The Milk & Human Kindness
Waking to a white world: three inches or more on the ground with more coming down. Early hay feeding, as generally, before dawn, fat snowflakes on my cheek. Horses frisky. Cows restful on their bed, chewing their cud. Not rising for breakfast, happy for the hay tossed on their pillows. Awhile later Dick and Annie, catching sight of me with halters in hand, go fooling all around the pasture this way and that, up and down. Dick bucking, throwing his head, galloping and farting. Annie playing in her own modest, inward way: trotting fast, a hint of a canter, a glimpse of a neck toss, a smile. I stand in the middle of the field enjoying the show, laughing and waiting. Time after time they roar by, until at last they’re ready to come.
It must have taken Nell 6 months to a year before it dawned on her that this farm was her home and that from now on she would be treated well. About a year and a half later, when Dr. McGrew came around for another small matter, she was 3 inches taller, a lot fatter, with a beautiful heifer calf by her side. “That’s not the little rescue cow is it?” Not only was she as fit as a fat fiddle, she was HAPPY, and she never stopped expressing her enjoyment of and gratitude for all the good that came her way. Good hay! Apples and pumpkins! Rearing her own calf! Wonderful brushings! Fields and woods! Plus she had the cutest Jersey face and everyone loved her.
The demands of summer on the farm often stretch us to our limits. Haying, gardening, preserving, machinery breakdowns, visitors – at times there seems to be no end to the ocean of work and unexpected obstacles. And if this farming life is new to you, and you are having to be responsible for tasks you are still mastering, it can be overwhelming. While it’s not possible to avert very long and tiring days with a variety of things going awry, it is possible and advisable to develop a system of order and preparedness which will carry you through even the most challenging of days.
I know what it’s like to be trying to find one’s way learning skills without a much needed teacher or experienced advisor. I made a lot of cheese for the pigs and chickens in the beginning and shed many a tear. I want you to know that the skills you will need are within your reach, and that I will spell it all out for you as best I can. I hope it’s the next best thing to welcoming you personally at my kitchen door and actually getting to work together.
Finding an old butter churn at a flea market, one that is still usable can be a lot of fun, and because there are so many types, it’s good to know a few tips to help you find one that works well for you. For one thing, the size of your butter churn must match your cream supply so that your valuable cream gets transformed into golden butter while it’s fresh and sweet, and that your valuable time is not eaten up by churning batch after batch because your churn is too small.
Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!
I hail from Vermont, the land of New England stirred curd cheddar, which has long been the source of pride for cheesemaking here for as long as cows have roamed these fields. Vermont cheddar commands respect and it can be very good. But to me there is no comparison between the best of Vermont cheddar and the original, authentic English cheddar. Oh Blasphemy!
Camembert is wonderful to make, even easy to make once the meaning of the steps is known and the rhythm established. Your exceptionally well fed, housed and loved home cow will make just the best and cleanest milk for this method. A perfect camembert is a marvelous marriage of flavor and texture. The ripening process is only a matter of a few weeks and when they’re ripe they’re ripe and do not keep long.
Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.
So let’s just say this is your first experience with cows, you’ve gone to your local dairy farm, purchased a beautiful bred heifer who is very skittish, has never had a rope on her, or been handled or led, and you’re making arrangements to bring her home. It ought to be dawning on you at this point that you need to safely and securely convey this heifer to your farm and then you need to keep her confined until she begins to calm down enough that she knows she’s home, and she knows where she gets fed.
Swaledale is one of the lost British cheeses, nearly extinct, along with other more obscure farmstead cheeses which were dropped because they were not suited for mechanical cutting – too crumbly. Too much loss. I dug the basic method out of Patrick Rance’s wonderful book of British cheeses and I’ve made it for years. I love it, everybody loves it, it’s a perfect cheese for rich Jersey milk, it takes very little time and trouble to make, it’s easy to age, delicious at one month, or a year.
There are 6 stanchions: first Juliette, named for the great grandma of all modern herbalists, Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Number Two cow is Masha, our best milker, best disposition, glorious teats and not an ungraceful line on her entire being. All the animals here were born on the farm with the exception of Nell, the next cow on the stanchion floor. She is Juliette’s mother. Hazel is in the other big stall across from the heifer stall. She’s dry now and 7 months pregnant, and I’m keeping her apart because she will eat too much if she is in with the milkers.
The basic needs that we are addressing here are as follows: To create a sunny, airy (not drafty), dry, convenient, accessible place to bring in our cow or cows, with or without calves, to be comfortably and easily secured for milking and other purposes such as vet checks, AI breeding, etc. where both you and your cow feel secure and content. A place that is functional, clean, warm and inviting in every way.
Like all ancient British cheeses, Wensleydale, a Yorkshire dales cheese was originally a sheep milk cheese. It’s been made for centuries in Yorkshire, shifting from sheep milk to cow milk as cows became more prevalent and more productive, into the 19th century. It is in a circular form, more or less cubic in proportion. Wensleydale is a very classy, delicious vibrant creation when all goes well on cheese making day.
I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.
What could be more delicious than a fresh scone topped with jam and clotted cream of your own making with a steaming cup of tea, especially after working out in the cold and wet all afternoon? Coming up with the skills to make good tea and gorgeous scones and jam surely requires attention and practice, and learning to make clotted cream does as well.