Adventures In Raw Milk

Food & Drink, Livestock, Nature

She looks like a calf, but she's a full-grown Dexter cow.

When we decided to move here from NYC, we made the conscious decision to skip the suburbs. For various reasons, the city wasn’t practical for us, so we decided to take it all the way and live in the country. Yes, it’s a bit different than living in Brooklyn.

One of the advantages, I hoped (besides the garden that never materializes), is that I could have livestock of some type. I originally thought I’d have chickens for eggs and goats for milk, but our neighborhood association forbids poultry, and I heard some not-so-good things about dealing with goats. Not to mention I wasn’t too keen on goat’s milk. One can only make so much cheese, I thought.

And then, a few weeks ago, I found something to research online during those long hours in the hospital and in hospice with my father — Miniature Cattle. They only need a fraction of the space of full-size animals, they eat 1/4 as much, and they give a more manageable amount of milk (1-3 gallons/day). The Dexter breed specifically had a lot of appeal, in part because the cattle are so darned cute, but also because they are a dual-purpose breed, suited both for milking and for meat — should the cow give birth to a male calf.

This is a female calf

My dreams of livestock haven’t really gone anywhere since we’ve moved here. We’ve been kept quite busy. Additionally, we ended up purchasing a house and land that hasn’t ever been used for any sort of agriculture. We’ve got a little over 3 acres, but a lot of it is wooded and none of it is fenced. In some ways, that suits us perfectly. But it certainly isn’t compatible with having any animals — without a lot of work. Recently, though, I have had a chance to get a taste for raw grass-fed milk, which I’ve been buying occasionally from Sand Creek Farm. It’s delicious and, supposedly very nutritious, but it’s not cheap, by any stretch. This is partly what got me thinking more seriously about getting a cow of our own.

So, I signed up to dip my toes in the water (or milk) of livestock ownership, by taking a milking class at Star Creek Farm in a town about an hour from us. As I drove there this morning, through the gorgeous Hill Country resplendent with bluebonnets, I imagined what it would take to become a milk cow owner — it’s a seriously daunting commitment. I remember my own experience expressing milk for my kids — and that didn’t involve keeping anyone but myself alive and comfortable. It’s a grueling, never-ending routine. But we drink a lot of milk, and I’ve grown more and more concerned about what we’re getting at the supermarket.

Today, at the milking class, my classmates and I not only got to try my hands at milking a cow (a Dexter, no less), but I also experienced milking a goat or two. Our lovely hostess talked us through all of the other aspects of livestock care, too, including feeding, shelter and medicine (especially that of the preventative sort). The whole thing has suddenly become a lot more concrete, after laying my hands on some udders and strolling my boots through their barn.

Am I still convinced I want to do this? Am I ready to move ahead? No, not really. One thing was quite a surprise. After the class we got to taste some of the milk gathered a few days before. The goat milk, though definitely goat-y, was also much milder and more delicious than I expected. Between that, and the fact that goats are a much cheaper and less-committed way of getting into dairying, I’ve been re-thinking goats as a possibility. But, our reality — our not-very-useful three acres — means nothing’s happening anytime soon. But I can dream, and plan, and slowly start shaping things. At least now I have a lot better idea of what needs to be done.

Isn't she darling?

2 comments… add one
  • Marissa Little May 2, 2012

    Duh, I can’t tell if my facebook comment “took”…

    Anyway, I have actually been in contact with the folks at Star Creek about Dexters. Yes, we are nuts and thinking of getting a milk cow in addition to the goats! I meant to sign up for the milking class but it was full by the time I got around to it!

    And I think your land might be just perfect for goats. They prefer the scrubby woods and fencing just means you invite all your friends over for beer but give them some fence posts and shovels first. You’d be amazed what gets done during a fencing party!

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