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by Robin Guard
When we were younger and had dreams of total self-sufficiency, we decided to add dairy products to the list of things we produced and got a couple of goats. A goat produces much more milk than a cow, pound for pound, and has a much greater sense of humor.
Barbara agreed to do the milking, and no doubt saw herself skipping down to the barn in the morning sunshine, while the birds sang a merry roundelay. This did happen once or twice, but there were also occasions when she refused to go out until I had dug a path for her to the barn door through three feet of snow. She would have to wear heavy gloves to prevent frozen fingers from sending the goat through the barn roof at the first touch.
We read lots of books on goats, and learned to our astonishment that you dont get any milk until the goat has been bred and had kids. In order to breed them (the books said) you have to have a male goat, known as a buck. There are two kinds of buck, those that are ornery and stink, and those that are good-tempered and stink. We tried both, and quickly came to the conclusion that the best place for a buck to live is on a neighbors farm, provided you can borrow him for a few days every couple of years.
Our most memorable buck, which we borrowed when nothing else was available, was a tiny, pure-white, pretty creature. The only way we could tell he was a buck was because he stank. Our hefty doe looked down on him and took an instant dislike. We left them together, and five months later were presented with the most beautiful white kids you ever saw, which shows that appearances can be deceiving.
Mother and kids enjoy each others company for about five months, then the little ones go to grace a gourmets table, and you are left with a doe bursting with milk who will stay that way for a couple of years. Suddenly you are faced with about ten times as much milk as you can possibly drink, and you have to move on to butter and cheese. To make these you have to have cream, which doesnt rise to the surface of goats milk but has to be separated mechanically.
I bought a lovely old separator from a nearby farmer and grouted it to the basement floor. This is serious high-tech machinery. The heart of the process is a heavy metal thing the size of a grapefruit which rotates about a vertical axis. You turn a huge crank, and great brass gears immersed in oil slowly bring the ball up to incredible rotational speed. When the velocity exceeds the speed of sound, you open a tap and let the milk into the center of the ball, whereupon one of the pipes coming out of the machine starts to drip thick cream, and the other one emits skim milk. I dont know how old the machine was and I was glad not to have to look for spare parts. When we gave up the goats, I sold it for what Id paid for it, and Im sure its still going strong.
So now you have a few pints of cream and a great deal of skim milk. You also have a lot of equipment which needs cleaning. That rotating ball comes apart to reveal a vast number of fragile metal cones and resembles the complexity of a Rubiks cube. My own idea of cleaning up is a quick rinse under the cold tap, so my wife, who says Im cleanliness-impaired, decided to take over the role of sterilizing and drying everything, which took her somewhat longer than the milking.
The ingenious Italians found a way to extract a nice near-cheese called ricotta from the skim milk, so we found ourselves eating lots of lasagna. The cream was delicious in its own right, and I found that butter is quick and easy to make, provided you like white butter. Cheese was another matter.
I have made many mistakes during my years of homesteading, but for unmitigated disasters nothing came close to my hard cheeses. I made beautiful curds, pressed them carefully, and wrapped and waxed a beautiful cheese which went into the basement to mature. What came out after a few months I wont describe, out of consideration for sensitive readers.
I wouldnt have missed our years of dairying, but you soon find that some things are not worth doing if youre only feeding yourself. We have had to depend on commercial milk since we gave up the goats, so I was thrilled to read in the last issue of COGNITION that They have been persuaded to allow organic milk and its derivatives to be marketed, and I cant wait for it to be available in my area.
Copyright © 1996.Robin Guard
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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