A Dairy Maid’s Life Sentence

“Good morning, cow’s manure-covered tail.”

“Hello girl. Don’t kick me today. The bruise still hasn’t healed.”

“Come on. Just put your head in the thing and eat your oats. Where are you going?”

I’m sure you have seen the pictures Julie puts up of her cow. Or her milk. Or her milker. Maybe even the cow in the stanchion. But you haven’t heard her.

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You haven’t heard her beg the cow to cooperate. And you haven’t heard her cry out in frustration.

What is she so frustrated about? There are thousands of people in town who would trade their retirement plans for a few acres and a dairy.

Well, here’s the thing. Even with 4 children we have a hard time drinking 2 gallons of milk every day. And we only milk 3 teats, leaving the fourth for the calf.

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We could make butter and mozzarella cheese. That’s probably what Steve would do. But I’m not Steve. Or Matron.

Let’s talk about Matron a little bit. Matron is a real source of inspiration for us as well as a source of encouragement. She has been a friend to us at a distance. But she and Julie are different people with different motivations. Different needs and wants.

So there really is no comparison.

So we do our own thing.

In fact, we do what I have never known anybody to do. What I have never heard of anybody doing. So I don’t recommend it.

Now that we are several months into the lactation and the calf has grown we let the calf have the milk and only milk every 2 or 3 days.

I know. Crazy.

Even when we milk we leave one teat for the calf.

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So how does that work. Well, one day we drove away to the airport. We went to Disney for two days and came home again. When we got home we separated cow and calf overnight then milked the cow in the morning. Every evening the cow gets fresh grass. She usually gets a small amount of oats even when we don’t milk. And that’s about that.

Milking every day meant milk going bad.

Milking every day meant sterilizing equipment every day.

Milking every day meant dreading the morning’s chores, never sleeping in and hating being enslaved by a cow.

But now she is free.

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And that’s really good news.

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Today’s Breakfast

For breakfast this morning I had a quart of Saturday’s milk and a couple of handfuls of black raspberries I picked while moving the cows. The milk was hard work. Hard. Work. Milk doesn’t just magically appear in the fridge. Milking machines don’t clean themselves. Hand or machine milking only happens after your cow has calved. Cows only calve after they spend 9 months pregnant…and they eat the whole time. Cows only get pregnant because they have met a bull or have met your whole arm. You with me on the hard work thing here?

The black raspberries just grow in the field edges. The only “work” involved is picking a path through the poison ivy (which the cows are trying to eat) to get to the berries. Dew berries should start coming on in a couple of weeks.

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Not yet…

What would someone have to pay for a quart of freshly squeezed milk and a pound of fresh berries? Could you even deliver these berries in any condition? Am I living the dream or what? All I have to do is make my farm payment each month, wake up insanely early every morning, follow the cows around, step in cow pies and give them fresh pasture. We also close them off from their calves for large portions of the day which requires …oh, a little more management. Oh and we have to keep the milking area in the barn clean and fight off the barn cats so we get the milk for ourselves. Then it’s an easy quarter-mile walk to pick berries among the poison ivy and spider webs and horseflies and breakfast is served! See how easy?!?!

Sometimes I’ll have another quart of milk to cool down after morning chores. No time for that today though. Just a quick shower to rinse off the layer of sweat and grime before heading in to the office to work with the cereal eaters.

Tell Me You Were Kidding about the Poop!

“What do you mean, ‘Tail covered in manure‘?!?!?!?” asked an alarmed friend.

Well…um…not exactly covered. I meant that to be a humorous post about the down and dirty of the daily chores, not a confession that I’m milking a sick cow in unsanitary conditions. I’m not milking a sick cow and we keep things clean. Very clean. I am milking a cow that is on some pretty lush spring forage, is refusing to eat any hay and has loose manure…some of which splattered on the hair at the tip of her tail…the part that beat me on the head as I milked so we dang-near give her a sponge bath before milking.

I might say “I’m covered in ticks” when I have two ticks on my person. Any manure on the cow’s tail is too much manure on the cow’s tail when that tail hits the back of your head. She wasn’t coated in manure. She wasn’t really covered in manure. The tip of her tail was splattered lightly. That’s part of spring but it’s not part of milking.

