Goat Dairy Cheese Making Apprenticeship in New Mexico

Goat Dairy Cheese Making Apprenticeship

The Old Windmill Goat Dairy in Estancia, New Mexico – Cheese Making Apprenticeship for 2016

See application details below. Application period: Fall; Start-Date: 1 – opening in January, 1 opening in March; Commitment: 8 months

The Old Windmill Dairy is a sustainable farm sitting in the high desert plains of Estancia, New Mexico. This Dairy and Cheese-Making Apprenticeship is an 8-month, professional training opportunity targeted at aspiring agrarians committed to a life and career at the intersection of passion, conservation and sustainable agriculture. The apprenticeship includes hands-on experience with all aspects of cheese production, including low-stress animal handling, milking, cheese-making, biological monitoring, marketing, financial planning, Holistic Management, and land stewardship. The Old Windmill Dairy is recognized as the premier goat cheese and artisan dairy of New Mexico.

We have successfully trained three artisan cheese makers, one of which went on to become a cheese maker at Murrays Cheese in New York.

Enthusiasm and a sincere commitment to sustainable agriculture and food production are more important than experience, though experience with food handling, medium to large animals is a plus.

Please note: Due to the limited time available (8 months isn’t that long to learn everything about cheese!), apprentices only get a small taste of the full operation of running a dairy and an artisan cheese production. We understand that many of our applicants are interested in someday running a diversified farming operation of their own, but we want to be sure that all potential apprentices are excited about the FOCUSED nature of this training opportunity with The Old Windmill Dairy.


This is a full-time, intensive education & professional training program, 50-60 hours a week, sometimes more and sometimes less. One of the joys as well as the challenges of farming is living and working with the rhythm of the seasons, and the work schedule follows the demands of season, weather, and animal needs. As an example, in the height of the season the schedule looks like this:

Sunday: Herd management/kid rearing of baby goats and cow and make cheese all day.

Monday: cheese-room maintenance work/ packing cheese for commercial accounts / feeding baby goats

Tuesday: feeding baby goats / Working in cheese room

Wednesday: Feeding baby goats / and possibly a time for rest

Thursday: feed baby goats/ work in cheese room

Friday: Feed baby goats / work cheese room

Saturday: Feed Baby goats / Working Farmers Markets (From May through October) we sale at 6 farmers markets Thursday through Sunday.

Work on our farm is seasonal. You can expect that the focus from January through March is on herd management, kidding, and rearing the kids (kids are baby goats).

From March through May there is more focus on cheese making and less on kid rearing.

May through December the focus is on Cheese Making / Sales / Farmers Markets / Food Shows

A number of other activities may be incorporated into your day, depending on your interests: care of laying hens, pasture management, bookkeeping, herd health, care of pigs, irrigation, chicken butchering (late summer). Time off between May and October is limited. Fall is a slower time of year, with more time for visiting family, attending workshops, etc. (Time off not allowed on these days (1st Weekend March, 3rd Weekend March, Memorial weekend, Labor Day Weekend, 4th July).

Michael and Ed run a very sustainable and progressive dairy operation. Our calves are left on their mother for rearing. Our animals are fed grain, alfalfa, whey and have plenty of acres to graze. Ecological concerns and animal welfare are top priorities. Connecting people to their food source and producing nutritious, value added delicious food are at the core of what they do.

The nature of dairy and cheese-making is that a daily routine comprised of specific duties must be completed in a timely manner, without exception. The cows/goats do not like to be milked late and we cannot allow the bulk milk tank to overflow because we didn’t feel like making cheese one day. The intensity of this routine is balanced by our down-time in the winter. This is the main reason that we make most of our milk into cheese and choose to run our dairy seasonally. The apprentice will be here during the intense time of the year (March-November), and so will need to come prepared to work hard and see the immediate and rewarding results of their efforts.

Michael and Ed run the cheese company together. Although the apprentice will get to know Ed and spend time learning from him, the bulk of apprentice learning will occur while working with Michael.

LIVING in Estancia, New Mexico

We like our applicants to know about our community. The farm is about 12 miles South of Moriarty and 5 miles North of Estancia. These are small towns were you can obtain some rations and supplies. Edgewood is the next biggest town that has name brand chain box stores. We are approximately 50 miles East of Albuquerque and 50 South of Santa Fe. There is plenty of hiking, camping, out door actives, micro breweries, movie theaters and recreational things to do. We encourage apprentices to become involved in the community; however this needs to be balanced with the daily life of apprenticing on the farm. Most of apprentices enjoy the quiet serene setting of the farm.

