lactation at large

We’ve been milking this sweet young goat for nearly two months now and I have hardly written anything about her. There’s a reason for this. The learning curve is steep and round. Annie is new to milking, and so are we.milking 4

Here’s how it has been: First thing in Lulahs’ morning, she and I load up a yogurt cup of warm soapy water, the same amount of goat chow, and a stainless steel bowl. Because Lulah is not an early riser, Annie is always ready for us. She has a view of Lulah’s window from her sleeping shelf and I think she watches for Lulah to get up. She hops up on her stanchion and Lulah dumps the chow into her feeder box. I squeeze out a dishcloth of soapy water and wash her udders down. Then I pick up her right rear leg and Lulah milks her. We get about a pint of milk. It’s not very much. Some days, the kids (human ones) drink it straight away. Whatever little portions don’t get consumed immediately sometimes add up to a nice batch of sour milk for cornbread. Nothing wrong with that.milking 2

It is quite a lot of do-ing for a pint of milk each day. But I don’t mind too much yet. We’re learning a lot. Lulah is a horse girl. We waited quite awhile, to see if she would grow out of her horse love, but she hasn’t. We found a very good mentor for her, and that’s been wonderful, but the truth is, we cannot house a horse on our property right now. The goats are our compromise. Lulah gets some at-home hands-on experience with working four legged mammals that are larger than the cat. We get some milk. The goats get to browse to their heart’s content. Everyone wins.milking 1

And this week, we had all went for the gold. Annie has begun to stand for milking without me holding up her leg. She gets feisty when she runs out of chow, but we’ve usually tapped her out pretty good at that point, so as long as we pay attention to how quickly she’s eating, no harm done. Besides, as a mother who breast-fed for a long time, I am sympathetic to her feelings about this. I would have to be fed something really wonderful, too, to allow another species to take my milk. Maybe.

I heard this story once, about villagers in some remote location who would, when necessary, nurse an orphaned goat kid. At the time, I thought it was kind of funny. I couldn’t relate, not one bit. But now, having established a relationship with a goat, her kid, and her milk, I am beginning to see the light.

It’s practical. There are probably no farm co-ops or Tractor Supply Co. stores in these villages. No farm stores means no powdered milk replacer for orphaned livestock. Also, take into account that it is largely the women who tend to the goats and that these women, by and large, breast-feed their children for quite awhile. Given this, someone in an extended family will be lactating almost all the time. If the orphaned goat kid doesn’t make it, it’s one less milk goat, or meat goat, coming along. One less milk or meat source matters to these folks more than most of us can imagine. It is well worth the effort of cuddling up to another kind of critter, and sharing your personal abundance.milking 5

I am grateful to live where we do have access to farmer’s co-ops and the like, even if we don’t use them much.  I am grateful for Annie and Pepper, for the good experience we are sharing, for the fresh milk.  And even though I still cannot imagine myself nursing a baby goat, I am also grateful to share the world with people do.

birth days

we celebrated the 4th birthday of my youngest this weekend. it is mind boggling how quickly time passes. these milestones offer us a delightful opportunity to reflect. my third child was unexpected, seriously. i had an 8 year old and an 11 year old at the time when i missed my period that lovely fall day in 2010.  i was 43 and convinced it was early menopause. it was a dear friend who suggested the other possibility. ” i am not heading into Rite Aid like a teenager looking for an EPT”  i quickly responded.

positive. what? try again. positive? are you kidding me?

i was not immediately elated. i spent a lot of my early pregnancy reading fiction and contemplating how i would handle sleep deprivation in my forties. i google searched weird topics and discovered statistically there are more unplanned pregnancies with women in their 40’s than in their teens. we settled into our unforeseen life shift and welcomed william on a rainy may day 4 years ago. he is and has always been the love child. the joy that this little guy has brought into our lives is beyond measure. you know there are some gifts so great, you can’t even plan for them.

IMG_1728

we have been closely watching addie, our milk cow, get closer and closer to calving.  her udder kept getting larger and larger and still no calf. we walked her pasture multiple times each day. waiting. watching. wishing. she started to move so slowly, her breath started to shift and still no calf. finally friday it happened. the pull of the growing moon drew her bull calf out. he is a beauty, exhibiting the gorgeous belting of his dutch belted sire.

IMG_1677it is hard to tell what the week ahead will bring. we are in the thick of it here on the farm, truly. another birthday is around the corner, a dance recital is days away, the first CSA delivery is nestled right in there, and the temperature is starting to feel like it’s time to plant summer crops.  life is full and busy, even busier now that each day will start and end with addie. i feel so blessed though amidst this energy, for each birth reminds me of how precious life is, the milking routine steadies my days, and the cycles of life are a beautiful thing.

IMG_1695

 

 

 

right now :: sparrow

IMG_8418Sparrow is my sweet little heifer calf that was born to my milk cow, Lilly, back in August. Every evening, she gets separated from her mama so that  when I go to milk in the mornings, there is some milk for me, too. Otherwise she runs with the herd all of the time, by Lilly’s side. And she is a spunky little thing that has required some patience when it comes to the “catching” each evening. But cows are creatures of serious rhythm and routine, and she is beginning to learn the ropes. She is almost (almost) to the point of walking herself to the stanchion in the evenings when she sees me coming to fetch her. We’re making real progress, anyhow. Well, a couple of nights ago when I tied her to the stanchion for the night, she walked herself right around and put her head through the head catch, just like she has seen her mama do so many times now. I spent some time rubbing her down, cooing to her a bit, and rubbing her tiny little udder. She seems to know what her future roll is going to be! I don’t think I ever realized just how special my little cow friend was going to be to me. My buddy, Sparrow…IMG_8411 IMG_8415 IMG_8419