Thursday, February 04, 2010

Milking A Cow

This week I took on the responsibility of milking a cow on the weekday mornings for a family that has a 2 year old going through treatment for Leukemia. It is a blessing to be able to help in this unique way. Seems God uses every experience we have for His glory and service, even the most obscure!
My experience with milking is very different from what I'm now doing. First of all, I milked goats, by hand, and they were mine. I had 4 in milk at once at one time, and that was probably the maximum that I would want to do that way. One thing I loved was that it did make me have a very predictable routine, and it put me outside into the fresh air, while most of my other responsibilities have me inside most of the day. Since we live on an island, there was always this funny coincidence early in the morning. Fog would be floating over the pasture, and I would be quietly seated next to my doe, milking rhythmically away. Deer might wander near and munch away at some branches, and then look up at me and just continue with their browsing. Other times I would hear the sea lions barking while they rested on a buoy out in Rich Passage just over the hill. That would catch me as a funny and unique scenario out there in my milking shed. I really enjoyed it. I also loved the way my goats were such creatures of habit, and would fall into line, knowing which of them was next to be milked. They looked for me to show up, and would be waiting for me at the gate. Such great memories. I had them for 7 years, but found that because they weren't on my property, being an absent farmer was too difficult. So I have waited for a day when I could have a place that where I could have my menagerie right out my door.

This cow milking routine is new for several reasons. First the cow isn't my animal, and I don't really know her yet. Second, she is milked with a portable milking machine. Although I get to be "hands on" washing her and preparing her for milking, the mechanical part of it is very cumbersome and impersonal. I'm just a little intimidated by this big strong cow too. Although she has behaved perfectly, and confirmed my knowledge that she too is a creature of habit and knows her routine perfectly, her strength demands some respect. Perhaps after some time, I will know her better and she will yield more to my requests, and I will understand and predict her habits with more comfort.

When I am done milking her, I carry what is now at least 30lb. of milk and stainless steel to the house to put the milk in jars, cool it in a ice bath, and then wash the milking equipment for the next time. I think these things were built for men. Bulky and heavy. In my humble opinion, it is not worth the "convenience", but I know that it was what the cow was used to when she was bought, so that being already established, dictated the necessity of it.

So, I am making several observations in these first days of my new routine. Cows are big and intimidating. They make ALOT of milk, and they eat just as much, whether in milk or not. If I were to ever consider a family cow, I would have to either raise one from a calf, and establish her by hand milking her, or buy one that is already used to being hand milked. I have to say, I prefer hand milking. Then there is the question of what to do with more milk than a family can drink, since you can't sell it. I know that some people feed it to pigs, chickens, etc. Some people keep a calf on the cow, and milk only once a day. I have made cheese, and yogurt and that actually condenses the milk, but honestly I think I will stick with goats. Goats are friendly, and of a managable size. If I need to make them move, I could muscle them wherever I want, if need be. You can not do that with a cow.

I feel privaledged to be having this experience. I am so glad to be able to do something that is a real help to this family. And I get the benefit of learning a new skill, getting used to being around a large farm animal, and it's helping me understand the realities of having a family milk cow so that I can make an educated decision about having one myself or not.