape gets stuck all over them. Apparently fly tape is not only god at catching flies, but also chickens."
Katie said if anyone wants to start a farm it is important to experience a farm first and network with other farmers.
"Find a place local that has things that you are interested in and see if you can help for a week so you can see what you like," she said. "I think you have to be able to see the portions of things you like and try different things before you jump in because it is a big investment."
The Barbeaus said they would like to expand their farm and are looking for grants to help install a dairy plant so they can make artisan cheeses.
Challenges still face the farmers as they prepare to winterize their barn. They said they also need guidance in building three steps that lead up to their porch so they can sell their products from the farm house.
"We don't know anything about carpentry; we aren't builders," Jen said. "If someone tells us how it needs to be fixed and what we need to buy we can do it. We know what has to be fixed, we just don't know how to fix it."
Although there have been challenges, the two women are confident they will continue on this great learning experience and expand the farm.
"It's a lot of work, but it is always worth it," Katie said.
You can contact the farm through its Facebook page. Mountain Girl Farm also sells products at local farmers markets.