Sunday, October 5, 2008

Milking Pride

Today was my day for learning how to milk. Juli-Ann and I met Jennifer in the barn at 7 am, bundled up in our fall attire. It was a bright, cold, crisp morning, the early sunlight lighting up the red trees and pale mist hanging over Tully Mountain in the distance.

Pride, our 4-year old heifer is as sweet a cow as I've ever met, and extremely patient with us as we learn to milk, regularly taking twice as long (or more!) as it would take an experienced milker. This morning, Pride came right into the barn when she heard us rustling hay. Settled into the stanchion with a pile of hay and some dried beet pulp (delicious!) she was quiet content to munch while we milked.

First we treated her teats with iodine to sterilize, and then we took turns milking two at a time, starting with her front teats. The finger muscles you use for milking are not used to any kind of motion, and so it takes a while to get into the swing of it. This morning it took the two of us nearly an hour and a half to milk her out, even with Jennifer stepping in near the end at nearly twice our pace. Milking itself is a simple motion - the harder part (for now anyway) is making sure she doesn't step in the bucket. It is a very intimate act, to be sitting right next to such a big, sweet animal, my head pressed against her side, and my hands attempting to imitate a calf. (Although calves are much more aggressive than us!) Though it felt like it would never end, and my fingers got tired, especialy when trying to reach the awkward back teats, it was a great experience and I'm excited to get more and more comfortable with it the more I do it.

We have a two-filter system. The milk goes into a pail, and we periodically pour that milk through a strainer into another jug. It cleans the milk up a bit and gets rid of any hair, dust and other particles that could have gotten into the pail. So even though Pride stepped in the bucket about halfway through, before I had a chance to pull the bucket out of the way, we still got about 1 and a half gallons of clean milk. Our first milk of the year!

Back inside, we strained the milk again into half-gallon mason jars, and put in in the freezer for an hour to cool it down faster. This helps take some of the barn-taste out of the milk. Now we have delicious raw milk to drink and make into cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.

There is something extremely rewarding about going out to the barn, working for an hour, and coming back with a fresh, healthy product. Looking at that mason jar full of fresh milk in the fridge, I already feel connected to this place, and part of the cycle of the land that nourishes all of us. Once we'd put away the milk, we led a contented Pride out to pasture, and I came into the warm house for breakfast. I can't think of a way I'd rather start the day.

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