On life in the milk lane

P1030148My baby with the one and only bottle baby on the farm, March 2010

Many, many people find my blog because we all share an interest in gardening.  And gardening, particularly of foodstuffs, is wonderful, is fodder here for almost six years of blogging, and is of its very nature sustainable:  if I can continue to put seeds in the ground, those seeds will continue to become sustenance and seeds for next year, so repeat, repeat, repeat.

But:  gardening can be kind of boring.  (Can I admit that and still remain a member of the faith?  I often wonder.)

February has come and gone and it occurred to me that I have been a milkmatron (someone closer to 50 than 40 can hardly be called a milkmaid) for three years now.  Interestingly, I have been matron to one particular animal, one crabby doe whose parturition on 2/27/2010 elevated my status from casual animal owner to active teat-squeezer.  Yes, every day for three years, I have been milking one goat.

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Actually that is skirting the issue.  In those three years, I have milked four goats, sometimes all four on the same day, sometimes even twice a day.  Today I am milking “just” two, once a day.  One goat though has been the constant.

It is a bit of luck that has caused me to milk this one animal.  The other three goats could never have been milked this long for various reasons (youth, health, and temperament factor in that calculation) and luckily those other three were not my first goat.  Not being a statistician I cannot begin to tally the hours spent or the gallons produced; all I know is milk is one of the great constants in my own life and that both tallies are “lots.”  Sure, I only go on daytrips now away from the farm.  It is a choice.  It would be an easy choice to have a different life if I had a goat-sitter.  Parents of youngsters often feel the same way, and pay someone for the honor of an evening away.  Me, well, there is nowhere I would rather be than here…though I suppose I wouldn’t turn the services of a goat-sitter away should one appear….

So yes, lots of milk becomes lots of milk products.  At this point I believe I have made 45 or so different cheeses.  I have made kefir, buttermilk, yogurt, cajeta, puddings, fudges.  Milk has found its way into any and all dishes; my very first use of it was crepes with home-grown eggs and home-grown, ground buckwheat.  I have flubbed more than a few gallons of product and somehow I do not feel bad about the time spent because the chickens, turkeys, and dog appreciate errors of this kind.

It is, boringly, a lifestyle.

But it is a good life.  I have given this one animal a good life.  We have established a solid routine, have a solid affection for each other and we do respect each other’s needs.  The other two goats here are also lucky, I think.  I have not established as strong a tie to either of them, so in the shifting sands of farm dynamics, their tenures here are not guaranteed (though I do like them both).  If this were a university, those two others better publish or perish.  Even Michigan’s rejection of collective bargaining is felt here too:  you all stand alone and are to be judged on your production.  It is a hard thing to swallow if you love your animals.  But I am neither wealthy enough nor emotionally crippled enough to become a goat-hoarder:  you must be productive to live here in my barn.

Of course I am gaming the system against the other two because 2013 is the year of No Babies!  Yes, one must need be pregnant and give birth to actually produce milk (something that surprisingly few people fully realize…where to place the blame for that?  our educational system?  or our squeamishness of mammalian processes?) so if I do not load a goat or three into the back of my now-decrepit 20-year-old hatchback, those goats will not become pregnant on their own, so…if I was not milking you constantly you will not magically lactate on your own either.  But I have calculated my needs, and my needs did not include goat kids this year.

I wonder where I will be and what I will be doing in ten years:  will my life include goats?  I read with interest a study that states that we are closer to being the same person within a range of ten years than twenty, and that, indeed, the folly of one’s youth is cringe-inducing.  So sure, twenty years hence I might laugh at the foolishness of my late forties self the way I laugh at the antics of my teen- or twenty-something self:  that person is miles away.  And she owned goats, and foolishly milked them every day.

I do not know.  But:  I know that a goat’s poo and bedding is FABULOUS for my garden.

Rinse and repeat.

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15 responses to “On life in the milk lane

  1. Great to know that I am not alone in being in my late forties and getting pleasure out of mucking out animals and producing my own food through them where possible. When I think of the hours i spend to produce, harvest or pluck something compared to what it would cost me in a shop I think I must be mad. Why not just get a job and buy some chicken, eggs, garlic, etc…..it would take far less of my time to do that than to produce and grow my own. But….it doesn’t make sense, does it, it’s too easy that way and just does not feel fair dinkum (Aussie slang for genuine). Enjoyed reading your blog tonight. Thanks Kathryn

  2. Brad Ascherman

    Great post!

  3. If it’s any consolation, I could be you in twenty years. Rather, I was doing what you are doing twenty years ago and I am still doing it. It sounds nuts but I feel that the critters keep me young. It’s like the children are still here.
    The fact that they ‘need’ us keeps us going. Even on days that it’s cold outside and I’m tired, once I force myself up the hill to the barn I am as delighted to see them as they are to see me and I thank The Creator for this blessing.

  4. I am where you are. Have been milking goats twice a day for the past five years (10 mo at a time, not continuously like your 3 yr doe…that’s really remarkable). We keep dwarfs, which produce 1 qt at a time, so it’s even more maddening! One of my 2nd fresheners only makes 200ml in the am, so we are looking at her more for dinner than dairy, at this point. I feel like it has become a job that you can’t let go of at retirement. So much routine that it is as brushing teeth at the end of the day. As much as I need a break, traditional vacations are not for me because they always throw the garden off course (missed harvests, weeds or bug infestations) and make my animals fat and stupid. I keep telling my husband that only people who hate their lives need to escape from it on holiday. We’ll see who wins this season.

  5. I’m glad that you and the goat are taking a break. Enjoy your extra time.

  6. Thanks for the story El! I miss your weekly updates, but fully understand why you had to step back. I can only hope to one day have goats, for now the chickens and the bees will have to suffice. Thanks again my friend ….Andy

  7. I really miss my goats!

  8. Such an adorable goat.. :D

  9. Jonathan Longcore

    I keep returning, hoping you’ll post again, but treasure thinking about your wonderful routines, boring though they may appear, and how they sustain and renew each year. I read about technology, and the grocery industry has become so horribly dehumanized in its efforts to appear human…Read this, and weep: …Even my dad discovered living in a third world country, lines at the post office were the gossip centers, the social fabric of the small towns. I have gained so much inspiration from your blog, that the occasional time I can find to grind wheat and make bread or roast then grind a small batch of coffee beans allows me to dream of my Berkeley days in the 70s when everything from butter, ketchup or mayonnaise to elaborate meals was fabricated from scratch. Take care, thanks for leaving the archives available for review, it remains an inspiration.

  10. Dear El – like Jonathan above I keep coming back. There is so much to read and learn from all your postings. And I am quite grateful that you left the archives available indeed. I hope all’s well with you and your family and that you are heading into the fall and winter with a full larder, a bursting root-cellar, a snug barn and many plenty winter beds. Best wishes.

  11. I return here as well, hoping for an update. And…what Sylvie said! :o)

  12. I return as well and am glad at least to see the snowflakes falling again!

  13. barbara (in Tennessee)

    I return also and hope all is well with you. Like the others, I also benefit from the archives.

    barbara (in Tennessee)

  14. Best wishes for a great new year, El. And many thanks for keeping the site up. You are such an inspiration.

  15. Dear El – I hope all is boringly well for you and your family in the milk lane. Continued best wishes

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