I am in love with my goats – I mean it. It’s no secret that I love all my animals trulymadlydeeply, but my relationship with the goats has always been – will always be – more intimate. I nursed them long before they nursed me, pulled their babies, cleaned their wounds, fed them from bottles, wiped their bottoms, lay buried beneath them as they slept in my lap. And although I have a weakness for all dairy animals (please refer to, well, every single other post before this one), cows are different – naturally tougher, too large to curl in the lap, too inherently wild and not inherently as inquisitive. This is one of the reasons I am certain that goats are woven into the fabric of the earliest human stories. Among the first domesticated animals, they have (literally) walked alongside man since the beginning. If ever forced to choose one – just one – species of animal to share this life with, it would be Goat. No contest.
Maybe this is why I am struggling with the decision to dry off my girls prematurely, months before their natural lactation cycle nose dives into a trickle of the precious white stuff we take for granted 10 months out of the year. The liquid gold we don’t think about twice until it’s gone, until we are suffering through the milk shakes so bad that we’re forced to crawl on all fours into a store and buy (shudder) milk from some nameless animal. Then, by God, we count the days until the spring babies arrive and find ourselves, once again, in the Land of Plenty. This year I am stepping away from the daily dairy chores intentionally, not because of what the natural cycle dictates. On the eve of this new business, and in a time when I am putting myself first, we decided to give me and the goat gals a break. It means I can finally focus on the cows who (HARDLY) wither in neglect in the pasture. It means I can finally hop a plane in a week for three. precious. nights. away. I am no traveler, but even I need a change of scene, no matter how brief the respite.
This means that tonight, for the first night since February 28, I did not milk the goat girls. I did not sit at the dairy altar and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until my hands cramped and the veins in my forearms bulged. It means the girls screamed angrily, lined up in confusion at the gate they have been trained to walk through in turn, single file, to the milk stand. They will, I am certain, endure. So will I. I will have milk from my cows, and in desperate moments during the goat milk drought, I will buy from reputable local farmers. But milk and cheese from someone else’s goat feels like an elicit affair.
Lately, I sift through commercial dairy catalogs plotting the next phase which includes vacuum pumps, pipeline systems, automatic cleaners, massive milking stands, and panels of electrical equipment. I am nervously excited to use this equipment for what will, hopefully, be the backbone of a fairly efficient little system for the dairy. But this morning, as I leaned into the side of a warm goat, heard the steady hiss of milk hitting pail, and the rush and flutter of chickens as they marched behind me, following me and my milk bucket back into the house – I realize these days are numbered. The simplicity of an animal and a silver pail were the seduction that brought me this far. Will my dairy romance survive the 2 horse power motors, the hum of vacuum suction, the blinking lights on the pulsator control panel, and the spinning agitator of the bulk tanks that will power next season’s milking? It’s not so simple anymore, a reality that smudges doubt around the corners of my certainty. So I pour a glass of milk so fresh it’s still warm, crumble creamy feta onto my morning eggs and think about the truly happy, completely loved animals that created it. Soon, I can share this sort of amazing food, from amazing animals, with you. So I’ll learn to swap nostalgia for the silver pail with excitement over the commercial equipment because of what that transition will ultimately mean.
But tonight…tonight I hear the girls crying from the barn, a confusion I inflicted on the eve of this artificial dry season. Farming can be manipulation; as much as we work with the season, we can choose to move against it as the market, the weather, and personal decisions dictate. Those gals would follow me through hell if I led them there, a power I don’t play with, a responsibility I take real, real seriously. They are much more than food – they are family.