Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries
Over a Week of Milking

It's been over a week living with a dairy animal, and all my worst fears were about nothing. I realized now that my resistance to a cow or goat wasn't about the work or commitment, but about other people. It may seem on this blog that I am a ruthless decision maker, but in truth I turn things over in my mind for quite some time, driving myself crazy with the details until I finally make a choice and own it with everything I've got. But getting to that certainty is like the road to Mordor.

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.


Blogger Kelly said...

That's awesome! Most people don't say nice things about goats and try to discourage you from getting them. I am glad your experience is pleasant. It makes me want a goat even more ☺ AAAhhh goats milk soap. I am green with envy ;)

April 19, 2012 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Kris said...

Jenna, I know what you mean. I have been milking goats now for going on 8 years. It is a big commitment for sure. I don't go anywhere much anymore. And I am fine with that.

But yesterday I had a melt down. Big time. I called a friend and told her I was selling every animal on this farm. She got on the phone and started calling people. Said she would take my Nubian and her 2 kids. But then I just cried. There is NO WAY I am selling my "family". I have had 2 of these goats for 7 years now. They will not be going anywhere. Neither will my sheep. But sometimes that happens. It's not pretty, but it does. I am thankful my friend is understanding. I'll know who to call when I really do need to sell out. Also had a friend come out looking for some goats. So there are people out there who want these things too.

Just wanted to say that I use the blue painter's tape on the lids to write the date on. Or you can use dry erase markers on the plastic lids too. Also I make Chevre with buttermilk and rennet. You can also make buttermilk. And have you discovered keefer yet? SO easy to make if you have the grains.

I am so glad Bonita is working our for you. You seem to have taken right to it.

April 19, 2012 at 9:58 PM  
Blogger KnitItBlack said...

I don't know how you do it, Jenna. You take aspects of farming in which I formerly had NO INTEREST and make them interesting. I want a Jersey cow. Not dairy goats. I don't want meat rabbits. Except... now I do. And it's all your fault. :P Seriously, though, I've always wanted a Jersey and that's probably still my plan, but you've made dairy goats seem much more appealing than I ever thought possible.

April 19, 2012 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Ditto, above poster. Jenna, you are an enabler!!! I love reading your blog th

April 19, 2012 at 10:33 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Sorry for the break, accidentally hit publish....*sheepish grin*

April 19, 2012 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger ~~Melissa said...

As I started reading I was sure you were going to say, So I'm taking the goat to work each Glad you're working it out and have a good backup plan.

April 19, 2012 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

Yes! You have come into our wonderful circle and have learned why we crazy dairy maids do the whole "twice a day milking"! It such a beautiful, peaceful, lulling time... My favorite part of the day. :) So glad that Bonita has been behaving for you, and that you have been enjoying the milk! Now, when are ya' bringing home the second goat? ;)

And Brad Kessler's book is awesome... Love the title name especially. Hehe.

April 19, 2012 at 10:39 PM  
Blogger Stoney Creek Homestead said...

I have Jerseys, now for 18 years. Love them all to bits. Daughter wants a dairy goat. She had goat cheese and goat milk last summer at a neighbours. She loved the taste. We are hoping we can get her one this summer. Our mornings/evenings are going to busy with three cows, and a goat to milk!

April 19, 2012 at 10:49 PM  
Blogger Lyssa said...

It sounds lovely. My life as a doula/student midwife doesn't allow for that sort of regularity in my chores, but that's okay. I'm just tied to a different rhythm of the earth.

April 19, 2012 at 11:21 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

I have a couple hand crank milk separators if you ever want to try more separation than settling over night. We milked goats then Jerseys, I don't remember separating the goat milk but I assume they would work on any fresh milk.

April 19, 2012 at 11:53 PM  
Blogger Kelsie said...

I love dairy goats so much...can't wait until I get my place in the country so I can have one or two. Your post is so true...milking a goat is definitely a meditation. Two of the most peaceful years of my life were spent working at a goat dairy.

April 20, 2012 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Stormy said...

Dairy animals are not unforgiving in terms of their schedule. Although you have to use good judgement most can easily adapt to a variety of milking schedules. My mom had up to 60 Alpine does (20-30 in milk) scheduling milking at 9 am (mom liked her quiet coffee time) and then 7-8 PM at night...Often she would let does keep their buck kids part time and then separate them as she needed milk. Her does were all working does and the milk was harvested to raise 20 or so dairy calves each year. All registered, her working girls were also shown each summer at local and state fairs.

