Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Saturday afternoon I sent out a community-wide message through my local food co-op looking for a milking mentor. I basically wrote that I was as inexperienced at hand-milking as one could be, but that I am a hard worker and fast learner. By Saturday evening I had three responses offering to teach me how to milk dairy animals. One woman in particular asked me to call her to talk one-on-one. I did and we talked for a little bit about what my plans were and what I was looking to get out of the arrangement. I let her know that my family and I are starting to look for a larger property that could accommodate diary goats and that they would be a primary focus for us. She was kind enough to invite me to come over to her small farm the next morning for milking time.
Sunday was the ideal setting for me. My new dairy mentor, Michele, lives a mere 4 minutes away. Who knew I could find someone willing to teach me so close to my own home? Michele showed me around her property and I got a good look at her garden, turkey, ducks, pigs, and goats. I was surprised at how short her fence was around the goat enclosure. It was maybe 5 feet tall? I expected it to be about 8 feet tall considering what notoriously ninja-like escape artists goats could be. But she insisted that there had been no escapes in the little over two years that they had been fenced in. Perhaps their two guard llamas kept the goats in line. Thank goodness those llamas stayed away from me because I have a very strong, irrational fear of llamas and alpacas. Don’t ask me why, they just freak the living daylights out of me!
We walked into the milking shed that was no bigger than 10′ x 10′ and Michele showed me how the stanchion worked before any of our morning “customers” came in. It seemed simple enough; the stanchion was a seat-height table with two bars at one end where the goat’s neck could be secured to keep the goat from backing up during milking. A small bowl sat at the head-end for pellets and sunflower seeds to keep our “customers” interested in behaving. Makes sense. It’s like those cartoons where the farmer tangles the carrot on a string in front of the donkey to get it to move. Different species– same idea.
Now it was time to get down to brass tacks! Michele opened the back door to the milking shed to let in our first customer, Nanny the Toggenberg. Michele showed me her prep technique of a brush down, wipe down, hand wipe, and preliminary squirt to flush the initial milk from the goat’s teat. She gave me a quick lesson on how to cut off the milk with a firm grasp and then squeeze it out. Ah… this looked so easy! Not. Milking is certainly easier said than done. But in a few minutes I was getting a pathetic stream of milk. Success!
After a few minutes of milking I felt like a dairymaid from a Thomas Hardy novel. Memories of excerpts from high school British Literature class reading came flooding back. To be fair, milk dairies were a pretty heavy theme in Hardy’s work. Anyhow– sitting on the side of the little wooden milk stanchion with a beautiful red and black creature standing to my side made me feel underdressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. I should have whipped up some late-1800′s attire to commemorate the event. I was hand milking a goat guys. Poorly, but it was happening.
Michele gave me a tour of her goat chores, showed me what to do with the milk, answered some basic care questions, and gave me a hoof trimming demonstration. I will be going back on Sunday for my next lesson and some practice. And you know what? I am ecstatic! I feel like I am on some fantastic adventure that so many are missing out on. Like it’s a secret or something. I am a secret dairymaid.