Have you seen”Anne with an E” on Netflix? I recently finished the first season, and it took me right back to my childhood when I was first introduced to Anne of Green Gables. One thing I loved about this new retelling of the story was its depiction of pastoral life. Matthew and Marilla milking their cows each morning, Anne rushing out to collect eggs, and Jerry putting up hay and hitching “Mare” to their carriage. It’s a picturesque snapshot of what life was like in a small, rural town at the turn of the 19th century.
Much like in fictional Avonlea, up until the mid 1900s in the US, the family milk cow was the centerpiece of the homestead. She’d provide plenty of milk for the family, manure to be used in the garden, and offspring to raise up and put in the freezer or sell. Keeping your heifer healthy and being there to milk her every 12 hours was just how it was done.
Fast forward to today and family milk cows are almost unheard of, and dairy goats even more obscure. (Except in certain circles where they are enjoying a reassurance, I’m happy to say!) In the 21st century’s fast-paced, over-scheduled world, who has time to commit to milking a dairy animal every 12 hours, every single day, seven days a week?
After milking our goat through all of May and June so far this year, I can tell you that I absolutely love it. I didn’t change my life to accommodate my dairy goats; having dairy goats changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic–but hear me out.
A new phrase that’s entered my vernacular is: “Sorry, I can’t. I have to get home to milk the goat.” (Which in some circles, let me tell you, gets you some very, very strange looks.)
To some people, this would be a burden. But I’ve come to look at it another way: It has forced me to slow down. It has forced me to stop over-committing. It has forced me to spend more time at home and with my family. It has forced me to get up early and go to bed at a more reasonable hour, and to schedule my time more efficiently.
I won’t lie–there are days where I feel like I just CAN’T walk out to the barn and milk that [insert expletive] goat one more time. But then I realize I HAVE TO, and I push through. (Any mother who’s breastfed can empathize, and would never let a goat or cow go too long past milking time!) And you know what? I am stronger for it. Even if I was feeling too tired or too sick beforehand, by the time I’m done milking and humming along to the radio while I work, suddenly my day is a hundred times better than when I initially dragged my lazy butt out to the barn to milk. It sets the tone for everything else in my day to be more positive.
There’s also something very special about the bond you build with an animal that you hand milk. Again, this will sound silly unless you’ve done it, but just trust me here. I’d imagine it would be very similar to the bond you’d feel with a dog you’ve extensively trained, or a horse you broke and ride regularly. At the end of last year, I was seriously considering getting out of Nigerian Dwarf goats entirely, to instead focus on LaManchas. Now? Candy has won me over all over again with her quirky personality and sweet milk. We spend a minimum of 15 minutes every morning and 15 minutes every evening together, and I feel like we’ve really gotten to know each other in that time. When she first freshened, it was a race to milk her out before she got fed up with me. When SHE decides she’s done being milked, she will lay down, pinning my hands under her udder on the milk stand. It becomes a race to get the milk bucket and my hands out from under her before the flop. After two months though, she’s gotten to know and trust me, and I’ve learned her tricks. If I play music while I milk and pause to give her neck a little scratch when she gets impatient, we have a much more successful milking session (most of them flop-free). She now comes running to the workshop when I call her name, and jumps right up on the milk stand. She knows our routine, and I like to think she looks forward to it like I do most days.
Of course, then there’s the milk.
Sure, a gallon of milk can be obtained easily at pretty much any grocery or convenience store. But there’s something that’s magical to me about seeing a mason jar full of milk in my fridge, and knowing it came right from the animals in our backyard only hours beforehand. You don’t get fresher than that, and I’m still in awe that these cute little critters in our barnyard take brush, hay, and grass and convert it into wonderful milk.
Goat milk, specifically, is particularly special too. It can be pretty much used universally as a milk substitute for other mammals. Abandoned kitten, calf, or foal? Goat milk. Before the advent of formula, even human babies drank goat milk if their mothers couldn’t nurse them. Goat milk has much smaller globules that make it much easier to digest. Even many otherwise lactose intolerant people can drink goats milk.
Homemade cheese, ice cream, and just enjoying fresh milk in coffee or over cereal–it’s a glorious season to be in, and one in which I slow down and concentrate on home. Six-thirty AM or PM, you’ll find me with my goats–sometimes in pajamas half awake, sometimes just home from work and relieved to switch gears to my fantasy-farming life outside the office. I’m blessed to live this life that so many don’t understand, and so happy I can share it with others who want to experience it too.