I keep an eye on the cow manure every morning and evening. It’s just part of the routine. What did they eat in this paddock? Are their ears up? Anybody lagging behind? Eyes clear? Are they full? What does the manure look like? All of those questions can be answered in less than a minute.

We have gone through some dense bromegrass, orchardgrass, fescue and red clover pasture and we have been getting at least an inch of rain every week for about the last month. Things are growing like gangbusters out there so the forage is pretty rich and immature (high in protein). This site talks about manure consistency and what it means. Ours looks a lot like the last picture. Very thin. Very green. Very splatterish.

Julie (who is listed in my phone as Beautiful Wife) texted me yesterday (I had to dress this up a bit as it arrived out of sequence):

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So that’s that. Too much protein and it comes out wet. I need more energy in my forages…which should start to happen any day now as the grass is 3′ tall and going to seed. But let’s just plow through that mess and move on.

Cows poop. Poop happens. But you don’t want poop in your dairy. We could go ahead and let poop happen in the dairy then hide the evidence with pasteurization or we could work our butts off to keep the cow clean, keep the dairy clean, keep our bucket clean and keep the milk clean.

Remember that picture earlier this week?

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Where is the bucket? We are milking on a clean concrete pad but the bucket isn’t on the concrete. The cow just stepped there! I hold the bucket up between my knees, really close to the clean udder. What you don’t see is me milking out about a quart then pouring it into another pail…a pail with a lid. Then I go back for more. If something should happen to the bucket (like a splattering of cow manure) I continue milking but stop collecting the milk for household consumption. We let the waste milk clabber up and we give it to the piggies. You also don’t see the filter we use in the kitchen to help us prove the milk is clean (not to clean the milk…though we do allow it to filter a stray hair or two.) Switching to the milking machine has given us even more bio-security both from a cleanliness standpoint and in terms of speed to chill. Here’s a cool video showing what is involved (not us). You can learn more about the video below at this link.

As my father reminded me, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. But we don’t wash our bodies with antibacterial soap every day to kill even the beneficial bacteria covering us do we? Oh. Some of you do? Huh. OK. Well. We don’t cook ourselves through at 138 degrees for 2 seconds each day to purify our bodies. We wash our hands, eat well, get regular sleep, get a little sunlight and rely on our healthy, functioning immune systems to keep the baddies at bay. When drinking raw milk you also have to keep the pasture healthy, the cow healthy (let it graze fresh, tall grass in the sunlight, let it get a little exercise), wash your hands and keep the cow poop out of the bucket. If Flora comes to the barn with a truly messy tail we take a moment outside to clean things off. Then we brush her to remove loose hair. By this time she’s usually a little antsy so we put her in the head stall and get to work.

Let’s go back and revisit that previous paragraph. I have read a number of arguments that suggest there is no difference in the health of a cow on pasture and a cow in a confinement dairy. Further, there are not enough acres of grassland to support nation-wide grass-based dairy. Confinement dairy works because we have access to cheap energy and because we have bred cows that make large volumes of fluid milk on high-powered feed. Confinement cows, however, rarely last past three lactations (remember the argument that there is no difference in health!). Grazing dairies usually have surplus heifers they sell to the confinement dairies. The acres involved are much less of a problem but I’ll outline it briefly then suggest a solution. A cow has to spend X hours each day eating and digesting (varies based on body weight, temperature and stage of life). Any time spent walking to and from the dairy is time that is not spent grazing or, more importantly, ruminating. Even after overcoming the near total lack of grazing-adapted dairy genetics in North America, we have to reduce the number of cows per dairy and increase the number of dairies. I don’t see the downside here…moving away from EPA hazard 4,000 cow confinement dairies that turn 5-year old cows into hamburger and consume massive quantities of oil, however efficiently, to many, many 200 head grazing-only operations. Not to mention decentralization. I have heard so many arguments against Wal-Mart that can basically be summed up in one point: Wal-Mart is too big. Well. If we hate big corporations, don’t we also hate the big organic milk producer that is organic in name only? Isn’t more selection more better? Isn’t this what the Net Neutrality fuss is all about? Desiring competition in the marketplace so we don’t all have to bow at the alter of the big cable provider? Don’t we want competition in milk production? Don’t we want cows to eat grass? (I’m about to go full-on rant here so I should just stop now.)

