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Jenna Woginrich: Morning Milking Routines

Jenna Woginrich: Morning Milking Routines

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As soon as cats and dogs are sated from their own particular morning-time urgencies, I am heading to the goat pen with milk pails, gear, and grain. With two goats I have a system. I start milking Francis first and, since she is in training to be a proper milk goat, I like giving her my attention first. I snap a leash to Bonita’s collar and let her wait outside the barn with I lead Franny to her station. Fran’s tail is wagging; she LOVES grain. She happily lets me slip a rope through her collar to secure her in place while I get to work washing udders and squeezing out milk.

 

Francis is a darling. She lets me milk her into a little saucepan (she is too short for the big 2-liter stainless steel milk pail I use with Bonita). She chomps into her sweetfeed and I milk out her little teats. After a while she starts to lift a back leg in protest and I say “Foot” with authority, and place it back on the ground. After a few days she stopped all kicking. So far she’s turning out to be a little rockstar of a goat. She gave birth to a beautiful boy all by herself, she let me milk her from day one, and she doesn’t kick or bite when the going gets tough. It makes me a little sad that I decided to sell her…

 

Yup. I’m going to sell Francis. She’s a purebred Oberhasli, with papers and everything, and she is a proven mother and milker. The reason for the sale is simple: I just want larger goats around here. She is somewhere between the size of a large Nigerian Dwarf and a small Nubian, maybe 80 pounds? I like big goats that offer A LOT of milk, so she just doesn’t match the size standards I have in my head. Her quart-a-day is nice, but not enough to satisfy my milk needs. I think I will keep Ida, raise her up, and make her the next goat friend for Bonita. I’ll sell Francis with her kid to a new homesteader looking for a good backyard goat for cheese and soap.

 

When Francis has been milked out, I wash her udder with the warm soapy water and cloth I bring outside with me, and then place some pink udder cream on her teats. I don’t want her to crack or get sore from this new attention. The whole thing takes about ten to fifteen minutes, a lot of time but since she is new to this I cut her some slack. I walk her out of the barn by the collar and trade spots with Bonita. Now Francis is tied out watching the Big Show inside while Bonita gets to work.

 

Bonita has been a working dairy goat for over five years. She just turned six and has had four kidding seasons (this one included). She literally dances into the barn, a tango with herself (such a fine goat does not need a partner) and hops up into the stanchion without being asked. I clamp in her neck, fill her trough with grain and a mineral seasoning and she starts chomping while I wash the udders and check her bag for heat or lumps. She is, as always, perfect downtown.

 

I milk Bonita in five minutes flat. My pail is now heavy, and almost full. I guess that 3/4ths of a gallon is in that pail and when all is said and done I kiss her goat forehead and place the metal lid on the milk pail. I love Bonita, I really do. I think keeping her girl Ida is just an act of hope that I will get to have another girl of her line after she is gone. I am a total goat-romantic when it comes to legacy. I sing to my goats, a song in Gaelic I am learning about a dark-haired woman and her famous wedding. I collect my leash and towels, tubes of cream and the empty feeders and hop the fence to grab them some hay. I always feed hay after milking. It keeps the girls standing and off the ground while their valves close up in their teats. A just-milked goat who plops down in bedding straw could get Loki-knows-what up her tubes while they are still open. It takes twenty minutes for system shut off. My gals enjoy the salad bar while they whir to a halt.

 

I take the milk pail and such inside and set all washables in the sink and the big pail on the counter. Boghadair knows this canister and starts rubbing his head on it. I am grateful for the 30th time it has a tight lid. I run back outside with Gibson, literally run, because I did it! I got nearly a gallon of milk from half an hours work! I run around the yard with Gibson to celebrate. I open my arms and he jumps up into them and I feel like we have our own version of a touchdown, end zone dance. Merlin is watching this, totally unimpressed. He hollers at us in his deep, British voice and Jasper just stares alert as a buck in a field. His little white splotched body all taunt with prick ears and wide eyes. I get to the work of morning feeding and soon every heckling sheep, chicken, rabbit, goose, horse, and pig has nothing to say to me but crunch, chomp, griiiiind, crunch, chooommmp, swallow, repeat. With everyone outside content I am finally free to see to the funnest job of the morning. KID TIME!

