My 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.
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.