Raw milk in the house


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.


My morning routine these days.

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.


Ready for the fridge.

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.


Too many seedlings


I have a few gardening weaknesses. Well many, but a few I will admit to.  Like many gardeners, I tend to plant too many seeds and then I have trouble killing off seedlings that seem perfectly healthy. Instead I end up with too many plants which I hopefully can give away, but sometimes have to just forget about and let them die a quiet death. Thankfully there is always someone that wants a few, and I am more than happy to give away my babies.


Way too many celery seedlings. The seed were supposed to be too old!

This year again, I have plenty of extras, but in my defence some of the seed were old and I didn’t know or expect that they would actually come out at all. I just had to plant them all, thinking that only a few would sprout, but they seem to have been hardier than expected and I now have more broccoli and celery seedlings than ever.

The plan that I made up, which you can see in my Seed Frenzy post, is very helpful and does curb my ambitions, although I feel I should have space or make space for more plants. I am getting better at utilising spaces between plants for quick veg, such as radishes, salads and coriander.

This year I have also decided to plant more flowers, both as useful companions to deter bugs, as edible plants, but also for ground cover and for the pretty effect. I always plant marigolds around my tomatoes, but while they are edible I have never really used them in my cooking or salads, their strong fragrance has always put me off. I have bulked up on nasturtiums, that also are edible, as they were hard to find last year. They are hardy, pretty and a terrific addition to any salad.


Kale, cabbage, cauliflower…how many can I plant? Let the Games Begin!

Other useful flowers I will be planting are Calendula, type of marigold really but leggier and more elegant. Last year I did a herbal workshop with local herbalist Vivienne Cambell. She showed us how to do a great hand cream with dried Calendula flower heads, it was a very good gardening cream. When my kids were small I always used the Weleda calendula oil at diaper changes, I found it excellent for their skin. In case you are interested, Vivienne has great webinars and e-courses on herbal medicine on her site, The Herbal Hub.

The Cosmos and Cornflowers, favourites of mine, will go outdoors. My children have also planted an array of old flower seeds that are nameless, so whatever comes will be a surprise.

I have added another edible to my list, more than one to be honest but lets not dwell on that (seed frenzy you see!); so I am currently looking for Stevia seeds.

You might have seen the Stevia syrup in shops, which is a good replacement for sugar as it is healthier and you use much smaller quantities. It still is sweet, it still has calories, but less. Supposedly you can sweeten your drinks with Stevia leaves and I thought it would be a good thing to try out as I find the syrup a good replacement for sugar. Depending on how much you need, I might give a try to making some kind of syrup.


My favourite squash. Seeds from Seedaholic.com

After searching a bit, I have found seeds for one of my favourite vegetables, the Rolet squash. This is a fabulous vegetable that look like a black cue ball; you boil it, cut it in half, eat it with a bit of butter, it tastes strongly of sweetcorn and just heavenly. You can get the seeds at the Seedaholic.com site. Just be careful if you are an avid gardener, as their selection will make you drool. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


The one thing I have really succeeded with, in regards of my original planting plan, are my cucumbers. I have six plants, no more and no less, exactly as planned. I might be drowning in cabbage, kale, cauliflower and celery, but I am done with the cucumbers.

Unless…unless I come across some interesting new seeds. Small round lemon cucumbers sounded awful interesting I have to say. Wonder what they taste like?


A life or death situation


Early on a Sunday afternoon, one of my girls and I decided to have a look at the animals. Since our first lamb was born we have been and still are in constant suspense about the next births, whether these be lambs or calves.

In one of the more sheltered fields we could see something and decided to investigate. One of the cows lying down and as we came closer we could see two legs of a calf in mid birth. It was time to get the only person with experience, so we ran back to the house to get Kevin. My daughter easily left me behind and ran into the house panting “calf…cow…field!”

Calmly and well used to the situation, Kevin asked me to get a rope and he brought an armful of hay. The cow was lying on her side and caught in some brambles, we could see the two front legs of the calf sticking out. Grabbing a handful of hay we took hold of the slippery legs of the calf and pulled. When this wasn’t enough, Kevin tied the rope around the legs and pulled, while I pulled at the legs. Suddenly the calf slipped out and our first calf was born.

The poor thing looked wrecked but healthy. Once we got the cow out of the brambles she vigorously started licking her calf. We stayed with them for a while and felt some worry that the calf seemed weak and was not suckling immediately, as other things needed our attention we left them for a while in the sheltered and sunny field.

Later that afternoon I went over to check on the calf, but there had been very little improvement. As Kevin was out, a neighbour helped me and advised me to get the calf and cow into the shed. We loaded the calf into a wheelbarrow and tempted the cow with a bucket of beef nuts (cow food that looks similar to dry dog food).

The tongue of the calf had been sticking out since she was born and looked a bit swollen, we later realised that this was part of the problem with the inability to suck. As she had not stood up for long, she was also cold. She was weaker now than when she had been born. My neighbour generously lent us his infra-red heating lamp, which did wonders for the calf.

Once Kevin was home, he milked the cow and we force fed the calf with an empty half-pint Jameson whiskey bottle. The neck needed to be long enough to reach far down the throat as the calf was not suckling, not even your fingers when you stuck them into her mouth and tickled her palate.


The shed became a calf ICU as we all checked on the calf regularly. Another neighbour, a very experienced cattle farmer, came over with a feeding tube. We got electrolytes to mix with the milk, which is a re-hydration solution, and had to tube her through her mouth into her stomach to give her milk. She also developed a fever and pneumonia, and we had to give her antibiotics. As she improved every time she got a bit of milk, when she looked at her worse I got up in the middle of the night to feed her.

I cannot explain the fear we had a few mornings when we woke, wondering if the calf would still be alive. What was I going to say to my girls? And how had I suddenly developed so much fondness for this cow and calf?


Such a delight to finally see her suckling!

You might have read my post on my very strained relationship with our bullocks, my frenemies on the farm. Well, I had hoped to get a better experience with the females of the species, and I can now say I am converted. Cows, particularly these three cows we have, are lovely, calm, easy to work with and even friendly. They are still lumbering hippopotamuses, drooly and poopy, but their calm nature makes me forgive all that.

In a slow but steady pace the calf improved and finally recovered. She is a beautiful calf, a golden brown with a blond crown of curly hair on the top of her head. Once we felt secure that she was out of the woods, it was the most natural thing to call her Goldie.

There is no direct connection or symbolic meaning in the name, but we thought it would such a cool name to call a cow (not insult intended, rather a lot of admiration) that we named her mother Oprah.

Now Goldie and Oprah spend the days out in the fields and the nights in the shed. I know, I’m being a bit of a mother hen, but I dote on my girls and want the best for them. I also hand milk Oprah each morning and she generously supplies plenty for both the calf and the house.

Who would have thought it, that I would feel such affection for Oprah and Goldie. It is barely a chore to care for them, as they both recognise my voice and know what needs to be done. I also truly enjoy these few farming tasks I have each morning and evening.


Goldie is getting an unwanted cleanup from her mum.