Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Life: A Barnyard is the Best Classroom

We’re pleased to introduce Dyan Redick of Bittersweet Heritage Farm as a new regular contributor to HOMEGROWN Life. Welcome Dyan! We’re looking forward to reading your stories and getting to know you and your menagerie of farm critters.

Dyan Redick, Bittersweet Heritage Farm

I describe myself as an accidental farmer with a purpose. My farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine is a certified Maine State Dairy. I offer cheeses made with milk from my registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from my Romney cross flock, goats milk soaps, lavender, woolens and whatever else strikes my fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of my belief that  we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

My days are full of remarkable reminders of my place in this tiny world of mine called Bittersweet Heritage Farm. Nestled along the byway on the St. George Peninsula in Midcoast Maine, I’m blessed to start my days kissed by the foggy dew lifting off of the harbor and to lie down at night as the blazing orange sun sets over the river.

I came to this place by accident, moved in by design, and stay because it feeds my soul. It has been a short three-year journey so far in establishing a homestead for myself—and now a herd of goats, a flock of sheep, and a variety of fowl, including heritage breed turkeys, chickens, and ducks. As a registered Maine state dairy, I produce fresh and some aged cheeses with the milk from my registered Saanen herd, girls who come from long lines of solid Maine stock. Wool from my Romney-mix girls, creamy soaps made with goat’s milk, and a variety of hand-knit woolens fill my on-site farm stand.

Each morning, the day starts with gathering hay and grain to be distributed to the various living creatures who dot the landscape with their fluffs of feathers, tufts of wool, and silky white coats. Yesterday morning, after milking the lovely lady goats, I turned my attention to a Buff Orphington chicken who was lingering in the barn. I crouched down near the small cage where she had taken up residence to catch her breath and enjoy some extra treats. Frannie, my locksmith goat, wandered over to the far end of the stall where I was huddled close to the chicken girl. Frannie slowly pushed her head through the stall slats as she does each morning on the other end, near the milking stand. There, I usually scratch her nose and give her a chin tickle while I’m still sitting on my little wooden milking stool. I love to lay my forehead on Frannie’s, and we exchange moments of girl-to-girl thoughts on how our day might go.

On this particular morning, Frannie was curious about the barn visitor and so she leaned out to sniff the golden mane on the chicken girl’s neck. Satisfied, she rested her head on my back, then took the bottom of my shirt in her mouth, like a pacifier, and stood completely content while I tended to the chicken.

There is no explaining the connection we have with the animal world. Maybe that’s the way it should be. What we don’t know about it far exceeds what we do, but we have amazing examples of it worldwide.

I met Jane Goodall years ago and was struck by the diminutive stature of this wonderful woman who so gently entered the Chimpanzee world and went on to teach the rest of us about the value of animal relationships. Others too, continue to guide us toward a better understanding of all creatures: for example, Buck Brannigan, the amazing man who impressed Robert Redford with his Zen-like approach to working with the equine population. Buck shows us how being gentle with an animal will gain you a lifelong, multidimensional relationship with yourself and the animal—one so rich, you can’t even wrap your mind around it. And Temple Grandin who, through her autistic world, teaches the corporate giants of the American food system that there is a better way to treat all creatures, even those on their way to our tables.

My animals are teaching me to be kind and gentle and loving toward them and toward my fellow human beings. I think it’s a lesson one might learn best in a barn, or a barnyard, or a pasture: watching and learning what’s important through the animals’ very nature. The most important lessons I’m learning in my life are not coming from a classroom or a text. Frannie holding onto my shirttail is the most complete encyclopedia I’ve ever read. I’m looking forward to soaking up the library that’s being gifted to me through these two- and four-legged creatures for a long time to come.


4 Responses to “HOMEGROWN Life: A Barnyard is the Best Classroom”

  1. What a beautiful and inspiring post, Dyan – thank you.

    I share your philosophy regarding the benefit of having a stronger connection to our food and where it comes from, the earth, and the other animals that we share it with.

    How fortunate you are to spend so much of your time with animals, and how wonderful that you are aware of and open to the kinds of lessons they can teach. Your life there on the farm strikes me as a sort of meditation on simplicity, hard work, and gratitude.

    I applaud the hard work and determination you must have to be where you are now! Congratulations on having created a homestead for yourself and a haven for the animals you live with. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with us as well as the photos. As a country girl stuck (for the moment) in the city, I dream of getting back to the land and having a homestead of my own one day soon. It’s nice to have people and places to look to for inspiration.

    Be well, and keep sharing-

  2. So great to see a fellow Mainer on HOMEGROWN! Good luck to you in your goat and chicken endeavors. :)

    I have yet to buy any chickens or goats for our hobby-homestead, but chickens are definitely in ‘the plan’ for next year! This year, I concentrated on my garden (first-year gardener) and preserving the excessive (holy moly excessive) amount of produce I’m getting from it. :)

  3. Keep plugging Jenna. I got my first chicken accidentally. It was a little Japanese Bantam Rooster. I named him Foghorn because I lived on the Chesapeake Bay at the time. I had no coop for him, never fed him chicken food and he spent his days wandering around the tiny village where I lived visiting all the neighbors who loved him. He’d wander down to the floats where they shed out soft crabs and get treats there, go to another neighbors where he’d be thrown Ritz crackers as he sat up on the wood pile outside the back door, head back to the lady next door who threw her leftover bread to him. He cooped up in the pine tree out back! 5 years of this! My best girlfriend from high school gave him to me as he had shown up in her yard and she had a big rooster who was picking on him. Foghorn was still a youngin’ at that time. She finally convinced me to take him home with me when I went down to visit for my God-daughter’s high school graduation. Heading home, he spent the night with me in a box in a Day’s Inn where he woke me with his crowing! I beat feet out of there thinking I’d get in big trouble if anybody knew I had a chicken in my hotel room. I had no desire to get hens and have eggs for years! How many eggs can you eat anyway….right? Now look at where I’ve ended up. So…just go for it! Doesn’t have to be fancy and I love having my chickens in the garden bugging for me. The main flock is in pasture but a few select ones live happily tending to the weeding and bugging. I do wait til stuff has some size on it and is well rooted before I pop them in there so they don’t uproot stuff but sometimes even their transplants have worked out better than where I thought stuff should be! Best of luck and let’s keep growing, herding, flocking together!

  4. Great post. I have just found your site and tarted digging into your articles. We love our chickens and they have taught our children to be more aware and appreciative of where our food comes from. It is all too easy for our young ones to think all food just appears on the shelves of the store. Gardening and homesteading has brought awareness to our family. Keep up the great work.

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