The Milk and Human Kindness
by Suzanne Lupien of Scio, OR
Starting in with a dairy cow is a life changing event like getting married and having children all at once. After all the research, the soul searching and the careful preparation — good fences, sturdy, sunny cow house, good pasturage, quality hay in the loft, helpful old-timer down the road, you begin…
Accepting and adapting to the daily milk chore, tending your beloved cow day in, day out, watching closely, caring intelligently, keeping the cow house clean, the cow clean, the water clean, the manger clean, the milk dishes clean, clean, clean, the milk clean. The milk! What a revelation this rich milk is! How your daily devotional is coming right back to you in this heavenly milk! Your life, your world, may well revolve around your cow, as well it might; she is devoting her entire life to you, so generously, so richly, so willingly. How right it is to return it to her in kind.
In the beginning the milking itself — a skill that needs time, patience and muscle — seems like the biggest part of the story. And little by little it becomes easier, taking its place in your everyday, like sweeping the kitchen floor, and the other aspects of this union call on your heart, mind, conscience and strength. Now it becomes understood what an enormous commitment this dairying requires, and in order for it to sustain, and be sustained, one must know so many things, and be able to handle the entire job with good cheer and discipline, and the milk — using this magnificent milk. Keeping a dairy cow is at once an incredible luxury and a serious responsibility.
For your sake as well as hers, I’m hoping that your routine has been established, both you and your cow are happy and healthy. You meet her needs lovingly and generously so that she may do the same for you. Milking times and feeding times are occurring like clockwork, her comfort is always first and foremost in your mind, and is energetically manifest in your daily husbandry.
Fall and winter are my favorite times for an abundance of milk. The busy summer of haying and gardening are over. I couldn’t possibly make hay and cheese at the same time. So I prefer my cows to freshen late summer so by the time the calf is big and strong, 10-12 weeks, I can cut back on his or her access to the milk supply, begin the process of eventual separation and start my year of cheese-making. Over several years time I have learned a lot about making very high quality cheese on a small scale, ways to be sensible about precious time, ways to save money on equipment, ways to age cheese and ways to share it. Really, there is no finer milk than that from a well tended home cow, and that fact alone will have a major effect on the quality of your end product, whether it is butter, yogurt, clotted cream or cheddar. And knowing that the high quality springs from good basic farming has done a great deal to teach me the depth and meaning of goodness. It is solid, it is fair, and it is life- giving. And it is so meaningful.
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, through subsequent articles in this journal so you can learn what to do, how to do, why to do, when to do, and sometimes what to do if?? I’m offering to help with step by step instructions that are descriptive and complete. It is essential that these skills are given into your willing hands, and I promise not to hold back — you need to have it all. Perhaps it will take a few years to cover the range of possibilities, and the basic requirements, something I very much look forward to.
I realized early on that milk quality is governed by cow health, and sanitary milk handling in equal measure. The key to vital, clean, beautiful milk is skillful devotion to your cow. It’s not a question of killing bacteria, it’s a question of knowing and caring and doing. There cannot be any comparison between milk from the horror of industrial dairying and a good one or two cow grass based dairy. And such enjoyable and interesting work it is.
Mucking out the cow house, feeding out hay, milking and making cheese all go perfectly together. Contrasting tasks all headed for the aim of honorable contribution in one’s family and to one’s community.
I made a reference to how precious time can be on a small farm and I will show you what I know about selecting cheeses to make that take up a relatively short amount of time — simple farmer’s cheeses which fit nicely in a farmer’s day. We’ll cover everything from what to feed your cow to contriving a cave very simply and cheaply in addition to equipment, milk handling, homemade starter cultures and a wide variety of cultured milk products.
In the next issue I will cover sanitation, homemade starter cultures, yogurt making and a simple French farmer cheese. I hope it’s the next best thing to welcoming you personally at my kitchen door and actually getting to work together.