Dandelion Hill Farm
This month, we spoke with Melissa and Peter Martin, owners of Dandelion Hill Farm in Sheffield, MA, about their operations raising Nubian dairy goats, Kiko meat goats, Icelandic sheep, and broiler and laying chickens. We are thrilled to offer their fresh eggs, raised with biodynamic practices, in our store.
How did Dandelion Hill Farm get started?
Melissa: In the early 90s, we found out our daughter was allergic to cow milk and soy milk. One of Peter’s employees at his carpentry business gave him some goat milk, and suddenly our daughter wasn’t colicky anymore. So we decided to buy Floppy, and we’ve been milking goats ever since. First we just had a home farm in Dutchess County and raised our four kids, but then we decided to grow the business.
Peter: We were always involved in the 4-H in Duchess County and over the years raised cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and sheep. We moved to Sheffield, and now we have herds of goats and sheep on rotational grazing, as well as meat and layer hens. Working with the small ruminants is great because they have so much personality that they’ve really become an extension of our household pets.
What made you interested in biodynamic practices?
Melissa: We met someone at the Hawthorne Valley Biodynamic Group led by Malcolm Gardener that meets monthly, and we started going and learning about the practices. We got connected to the community there and learned a lot through Camphill Copake and Triform. For me, it’s also the way biodynamics balances nutrition and healthy immunity. It encourages robust diversity of plants and animals in a way where pests and disease can’t thrive as easily. Humanity has gone so far from that and gotten very monoculture, but having a rich diversity helps us have healthier communities. That social aspect is another draw for me. It’s been great having volunteers on the farm who were enthusiastic about the work and were able to witness births. It’s been a great journey.
Peter: We started out as organic but we found biodynamics focused more on the connection to the land and nature and we could go further with it than with just organic. The intentions in the preps, the thoughts and feelings we have about the farm are all really important piece of farming for us. It’s also our desire to be part of a process to save the earth. We are building our composting capacity, and always try to educate customers at the farmer’s markets about the importance of saving our soils.
How has the recent extremes of weather impacted your operations?
Melissa: It has been very challenging with all the rain and then drought and more rain. We’ve had to be very selective about where the animals go to pasture. I have to walk out and see the conditions to be sure they’re ok before bringing out the animals. Our layer chickens are ok because we’ve had them in the winter paddocks cleaning out the parasites, but the sheep and goats have had to be in high pasture. We’ve also had to be careful because the wet, humid weather makes it more likely the sheep and goats will get parasites.
Peter: Our crops also haven’t been growing the way they should. Everything is slower this year. There are extremes all around, but I am glad for the rain. We didn’t get a second cutting of hay last year because of the dry conditions, and we rely a lot on the second and third cuttings for our goats while they are milking. I was talking to a farmer in Oregon about the hot, dry conditions out there, and given the choice, I’d rather have the rain.
I know there is some debate over what “cage-free” or “pasture-raised” means for eggs and chickens. What does it mean in practice at Dandelion Hill?
Melissa: We buy our chickens as pullets from a farm in the Finger Lakes so they are ready to lay within a few weeks of receiving them. We have to keep them in one area until they are ready to lay and then we move them around. Right now we have them helping clean the barnyards for winter, but then they will go to pasture. We do feed them the whey from our cheese making process and supplement their feed with organic alfalfa meal to boost their nutrition. And it really makes for tasty eggs. People will ask me why they are so good, and my only answer is it’s the life force of the farm and the intentions we set here being with the animals and the elemental beings.
Peter: In the winter I have portable houses for the chickens with roofs on them, and we do have to keep them locked in at night to protect them from predators. We have about 100 laying hens, and predators are real challenge in the Berkshires. It’s amazing how the predators must scope the farm out every night because if I’m a little late in locking them in, there seems to be chickens missing and feathers everywhere.
What do you think the best way to serve your eggs is?
Melissa: Fried flipped! You can really taste the rich flavor of the yolks.
Peter Martin holding one of Dandelion Hill’s laying hens.
The laying hens scratching around the yard near one of their coops.