Preserving Milk: How to Balance Dairy Production Year-Round

| 11/11/2015 9:59:00 AM

Tags: food preservation, making cheese, home dairying, whey, freezing, Eric Reuter, Missouri,


Freezing milk in quarts, or cheese in smaller containers, is an easy way to preserve excess dairy production. 

Every year, dairy animals such as goats produce too much milk, then too little, and homestead dairies have to be creative to avoid a cycle of waste before deprivation. In May and June, you’ll be flooded with milk, and by January or February you’ll be pining for those days of plenty. On our homestead, we used several methods of milk preservation and culinary planning to balance out these extremes and ensure we never had to buy milk even when our animals weren’t producing.

While you can stagger your breeding times to extend the milking season across several animals, this also creates more work and doesn’t easily fill the whole gap. Personally, we like having a period of time when we’re not tied to daily milking chores. On our homestead, we let the goats follow their normal cycle of fall breeding and spring kidding, creating the spring pulse of milk that slowly drops off over the summer. We generally dried the does off by the end of the year, a month or so after breeding, to allow their bodies to put energy into gestation. Thus there’s always a four-month gap of no fresh milk, sometimes longer depending on when we start back up again after kidding. Here are three approaches we’ve used on our homestead farm:

Freeze the Milk

It’s very easy to fill quart-sized containers with extra milk and chuck them in the freezer. This is especially useful during busy spring and summer planting times when time is tight, and can also temporarily help balance your freezer use. Freezers run most efficiently when they’re full, yet by spring and early summer most homestead freezers will have been largely emptied of the previous years’ stores, leaving temporary room for frozen milk. As a secondary benefit, this approach can also help buffer unforeseen shortages during the grazing season, for example if you need to discard milk due to animal health issues or medication.

We generally try to use ours within 6-7 months, using some as required for freezer space, and saving more for winter. The milk’s texture is usually a bit thinner and runnier than fresh, which may bother some drinkers, but as we don’t drink our milk, it’s not something we have an opinion about. Our primary use for thawed milk is to keep a yogurt culture going over the winter, as we easily eat a half-gallon of yogurt a week. A simple cheese like whole-milk ricotta is also easy to make with thawed milk, though we’ve had less success using it for aged cheese.

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