These days my hands are almost always dirty. Between doing dishes, milking goats, and petting farmyard animals, clean hands are no longer the norm since I arrived at Centro Ganadero Aldea Ecologica, the goat farm. It’s a plot of dust in Carabayllo, one of the northernmost districts on the edge of Lima. Like tugging on a pair of overalls, I have stepped into the life of a Peruvian goat farmer. So far, it seems to fit.
We live in the highlands, surrounded by giant hills- almost mountains. They hug the farm, and all day long we can hear industrial trucks weaving through them as they make their way up and down, to or from Lima. Behind our plot of land, down the hill, we can see lime green farmers’ fields leading to a river spliced for irrigation, and beyond that, more highlands. I’ll be spending the rest of the month here with Roiser and Norca, two workers who take care of the farm, and Kenji, a veterinary student who works here four days a week as part of his schooling. The four of us live in a two room cement house where we cook, sleep and watch movies when we aren’t working. When I first saw the house, I wondered how long before we drive each other crazy in these two rooms. But we don’t spend a lot of time in there, and I’m already forgetting why I ever needed more space.
Our schedule revolves around the goats. We wake up at 6 and start milking. We milk thirty goats by hand every morning; a task that uses muscles my hands forgot they contained. The last time I used these muscles was seven years ago during my previous goat experience. Every morning is a test of patience for me, and also for the poor goat with the bad luck to have me milk her. She’ll start to fidget, pull away and kick my bucket if I take too long. This happens every time I milk a goat because my hands are still getting re-acquainted with these long lost milking muscles, and my back isn’t used to so much squatting. It’s really fun.
In the time it takes me to milk one goat, Norca has already finished almost all the rest in the pen. And by the time Norca and I have finished one row of pens, Roiser has already finished the other row and has come to help us finish. Norca has been doing this for a year, and Roiser for seven. I’m learning from the pros.
After we’ve squeezed all the milk out of the goats, Roiser takes the stainless steel milk container to the milk plant by taxi (note: it is extremely heavy); except on Sundays. On Sundays he and Norca grab a plastic tub, pour all the milk in and combine it with hot water, salt and rennet. In half an hour the milk has become a slimy, chunky froth: delicious cheese. We scoop the chunks into plastic-lined molds, let them sit and put them in the fridge.
After the cheese is away, and the goats and chickens are fed, we eat breakfast. Breakfast in Peru is simple: buns with cheese, jam or eggs and tea. Peruvians raise their eyebrows when I talk about Canadian breakfasts. How can we eat so much, so early?
After breakfast we give the goats fresh water, and find other work to do like cleaning, maintenance, building stuff or general farming duties. By one in the afternoon, only the flies are active. The cats and dogs have all found places to lay down, and the air is so humid inside the cement hut, I feel as though I’m breathing through a hot, damp wash cloth. Eating could not be further from my mind, but for Peruvians it’s the perfect time to have their main meal which always includes heaps of rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes or yuka (a denser, starchier version of a potato) and usually some chicken, ham or beef. The four of us will work together to cook the giant meal, eat, clean up and rest until the heat subsides. Then we continue working, cleaning, tinkering, puttering, gardening and of course feeding the goats again at 6, if they feel like eating. (hahaha)
So far, that seems to be our schedule. Stay tuned for the next blog post! This one’s going to have cute baby goats in it!