The Estancia Valley is a high (elevation 6,400 ft.) with rolling plains. Summers are warm, evening are cool. We are have rather dry climate. We expect a good snow fall this winter. We do experience some freezing and the occasional wind does blow in the winter. We have awesome Monsoon seasonal rains in

July. These are isolated storms that release a lot of moisture. They make for some beautiful sky watching. This year has been exceptionally green and lush. Our evening cool into 60-70 while the day can be as high as 80-95F.


Housing: The apprentice will live in a hut for two. The farm consists of modular living. The current cheese maker lives in a separate hut on the farm. The social life of the farm take place in the red barn which consists of a full on kitchen, dining room and sofa. It is a great place shared by employes, apprentices, staff and guests. The apprentice is expected to keep all areas clean and organized. There may be circumstances where the Old Windmill Dairy has an additional guest staying in a hut for a short period of time. In the past, artists, physicians and other guests have come to the ranch for a weekend retreat, and we keep the third hut available for such an occasion. Heat and water are included in housing, at no additional cost to the apprentice, though we ask that the apprentice be conscientious of energy use.

Stipend: The weekly stipend is determined each year, based on available funding; it is typically around $130 take-home pay. This is paid at the end of each week.

Quivira Coalition Activities: The apprentice will be required to attend the annual Quivira Coalition conference, held each November in Albuquerque, NM; conference and hotel fees will be covered by the Quivira Coalition. In addition to the conference, the apprentice will attend one Quivira Land & Water Restoration Workshop, and may have an opportunity to visit one other NAP apprenticeship location. Apprentices are also required to write quarterly reports during their apprenticeship; these reports will go through the NAP Director at Quivira, and be posted on the Quivira website.

Capstone Project: One of the important elements of the program is the Capstone Project. Apprentices will typically start work on the Capstone Project at the four-month mark of the apprenticeship. This project is intended to serve as an opportunity for the apprentice to take a significant leadership role in some aspect of the ranch operation. Apprentices should select projects that serve their own professional development goals, and simultaneously serve the ranch. Keep in mind that projects should have a substantial leadership-development aspect (i.e. demonstration of ability and willingness to take initiative, plan your own learning, and create a useful end product). A previous apprentice developed key herd management monitoring program. Another apprentice has helped with the beginning of developing a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) Plan for the dairy and cheese-making operation.

Time off: We believe that one day off per week provides a healthy break for the apprentice. There may be times when a day off is not possible, but other times (especially in the fall) when two days off per week might make more sense. Our work pattern follows that of nature; when everything is busy and producing and growing, we do the same. When nature begins to slow down, we also slow down. Some apprentices save up days off so they can take several consecutive days to go visit family or attend a class or workshop, when the ranch/dairy schedule can accommodate this time away.

Visitors: Durango has a large tourist draw. As a temporary resident, the apprentice may experience that draw through requests for visits from friends and family. The apprentice may also want to express their enthusiasm for the program by inviting friends and family to visit. We ask that the apprentice use wisdom and judgment to balance the apprenticeship demands with time available for guests. Apprentices will be asked to discuss visitors in advance with Michael and Ed.

Food: Apprentices will be responsible for taking care of their own food budget as this is part of the stipend. The farm often supplies bread and cheese.

Pets: It will not be possible for apprentices to have any pets with them during the apprenticeship.

All the fun stuff: No smoking or drugs on the ranch. The Old Windmill Dairy is a completely non-smoking environment. No partying in the apprentice housing.

Health Insurance: The farm lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged.

Ranch Vehicles: Most of the ranch vehicles are standard transmission. The apprentice will be expected to competently operate these vehicles. Apprentices must have a valid driver’s license.

Personal Vehicle: There are no instances (or very few) when the apprentice would be required to use his/her own vehicle around the ranch, but in terms of being able to travel (especially on days off), we have found that people have really enjoyed having the flexibility of their own vehicle.


The application for 2016 is now OPEN.

If you have additional questions about the apprenticeship and/or the application process, please email info@towdairy.com

JRAC Apprenticeship Application for 2015


The application process includes the following steps:

1. Application: Interested individuals will need to submit a current resume and 2 professional references, and a letter stating their interest and what they hope to accomplish while one the farm..

2. Follow-Up Questions: Applicants may be contacted with a few additional questions, either by email or phone.

3. Phone Interviews: Semi-Finalists in the application process will be asked to schedule a phone interview. These interviews generally last 1-1 1/2 hours, and a portion of the interview may be a visual/audio conference via Skype or Google Hangouts.

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