 

I let the kids out of the big dog crate and they pile out. Before they can even think about peeing on my floor I scoop them up and take all three outside with Nanny Gibson to keep an eye on them while I return for their bottles. When I come outside I can see all of them jumping and tumbling, Gibson frantic to restore some sort of order. I sit on the front step and feet the three little ones their 8oz breakfast of warm goat’s milk. They swill and suck and finish the bottles in short order. I let them run it through their systems and relieve themselves again before coming back inside.

 

Inside the house there is a baby gate (technically a puppy gate) that keeps all the hoofed beasties out of the carpeted dining room. Annie and Gibson eat their breakfast on the carpet side while the little ones run around (and I mean run!) the living room and kitchen, jumping and carrying on like every motion requires the skill and verve of a Ringmaster. To a kid, every step is a circus and every day they are masters of their own ceremonies. They know I am the milk mama, the only one who has ever fed them, and so where I go they follow. I walk into the living room and they burst into a run behind me. I walk back to the kitchen and they trot right behind to the bright lights. It is endearing as all get out.

 

I have plenty of milk in reserve for feeding the babies in the fridge so I decide this morning to do something special. I am going to make my first Chèvre of the season! I set a big stainless brewing kettle on top of the oven and pour the strained milk into the low heated metal. I stir it with a metal spoon, letting the temperature of the low burner heat up everything to about 90 degrees. When I feel this warm milk to the touch, I add a packet of Chèvre culture from my fridge and mix it in as I turn off the heat. I set the lid on top and let it rest. The fact that the little ones who made this cheese making possible are trotting around my feet only makes the process feel even better. This cheese isn’t just good food, it is a celebration of a successful kidding season! I might even go to the hardware store and get those fancy, squat, ball jars to store it in. Stuff this special deserves a presentation of note, right?

 

By the time I am ready for bed the cultures will have separated the curds from the weigh. before I call it a night I will pour it into cheesecloth, lightly salt it and add a few herbs, and then hang it to drip over the sink in cloth. By morning I will have a perfect cheese. It will slide across bagels, make crackers sing, and be the perfect topping for salads or pizza. To those of you not fans of ‘goaty’ flavors, I get it. I’m not either. This cheese is mild and smooth. Think cream cheese but fluffier. It will win you over.

 

The day is just getting started. I feel like I have so much to offer it still. It’s colder and cloudier than yesterday but I want to get on my horse and ride. We saddled up for the first time in weeks yesterday and it was bliss. Okay, it was a stubborn out-of-shape pony and a mental wrestling match but I am happier on his back than anywhere else in the world. To feel him under me, moving across the landscape of my mountain road with confidence. I now lack the fear I had of him last spring. Knowing that was a quiet thrill. He was bad, or rather out of practice. Merlin didn’t want to trot away from home and he wanted to spring home to quit, but we worked through it. I now know what a crow hop is compared to a buck, and I know when he is being bitchy or dangerous. I have seen both. But today was just a barn sour brat who needed to be reminded that the girl on his back is a thousand times more hard headed and stubborn than he could ever dream to be. And by the end of the short ride he was starting to understand this wasn’t my first rodeo anymore. We trotted down the road and turned around to walk back to his hitching post calmly.

 

Bring on bright spring. I’ve got cheese, kids, a pony and a hoe waiting for my hungry hands. There are snap pea sprouts in the house and eggs in the fridge from the newly-laying hens. I have piglets growing strong, goats for sale, and big plans for a hawk and a garden. I’m excited as hell for this spring, darn near shaking from it. And it is mornings like this that keep me going.

 

This excerpt was previously published on Jenna’s blog, Cold Anter Farm.

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