I’m really not interested in arguing for or against raw milk. This product is not for sale and the bulk of our milk goes to the pigs (’cause we can’t drink it all). I think there are all sorts of problems in American dairies from the mineral-deficient land to cattle stuck indoors to dishonest or misleading dairy protections to the overweight, immuno-compromised consumers. For my fully-vaccinated, athletic and generally healthy family, raw dairy from our own clean, healthy cattle grazing on clean, healthy, well-mineralized pastures, milked in a clean environment with clean, sterile equipment and milk that goes from teat to fridge in under 15 minutes is no problem. But I’m not interested in making that decision for you. I generally shy away from telling people what to do, I focus on telling people what NOT to do as in “Don’t screw up like I did”. Nor will I recommend that you go buy raw milk because it is “better”. If raw milk is your bag, get to know your dairyman. If you dig pasteurized milk, well, you can pasteurize the raw milk you buy from your dairyman. I know several families that re-pasteurize store-bought milk. If you want to buy pasteurized milk at the store go to town but pasteurized milk is not sterile. Similar thinking applies to ham and spinach…and sprouts are deadly.

If you are milking the cow, keep things clean. Don’t give infection an opportunity. If you are buying the milk, educate yourself then go see what goes on at the dairy.

Pretty Girl. Shy Girl.

Where is Molly?

I brought the cows up during the thunderstorm at 3:00 in the morning.  We put them in the combine shed…since we don’t have a combine.  That’s where we should be milking anyway…not next to the old swing set in the back yard.  Well, we SHOULD have a more formal milking location but…anyway…

I gave them access to about 2 days worth of grazing with another 3 days within easy reach.  Just have to move the fence.

I had to look around a bit to find Molly.

She was hiding next to aunt Flora.

Aunt Flora wants to keep an eye on me.

Molly, as you might expect, spends much of her day eating, sleeping and growing.  When she bothers to get up she frolics around, Houdinis her way out of the fence and annoys her mother.  We think aunt Flora wants to be a mother.  Just a few more months, Flora.

I caught Molly blinking after a nap and finally caught May with the camera.  We are milking her once a day and it seems to be keeping the fat on her back.  Here’s to hoping we can rebreed her soon and get her shifted to summer calving.  Wonder if I can get another straw from Top Brass or if I should go with an A2A2 sire out of NZ…

Milking Mable

Oh boy.  So we had a calf on Sunday.  Tuesday we milked for the first time.  So we have to fit something else into the routine.  We’re trying to milk Mable at 6, wrap up a few other chores, milk Olive (goat) at 7, then finish chores outside, feed the children and start school at 9.  Keep in mind I drive away at 6:15 each morning and return at 6:15 each evening so it’s just my wife out there.

Couple of things about Mable.  Maybe you didn’t know but cows make a lot more milk than goats.  Also, our goat has nice, large handles.  Even I can comfortably fit my hand around each to milk.  Mable has four thimbles.  To milk the cow I can only use my thumb and two fingers.  Like trying to empty a river with a teaspoon.

 

You can see all actors on stage in the picture above.  May being milked while tied to a post, Molly laying close by and Flora penned up and out of the way.

In spite of the thimbles, my lovely bride keeps at it.  We’re just going to have to get a milker.

For now we have only gotten colostrum from her which we give to the pigs.  Starting Friday we’ll try to filter it for our own use.  I can’t wait.

What Makes Some Goat Milk Taste Bad

I was asked, “What makes some goat milk taste bad?”  Milk should taste like milk…but milk may not always taste like that white liquid you buy at the store.  Some milk has character.  Some milk tastes different.  Some milk tastes bad.  I’ll offer my thoughts on the subject, though I’m far from an authority.  In fact, I’m anxious to read your responses.  I also want to note this is not limited to goat milk.

