There’s nothing like milking a goat on a chilly fall morning.
Seriously: seeing the goats’ happy faces as they trot out for breakfast, hearing their noisy munching, and feeling their warm fur against your face is something special.
And the sound of a stream of milk hitting a metal pail — because you squeezed an udder just right? Pure magic.
During my two weeks volunteering on a goat farm, milking was my favorite part of the day. It replaced my normal morning meditation, and I loved it.
So what was I doing milking goats? And how the heck did I find such an opportunity? A program called WWOOF.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at farm work, or are just interested in a unique way to extend your travels for free, read on.
The WWOOF Experience
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s an international organization that facilitates partnerships between organic farms (hosts) and people who want to learn about organic farming (WWOOFers).
It’s been around for 43 years and now operates in more than 100 countries. The premise is simple: you work 4-6 hours per day for five days a week on an organic farm. In exchange, the host offers free room and board and teaches you how the farm works.
There’s no typical WWOOF experience; you can work at an apple orchard in New England, a massive sheep farm in New Zealand, or a winery in France. There are even rumors you can WWOOF on marijuana farms in California. (Just sayin…)
In addition to the work, the lifestyles, housing, and meals at each farm vary widely. I’ll outline my personal experience below, but keep in mind that WWOOFing on another farm might be completely different.
My Time at The Thankful Goat Farm
I’ve always wanted to WWOOF; in fact, it’s on my “before-I’m-30” list. So when I had some extra time this fall, I figured it was the perfect time. I chose a family micro-farm outside of Hickory, North Carolina. I’ve been obsessed with goats for a while — and kept saying I wanted to own them someday — so I figured it was about time I worked with them!
Initially, I was hesitant to work at The Thankful Goat Farm because it was reallyyyyy small (just a half-acre!) — but then I realized what I learned there would actually serve me better (since it’s unlikely I’ll ever own a massive ranch).
Here are some deets on my stay:
Housing: I lived in the “goat shack,” a small hut built by the family just for WWOOFers. I shared it with another WWOOFer, a recent college grad named Ronnie. (If anyone is looking for an amazing new grad nurse, let me know; I will put you in touch with her!) The shack was simple — just a bunk bed and some shelves — but we pretty much only went in there to sleep. We had open access to the main house, where the bathroom and kitchen were located.
Food: We were served three meals a day. The options ranged from elaborate Indian dinners to make-your-own salads. Our host Dawn was an absolutely incredible cook, and I couldn’t wait to see what she whipped up next. (She’s actually releasing a cookbook next year!)
Duties: Our hosts ran a busy goat milk bath and beauty products business, so the majority of our duties centered around that. We fed and milked the goats every morning, sold items at the farmers market twice a week, made goat milk soap and cheese, and helped bottle and label other products. Being that we were part of the family, we also helped with household chores.
Highlights & Lowlights
My favorite things were…
- Milking the goats
- Getting to know the personalities of the goats
- Learning to make soap and cheese
- Making friends with a new family
- Waking up and going to bed really early (nice to finally have an excuse for my old people tendencies!)
- Dawn’s amazing cooking
- Creating The Thankful Goat’s brand-new website — check it out!
My least favorite things were…
- Trying to balance my obligations to my work, the farm, and my host family
- Selling at the farmers market; though it wasn’t difficult (I’ve had a lot of experience in retail), I would’ve rather been with the goats
- Not having time to work out (this wouldn’t have been the case if I hadn’t also been working online)
How You Can WWOOF
The only bummer about WWOOFing is that there is no global membership. Though you can look at the farms before commiting, you have to pay for membership in each specific country you’d like to WWOOF. For example, the United States’ membership fee is $40 per year.
Once you’ve purchased your membership, you’ll be able to contact the farms you’re interested in. There’s a good deal of information on the site itself, but you still might have unanswered questions. Be sure to figure them out up front. Each farm has its own culture and rules, and it’s important to find a farm you jive with before applying.
Most farms have minimum stays of one to two weeks — though WWOOFers often stay on a farm for several months. Application processes also vary. To volunteer with The Thankful Goat, I had to fill out a five-page application then complete a 30-minute phone interview. They’re picky about who they bring to live with their family, and rightly so.
Yes, I’m Still in Love With Goats…
This adventure only solidified my love for goats, and I can’t wait to have some of my own. My hosts were wonderful teachers, and I feel well-prepared for the day I settle down and start adopting goat babies. The coolest thing is that I received a priceless goat-ducation in exchange for a few weeks of labor.
Though I’m well aware I was lucky to have such a wonderful WWOOFing experience, I would recommend the program to almost anyone. If you want to immerse yourself in a different lifestyle/culture, learn new skills, or simply extend your travels for free, give WWOOFing a shot! (More on that next week…)
Have you WWOOFed before? Would you like to? What other questions do you have about my experience?