What to Do with Extra Milk

From cheese to butter to extra protein for hogs and chickens, milk is a versatile product for any homestead.

| December 22, 2009

  • Milk equipment and products
    Equipment and products of the home dairy, clockwise from top left: cheese press, milk containers, butter churn, butter, ricotta, cream cheese and cheddar.
  • Butter and buttermilk
    After cream turns to butter in the churn, the buttermilk must be strained off. From left: buttermilk in a jar, Nora (the author’s niece) with butter and the butter churn.
  • Mozzarella stretching
    Mozzarella is stretched until it becomes smooth.

  • Milk equipment and products
  • Butter and buttermilk
  • Mozzarella stretching

When our two Dutch Belted cows have their calves in spring or early summer, they each give about 5 gallons of milk a day. Our home abounds with milk, cheese and other dairy products during this time, but we also have the work of the other farm animals, a large garden and other family chores. Here’s how the production of cheese and dairy products, such as yogurt, ice cream and butter, is woven into our busy schedule.

First, we stagger the cows’ pregnancies by two months so the peak quantities of milk don’t coincide. The calves continue to nurse until they’re 9 months old, and by the time they’re 4 or 5 months old, they can consume all their mothers’ milk. But we have more milk than the calves can drink from late spring to early autumn — the busiest time of the year on our homestead.

Drink all the milk you can. Raw milk is more of a food than a beverage, and I love its complex, delicious flavor. We also give milk to neighbors, especially those who treasure it from childhood memories. Most people have been frightened into thinking that the bacteria in raw milk are dangerous, but unless the milk is contaminated, I feel it’s as safe as human breast milk, which also contains natural bacteria.

I’m careful about rinsing, washing and sanitizing all our milk equipment to assure that it won’t get contaminated and the milk will therefore have a shelf-life of a week in the refrigerator. We use about a 5-percent bleach solution for plastic and a dilute iodine solution for stainless steel. The iodine and other basic home cheese-making equipment can be found online or in beer- and wine-making stores. For those who want to pasteurize milk, simply heat it to exactly 145 degrees Fahrenheit and hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes.

The cows give far more milk than what we can drink though, and when the first cow has her calf in April, the race begins. Yogurt is a daily staple at our house and it’s easy to make. I save about half a cup of yogurt from the previous batch and mix it with a quart of milk right from the cow. This mixture is kept at about 100 degrees until the next morning, when I wake up to fresh yogurt for breakfast. Either electric yogurt-makers or insulated containers can keep the mixture at the right temperature.

Making cheese at home is as simple as separating curds from whey. The curds contain the solid protein, and the whey has most of the lactose. Your “coagulating agent,” which causes milk to separate into curds and whey, will usually be vinegar or citric acid for soft cheeses, such as mozzarella or ricotta, and rennet for hard cheeses, such as cheddar. My big time-saver is to use the milk right after milking, when it’s about 90 degrees. This is the perfect temperature for separating curds and whey for soft cheeses, for adding a bacterial starter for hard cheeses and even the perfect temperature for yeast in bread-making. I can’t always begin making cheese right after milking, so I wrap a couple bath towels around my 10-liter milk container to maintain the milk’s temperature until other chores are done.

Jan Steinman
12/31/2009 1:01:31 PM

A couple comments about frozen milk: 1) If you don't mind skim milk, that seems to freeze better. We never have problems getting rid of cream! So we separate (via machine) before we freeze. 2) If you don't have time to finish cheese you've started, the curds freeze well. 3) Whey freezes great. We use whey in all our cooking instead of water. Also, if you're intimidated at the notion of five gallons a day, consider goats instead! 1) Two goats, staggered lactation, will keep a family of seven in milk, without having to deal with a lot of excess. 2) They get by on lower-quality browse, eating brush and trees where cows require good grass. 3) It's easier to keep milk sanitary, as they tend to be cleaner animals. I've NEVER had a "surprise" while milking goat, whereas I've seen cow pies splatter all over things while milking. Plus, "goat berries" are easier to 4) Some claim the milk is better for you, being closer to human milk in composition. The fat globules are about 80% smaller, making it easier to digest (but harder to skim). 5) At the risk of raising the ire of cow lovers, I think goats are more intelligent, have more personality, and are more loving than cows. If you've experienced nasty, smelly goat milk, that's probably because bucks and does were run together, and possibly also due to agitation, storage, or temperature issues, or to using "heavy milking" breeds. People who try our Nubian milk say it tastes BETTER than store-bought milk!

Dennis H
12/30/2009 4:07:09 PM

I have a friend that will go the the local sale barn and buy another baby calf to put with the mother cow. He has two cows that will raise 3 to 4 calves each a year.

Dennis H
12/30/2009 4:07:05 PM

I have a friend that will go the the local sale barn and buy another baby calf to put with the mother cow. He has two cows that will raise 3 to 4 calves each a year.

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