Handling
Goat milk, cow milk and, I suspect, camel milk all benefit from being refrigerated quickly.  Milk is biologically active and yearns to express its potential.  We place our milk in the freezer immediately after milking to chill it quickly and slow biological processes as soon as possible.  This quick chill doesn’t kill anything but it does slow everything down.  Our friend Steve does the same thing with cow’s milk.  He sterilizes a deep freezer every night, fills it about 1/3 full of water and lets it chill overnight.  In the morning he puts 5-10 gallons of milk in the freezer in cans to chill.  We do something similar but since we’re only chilling 4-6 pounds of milk (as opposed to 80 pounds) and since we consume all of our milk ourselves we just pop the jar in the freezer with the pork chops.  This could affect flavor.

Sanitation
Your dairy can impart flavors on milk.  Is the goat clean and brushed and did you wash the udder?  Are your buckets and jars sterile?  Did you use an appropriate filter to strain the milk?  Not only can your milk become unsafe to drink, the critters you introduce when handling the milk can change the flavor.

Diet/Seasonality
Diet makes a huge difference in milk flavor.  Our goats get a varied diet in addition to free-choice alfalfa hay.  We also buy raw cow’s milk from a dairy North of us.  There is a noticeable difference in flavor as the seasons change.  In the winter the cows eat alfalfa hay and the milk is sweeter.  As spring comes on their diet is rye and clover.  The milk takes on a smokey character.  I find myself lacking appropriate adjectives for the milk but it does change seasonally as does the cow’s diet.  Further, goat milk changes depending on what kinds of weeds are out there and the availability of browse.  Finally, milk changes as we get further into the lactation.

Genetics
Some goats just have a different…flavor.  Like apples, genetics seem to have an impact.  I know.  Do with that what you will.  I suspect it’s the least important after diet, sanitation and quick chill.

Buck Smell
If you  keep a buck with your doe you’ll smell him.  The smell won’t leave you.  You can’t get it out of your clothes.  Your co-workers will remark on the odor.  It soaks into your pores and no amount of pumice will remove it.  Makes sense then that it will be on your doe…and it will taint the milk.

What do you do with your goat milk?  Just add a glass and drink?  Goat milk ice cream?  Cheese?  Let us know in the comments below.

Time to Stop Dancing

May (black halter) is expecting in September thanks to a straw.  We held off on breeding Flora (red halter) because she was a bit younger.  It struck us as a good idea to send Flora to the bull rather than bring the bull home, especially since the dairyman we bought Flora and May from didn’t mind.  Further, there was a chance that the dairyman was going to get some pretty high-priced straws in time to use on Flora.  She met the bull instead.  Anyway, off they went just in time for us to get through kidding our goats.  The cows came home again yesterday.  It’s time to stop dancing.

It was nice having a month off from moving the cows.  They came back fat and slick, maybe a bit spoiled.  My pastures (yard) don’t compare to Steve’s pastures.  Not at all.  But we’re improving year after year.

Grandma and the Goats

My grandmother never kept goats.  She cooked.  She reluctantly kept a small garden.  She was never exactly a farmer.  My uncle explained to me that she and grandpa had an agreement:  she kept the house and he didn’t wash dishes and in return, he ran the farm and she didn’t milk cows.

Well.  Things change.  Here is my grandma the Sunday before Memorial Day holding a goat.

I’m sure grandma fed a goat last spring but I could only find a picture of my great-aunt Marion feeding Pixie.

I think that’s nice.

PS

See that hat on my son?  It was in my car when my car was stolen last summer.  I loved that hat.  Sigh…

No Whey!

My wife and sister made cheese today.  Sis took the whey home after canning it.  I thought I would show it to you.  Looks like lemonade, doesn’t it?

I wasn’t involved in the process but it looked pretty straightforward.  This is similar to what they did, though they added 1/4 cup of vinegar to 2 gallons of milk to help it curd more.  They made both mozzarella and ricotta.

Anybody out there making cheese?  Soft cheese or hard?