An excerpt from Mother Earth News magazine serves as a reminder for Shannon Ross as she navigates her goat farming adventure: “As long as you’re progressing in the direction you want to go, don’t get frustrated with the pace. Just enjoy the ride.”
Ferme Ross Farm was in its early stages when the pandemic hit and gave rise to a challenging detour. Faced with the sale of the property where she was operating her goat farm – which she had hoped to eventually buy – Ross had to decide whether to let go of her dream or double down and find a new home for it. Her love for animals and working outside, which had led her to establish the farm in the first place, fueled her resolve to take on the challenge of moving it to a new location. She succeeded, and now farms on the property that she and her boyfriend call home.
However, as if farming wasn’t already enough work, the detour created a whole new list of things to do. A part of the barn on the property needed to be torn down, and the remaining structure needed to be reinforced; the hayloft required repairs, the cement flooring needed to be broken up and the barn set-up reconfigured, and a garden shed that she had built on the previous property had to be transported. Ross is overwhelmed with gratitude as she speaks of all the help she received from her family, boyfriend, in-laws, and friends. She speaks with a nervous chuckle of her sister who comes out from the city every weekend to help – “She’ll tell you that I’m a bit of a slave driver” – but she quickly clarifies that she doesn’t force her to come out to help.
Ross has always been resourceful; she sews, enjoys crafting and thrifting, preserves the produce she grows in her garden, and uses upcycled materials for building and repairs on the farm. Her father is a carpenter, so while she was growing up, she developed useful skills as she helped him. Over the years it became clear to her that she needed a lifestyle that enabled her to use her strengths, and which also involved working outside. “With farming, all of that fits together, and it’s so satisfying.”
Ross is candid, both in person and on her Ferme Ross Farms social media accounts, about her journey with mental health challenges. She has struggled with anxiety over the years; serendipitously, her first goat found its way to her when she was at a low point on that journey, and she has steadily been growing her farm ever since. Though farming entails demanding manual labour and embraces the concept of a never-ending to-do list, ultimately it has helped her anxiety in that she thrives on busyness. The farm is a physical manifestation of her resourcefulness and all that she can accomplish when she puts her mind to it, which is helpful to have surrounding her when anxieties creep back in. She also has caring encouragers in her corner who remind her of her capabilities if she starts to doubt herself.
‘Stuff related to goats’
“Cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, sheep, rabbits…,” Ross says, as she lists off the different animals that were on the family’s hobby farm when she grew up. Ironically, goats – which have become her passion in the years since – were conspicuously absent from that list, even though it was once a goat farm. She laughs as she tells of how they used to find goat pictures and all sorts of “stuff related to goats.” Looking back, she admits that it was “total foreshadowing!”
It is the same grit and determination which she employed to get her farm up and going on the new property that Ross is now pouring into her plans to broaden its scope. Initially she bought her first 70 bottle-fed kids to raise for meat, but after meeting them all and naming them, that became more of a challenge. Though she is still committed to raising some to sell for meat, the business has evolved; she raises some to rehome and sell to others who share her passion. She also milks some of the goats for milk to drink and make cheese in her home. As well, she has taught herself how to make goat’s milk soap. Her creativity flows while making the soaps, which she enhances using a variety of dried herbs and flowers from her garden.
The soaps were met with enthusiasm when she gave them to family and friends, so she has expanded into creating a product line to sell. Currently her soap can be purchased at Studio JMaheu, located in Sainte-Martine. Ross is ramping up production and is already working with several other local businesses who will also sell her soaps. Now that the mentally and physically exhausting relocation is out of the way, it has left a renewed momentum in its wake which is evident as Ross exclaims, “This is the year!”