Drying Up

Yesterday morning, our all-star milk goat climbed into the stanchion for the last time before next month’s kidding. She’s had an amazing run of lactation; she kidded for the first time in the spring of 2005, we bought her in the fall of 2005, and then milked her all the way through the winter of 2005. At her peak, we were getting about four and a half quarts of milk per day (two and a quarter quarts in the morning, and the same in the evening.) We milked her all the way through 2006, and bred her at the end of September. Did that slow her down? Heck no. We were still getting a good supply of milk all the way through December. In recent weeks, she’s dropped off quite a bit; her energy is rightly going to her unborn kids rather than to milk production. In the last week, we were only getting about a half-cup per milking, so decided that she was about done.

Her full name is Queen Anne’s Lace, The Goat. (Or, as our youngest used to say when he was learning to talk, “Een-ahn-uh-ate, yah oat.”) During most of her lactation, she was giving plenty of milk for our three children. There’s really no need to have a cow, unless you have a larger family—but, even then, multiple goats are cheaper and easier to manage than one large cow. A good dairy goat will give enough milk for most families. And with multiple goats, you can stagger their breeding and drying up, to ensure the family always has milk. When a single cow dries up, you’re out of milk until her next calf delivers. Someday, I’ll post the whole sordid tale of our misadventure with Buttercup, the Jersey cow we got before we knew better. Suffice it for now to say that we’re sold on goats. They’re much easier to manage, and the milk is terrific.

On top of their other food allergies, our kids are lactose intolerant. My wife takes the raw goat milk and cultures it into a Swedish drink called fil mjolk (pronounced “feel milk” in English) that they can consume. It’s similar to yogurt, and our kids love it. As for me, I save a little of the raw milk and use it on cereal. Raw milk is wonderfully rich and creamy; it’s unfortunate that raw milk is almost impossible to find unless you have your own dairy animal. When we have lots of extra milk, I put it in quart mason jars, screw the lids in place, and set those jars out on the counter at room temperature. About a week later, the solid curds separate from the whey, yielding an amazing — and simple — soft goat cheese. We feed the whey to the chickens, and keep the cheese in the fridge. I use it on tacos, in chili, on bagels, and with scrambled eggs or omelettes.

One important thing we learned early on: goats are related to deer, not sheep or cattle. Therefore, goats are referred to as “does” and “bucks,” like deer. Say “doe” and “buck,” and people will know that you know goats. Say “nanny” and “billy,” and people will think you’re an amateur.

We do have a second goat, but she’s been suffering from mastitis for several months. As we haven’t needed her milk for the children until now, we’ve been either feeding her milk to the dogs/chickens or making cheese with it. This week, we’ve begun treating her mastitis more aggressively, and hope we can get it cleared up enough to be able to culture her milk. (Mastitic milk does not culture well.) Stay tuned.

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