Kevin has always been adamant that he does not want to have a dairy cow, there is no way he is ever going to go back to milking cows. Hand milking 15 cows twice a day, while growing up, was more than enough for him. Goldie’s birth left us little option, as she was not suckling and the colostrum in the early milk is crucial for a calf. We had to milk Oprah and tube Goldie, mixing the milk with electrolytes, for additional hydration (see the post A life or death situation).
While we didn’t use any of the early milk, freezing left over colostrum and stuffing Goldie to the gills, we quickly realised that Oprah had an abundance of milk. There was no question of putting another calf on her, which is an option, as Goldie needed to stabilize first; there is also a risk of mastitis or other infections, if there is too much milk. The answer was easy, I just had to keep on milking and learn fast.
I quickly got rid of my fear of sitting so close to this big animal, while inexpertly squeezing a very sore part of her anatomy. Thank goodness, she is a very patient cow and I quickly learned how to hand milk, there were a few kicks in the beginning as her teats healed the lesions from briar scrapes.
Now my morning routine includes bringing Oprah into the shed, milking her by hand and letting her out again. It started with about 1.5 litres, but now with the growth spurt of the grass, we are up to 2.5 to 3 litres a day. I only milk her late in the mornings, primarily to give Goldie a chance to drink her fill first. I don’t fully drain her udders, but only to soften the tension in the ones Goldie has not emptied. This was again initially for Oprah to avoid any infections, but as the milk regulates according to demand it has worked out well.
While Kevin will get away with not milking, our girls are more than happy to pitch in and are delighted of their new skills. They practiced throughout their Easter holidays, right in our own spontaneous but very practical Easter camp.
I read up quite a bit on the process of milking, but also looked up regulations around milk. A great resource was the Backwoods Home Magazine , I was also delighted to read that there are very few restrictions around raw milk in Ireland and that you could even sell it, as long as you adhered to required sanitary standards. I have no intention of selling our milk, but there is the issue of oversupply for our own house. There is a huge support for raw milk in Ireland, have a look at Darina Allen’s article in the Slow Food Ireland site.
If you are looking to buy or find out more about raw milk, have a look at the Raw Milk Ireland website.
You don’t know what raw milk is? It’s exactly that, un-boiled and therefore unpasteurised. Before you get a heart attack, know that…I know exactly what my cows eat, any meds they are on, how they are health wise, and so on. This is also the milk Kevin grew up on. And no, I would not randomly drink raw milk from large factory farms.
The key is in hygiene and knowing the health of your cow. It also helps to know that Kevin never drank any other type of milk, as most children from Irish farms.
What about taste? To be honest, I don’t feel the difference. Saying that, I only drink milk with coffee, tea and porridge. My kids, that love a glass of milk, say they don’t feel any difference to the shop bought whole milk. I think this speaks volumes of the high standard of Irish milk.
While we are only milking one cow, it didn’t take long to have an oversupply of milk. My neighbours are happy to get some every so often, but that is still not enough. The solution was simpler than I thought, as there was no way I was going to waste that milk; I have started making cheese.
As a beginner, I started with the easiest cheese of all, and let me assure you that it is truly easy, cream cheese. Not only did I do a plain one that my daughter cleverly transformed into a lovely cheesecake, but I also did a very popular cream cheese with chives. It is beautiful with a slice of tomato; or on brown bread with smoked salmon, compliments from one of my neighbours.
Kevin and my kids are now hinting at me that two of the sheep, of which one has now lambed, are of a milking breed. “Wouldn’t our own feta cheese be great, mum?” said one of my girls. I have suddenly become the milkmaid of the house, but I am my own worst enemy, as I have to be honest and say that it does sound interesting.