The Milk Pail Diaries
Over a Week of Milking
I wasn't worried about the 2 scoops of extra grain a day, or making the 20 minutes to milk her during my usual chores. I was nervous about the commitment. And I was nervous the goat would hinder my social life. As petty as that sounds, it is true.
Up until the point I got a dairy animal things were pretty flexible around here. I'd wake up and the only "work" was time and presence. For half an hour I amble about, pre-coffee and go about the mindless tasks of filling feeders and water containers, chucking hay over fences, walking to make sure the electricity on the sheep fence is working and usual morning dog walks. The entire farm is content in thirty minutes on an office weekday. I give Jazz and Annie some outside time and set them down with a bowl of kibble and a big cold bowl of water and they are set till I return. Gibson hops in the truck with me and we can be gone all day and the farm animals will be fine. If I need to be away longer (outside of dire weather like winter's worst and summer's hottest) the animals are fine. As long as before I go to sleep the water and feed is topped off, their morning rations are plenty for the day long as they have space, grazing, and strong fences. It is a very simple system. Nothing has mucked with it much.
A milking goat is different.
I am now a master of the word commitment. Every twelve hours that big bag on Bonita's needs to be emptied or she will feel pain, possibly get infected, and then dry out and I'm out of milk (and luck) until next spring when she kids again. No more beautiful glass bottles of fresh milk in the fridge. No more chevre ready to spread over homemade breads and bagels. No more plans for milk soaps curing in the dry high cupboards in the closet. Her gifts are mine for the taking, but my end of the deal is that twice-daily date with the stanchion. No exceptions.
So before work and after work I milk Bonita. I am now so used to the motions. I'm so used to the routine that milking is just five minutes long. If I don't want to strain and keep it—either because the fridge is full or I am running late for work or dinner plans—then I simply milk her right into one of the gallon chicken water fonts and then spin-lock on the lid and the birds have a high protein snack to add to their mash and forage diet. All the chickens love the milk. It requires no cleaning or extra sanitation, and I am literally done being a dairy maid in about 7 minutes flat. Easy as pie.
Most mornings and evenings I keep the milk though. I bring it inside in our trusty pail, shock it in a sink of ice water till chilled, drain it over a buttercloth lined steel colander into a large glass bowl, and then pour the chilled and filtered milk into glass bottles I ordered from Caprine Supply that say GOAT MILK in bold green letters. I then set it in the freezer for about and hour and then the milk is ready to set in the fridge to do what real milk does: naturally separate from cream to skim. In the mornings I like taking a dollop of the cream into my coffee. and I then pour the less thick milk into my granola. It's a healthy and fortifying start to my day.
Since tonight is the start of my weekend I decided to make some fresh soft chevre for weekend brunches and friends. So instead of chilling the warm pail, almost over-flowing, I just pour it through my homemade strainer and set it in a big steel saucepan. I add another half gallon of two-day old milk from the fridge and set the heat on medium. When it hits 86 degrees I will pour in a little packet of cultures, not unlike the yeast packets you use for bread—and mix it in. Then I turn off the heat and cover it with a lid and in the morning I will have beautiful curds so certain in their beliefs you need a butter knife to slice through them. After that, I just drain the curds in the sink and by the time I am back from my morning riding lesson with Merlin I will be scooping it into glass containers for the fridge. So far everyone who has tasted it, either at the office, here at the farm, or as a gift said it was some of the best soft chevre they ever ate! I think that's because most store-bought chevres, and even farmer's market cheeses, need to be aged a certain amount of time to be sold. Even a few days changes the taste from that soft, whipped, beautiful chevre made from the milk of a healthy doe that same night. You just can't know till it crosses your lips, and when you do, you'll experience that sensation Brad Kessler describes in his book Goat Song: it was like tasting a meadow....
So I am married to a goat. Every twelve hours my right cheek is pressed against her side as I milk and talk to her. She munches on her dairy goat ration and sweet feed and I relieve the pressure she feels. And you know what, she relieves mine. It is hard to be stressed out when milking any animal. The action itself is meditative, intimate, and focused. I can't check my smart phone or worry about bills. I can just milk. And if she gets me into a state of such beautiful peace ten minutes a day AND gives me that cheese...
This goat is worth her weight in gold.
So I am a goat convert again. The dairy thing isn't a burden, it is a blessing. People may think my twice-a-day-teat-fest is a little old school, and that's okay. But it is great having a reason you absolutely can not stay late at work. And even if people do balk when I turn down after-work drinks so I can go make some myself: that's fine too. My life is a choice, and I am happiest when I am living it.
P.S. If you are considering a dairy animal, you should probably have a plan in case you have to leave for an emergency, and can't make milking. I am very lucky that the farm I got her from is 3 miles away and if I need to leave for a conference or trip: I can take her back to be goat-sat and milked with her old herd while I am gone.