April 20, 2012 at 2:05 AM  
Blogger Cassie said...

Dairy goats are the best I am glad you got such a lovely one in Bonita, what other animal takes so little space and food but gives you so much? I had two Nigerian dwarfs before moving to Texas: marzipan and mini marzipan. They were hilarious, onrey, and we became friends. I think that it is great that some big cities like Seattle are now allowing for mini goats within city limits. It will hopefully be just like the backyard flock revolution. Viva la farm!

April 20, 2012 at 2:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think being concerned about having a hindered social life is petty. It is a serious commitment to have farm animals. Not like having a garden.

For some of us, the rewards are worth the commitment. I'm glad to hear it is working out so well for you.

Geesh there probably is going to be a run on goats now! lol

April 20, 2012 at 8:22 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

There is something about goats. I live near a goat farm and love taking my terrier over to play. He is obsessed with them and they seem to get a kick out of him. He "herds" them and "helps" in the evening during milking time. Their eyes are soulful and hypnotizing. I know doing all that work AND blogging have to be exhausting at times, but know that it is appreciated by those of us who are urban homesteading..

April 20, 2012 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Black said...

I love this.

April 20, 2012 at 8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too think dairy goats and twic-days are awesome. I have beef cows and the only time I milk is when I need colostrum for a new-born that isn't sucking on its own. I have to restrain the mama in a catch-gate and keep a pole behind so she doesn't kick the snot out of me, but once I start milking her it usually goes very well for all of us. I totally understand.....

April 20, 2012 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger goatgirl said...

They are a commitment but the flip side is-I don't know how many times I've got to use the excuse "I have to get home to milk the goat" to get out of something I didn't want to do or a good reason to leave early. Comes in handy cuz nobody can argue that!

April 20, 2012 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

@Kris - thanks for the tip about the dry erase markers! We have a bunch of those, and for some reason I never thought of using them on the plastic lids.

Also, Stormy is correct - you do have some flexibility in the schedule. You can milk them at (generally) whatever times are most convenient for you, as long as you're consistent. And if you're an hour or two late (or early) every now and then, no one will die, I promise. There was one day that both my husband and I were incredibly sick - constant throwing up, the whole nine yards. I finally managed to drag myself out to milk without barfing at around 2:00 pm - it literally was the very best I could do. Everyone survived the experience. :)

I wish I was enjoying some zen milking right now, but unfortunately we have two first fresheners that simply WILL. NOT. HAVE. IT. It takes both of us and every ounce of our energy to keep them restrained and get any milk out of them, and it is in no way relaxing. As a soon-to-be first time mother, I'm pretty sure this is some kind of test of my patience!

April 20, 2012 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger kristin said...

I bet part of the reason the cheve tastes so good is because it's not pasteurized! Sounds so great...i dream of having my own goats some day

April 20, 2012 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger kristin said...

I'm guessing the reason why it's so tasty is because it's un pasteurized! It sounds delish!

April 20, 2012 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger kristin said...

I bet part of the reason the cheve tastes so good is because it's not pasteurized! Sounds so great...i dream of having my own goats some day

April 20, 2012 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger kristin said...

I bet part of the reason the cheve tastes so good is because it's not pasteurized! Sounds so great...i dream of having my own goats some day

April 20, 2012 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger Mindy Smith said...

I LOVED Brad Kessler's book. It was so fantastically well-written and so beautiful it made me long for a dairy goat (even though I'm REALLY not ready for that kind of responsibility).

April 20, 2012 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Mindy Smith said...

I LOVED Brad Kessler's book. It was so fantastically well-written and so beautiful it made me long for a dairy goat (even though I'm REALLY not ready for that kind of responsibility).

April 20, 2012 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger sarah said...

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April 20, 2012 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger sarah said...

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April 20, 2012 at 11:01 PM  
Blogger sarah said...

"The dairy thing isn't a burden, it is a blessing. "

I've been involved with dairy animals, mostly goats, for over 25 years, in many forma and facets, and this made me cry.
And now I am off to milk.

April 20, 2012 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger kaelak said...

Wheeee - I'm do glad I'm already registered for Antlerstock so I can try fresh goat milk and chèvre - my fav cheese ever! Dibs on milking lessons? I can't wait to meet Bonita!

April 20, 2012 at 11:40 PM  

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