The Milk Pail Diaries:
First Milking at Cold Antler Farm
I stood there with Bonita, who was gently nibbling my black sweater. I had not anticipated the importance of a stanchion, the stand that secures the goats head in a loose vice while they eat so they can't move while the milking is done. As I went about morning chores I tried to figure out an inexpensive solution. I didn't want to spend money on a trial enterprise and I didn't want to have a horrible experience either. As I racked my brain I set her inside the pasture next to the sheep. It was where Jasper spent his time when he wasn't in the stall. I figured I'd give her two acres to explore with the strange new sheep a fence away so no one could bust heads, start with the nosing and smelling first. Instead of checking out the pasture, or the sheep, or drinking her water or eating her hay she simply whirled around and in one motion tore down the woven wire fence.
Then I had this stupid moment of panic.
This was a mistake. What the crow was I thinking? I can't contain a goat here, that's why there was a goat kicked out in the first place. And what the hell where you thinking when you took on a goat without anything but a borrowed steel pail? How are you going to milk her when there isn't someone here to hold her? You really aren't capable of this....
I let my inner panic last another few minutes. I walked around the farm frantically doing chores, fuming at myself and my mistake. With one hand full of eggs I grabbed the metal milk pail off the deck by the lip and it splattered out of my clumsy, distracted hands. I wanted to cry, and I didn't care how cliche it was. I was in over my head. I didn't have the right tools or know-how. And I just ruined the first ever pail of Cold Antler Farm Milk....
I let my stupid inner anger last another 45 seconds and then snapped out of it. Why put myself down? Why be angry? You want to change your circumstances, change your attitude about them. I opened the gate and removed Bonita from the place she was destined to fail in. I tied her off at a tree and then took Jasper out into the pasture where he could both have more space to trot and run, and open up a goat-containment zone. I placed her inside the horse paddock and she simply walked out under the latch chain in one deft squeeze. I added a second chain lower down on the gate so she couldn't do that anymore and she started knocking around Jasper's woven wire fence. It had a top line of eclectic already, but that doesn't stop a goat till they've already climbed a fence to get to it. So I grabbed some more t-post insulators and a roll of wire and added a second goat-nose level of electric shock to the inner fence. Now I was cooking with gas.
I got her some fresh hay, clean water, scratched her head and went inside. And she stayed.
My day between milking was ideal, almost sounds fake when I write about it. With the goat secure and her bag empty, I had Gibson help me wrangle those chickens. We ended up taking eight to Ben Shaw in a crate in the back of the pickup with the new Chocolate Drops album blaring. I picked up their CD and the newer Sarah Jarosz album (haven't gotten to that one yet). I love that I bought both of them in Cambridge. Battenkill Books carries some killer CDs and The Village Store does too. I get the whole digital age, but I love holding LPs and CDs, looking at the artwork, setting it on a shelf. Anyway, I digress.
I sang along with "I Am a Country Girl" and dropped off the birds. Then with my crate of birds heading to their fate, and a dog tired from the work that boils in his blood, I took us both home. I put Gib in for a nap and changed into breeches and half chaps. Time to see a horse.
I had a good ride with Merlin, the arena was all ours. We had a rough trail ride on Easter Sunday, he didn't want to cross water. But this ride was great. He did all I asked and I am starting to feel comfortable and natural at a posting trot. We didn't push it, a short and productive practice. And when we were done I tussled his mane and kissed his forehead and asked him if he was getting all the love he needed? He nosed my pocket and I gave him a cookie.
The afternoon was dedicated to chores and errands. I cleaned out the meat bird chick haybale brooder/coop. I checked the bees (thriving!) and I watered the baby plants of greens, garlic, and peas popping out of the first raised beds planted just a few weeks earlier. I put off writing (shame on me) but what the hell, I was ridiculously happy. I even had a plan to make the sorriest excuse for a stanchion ever. Get this: a flag pole holder.
While picking up grain at the hardware store I saw a wall-mounted, swiveling, flag pole holder. Something clicked in my head and I bought it on the spot. It was made so you could mount it to a wall and stick a pole at any angle you wanted, basically a lever you tightened at will. I got out my cordless power drill and mounted it at goat-head height on the outside barn wall. Instead of a flag, I stuck a plunger dowel into it and tightened the screw that would hold my "flag" in place. With a grain bucket hanging in front of it I could do the same thing the fancy metal milking stands did at Common Sense.
When milking time came at 5:30 I was a little nervous. This was it. There was no one here to watch or help, and I was counting on an $8.99 aluminum flag pole holder with a toilet sucker handle on it. I washed my hands, rolled up my sleeves and grabbed the stainless steel pail. It was on.
I filled a plastic bucket with sweet grain and walked over to Bonita. Her bag was HUGE and she seemed happy to see me, all bleats and head bobs. I set the milk pail down and opened the gate. I set her in place over my rigged stanchion, her body against the wall, and I clamped it comfortably shut, using a piece of baling twine to close the top from her lifting her head out. She didn't flinch. She just went to chompsville. I set the pail under her teats (just two!) and started going to town on those suckers. Milk squirted into the pail with a happy force, and I realized I didn't have to be dainty. I went faster and harder and she just ate. It took till the pail was half full before I realized it was working. My head pressed against her side, my arms working one at a time like little pistons. In about 10 minutes the work was done. I set it aside, hugged her, and helped her out of her head lock. Mission Accomplished!
I grabbed the pail and walked it inside, we weren't home free yet. I still had to strain it, bottle it, and do the dishes. I didn't have a strainer, but I did have some gadgets I bet would work. I grabbed a small mesh metal strainer and a coffee filter from the vast collection I inherited when I bought the farmhouse. They had been sitting in a box unused, waiting for a purpose to call them by name. I set the filter paper in the strainer, slowly poured in the foaming milk, and watched as every goat hair and fleck of hay stayed out of the Pyrex bowl below it. I smiled. I could not believe I was making this happen. I poured it into a recycled bottle from Battenkill Creamery and shut the lid. I set it on the kitchen counter and gawked for a while. I just made milk happen... Me. I had never held a container of milk that I was entirely responsible for, ever before. It felt like it was worth an unspeakable sum. After a few moments of quiet revelry, I set it in the fridge. From walking outside to finishing the milking dishes it took 25 minutes. I was impressed. I always thought a milking chore would take an extra 3 hours a day, but one goat wasn't bad at all.
I guess tomorrow I'll find out what goatmilk coffee creamer tastes like...