Sunday, December 12, 2010
Essential Preparedness Tools of the Trade Part VI - A Milk Cow
This is one Essential Preparedness Tool of the Trade that I do not currently have - much to my chagrin. A milk cow is a provider of so many good things that their value can not be underestimated!
Sir Knight and I bought our first cow 13 years ago, after our daughter was stillborn. For months after our daughters birth, I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I really just wanted to hibernate and wallow in my grief. I had two other children to take care of, and did manage to feed them and teach school, but beyond that, I was so wrapped up in my own feelings that I found it difficult to do much else. And then we bought a cow. Having a cow gave me a reason to get out of bed every morning. The early mornings spent tucked under the warm belly of my milk cow, listening to the rhythmic ping, ping of milk hitting the bucket proved cathartic to my wounded heart. My arms grew stronger as joy was returned to my soul.
My first cow's name was Ginger and she had only two working "quarters". She was a Jersey with huge brown eyes and a docile countenance. She had just freshened when we bought her, so we were thrust into the duty of milking rather unceremoniously. Sir Knight and I had never milked a cow before, but we had armed ourselves with a good book and a willing spirit. Five o'clock rolled around (she was used to being milked at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and we mustered up our courage, grabbed our brand new stainless steel milking bucket and headed to the barn. We were pathetic! After about 5 minutes of milking, our forearms and hands were aching, so we had to trade off and on until we finally squeezed the last little bit of milk from our patient cow.
Gathering what little strength we had left in our arms, we hauled the 2 1/2 gallons of milk that Ginger gave us into the house to strain and cool. Our very dear friends had had a milk cow briefly and during that time, they had shown us how to properly care for the milk. First, we strained the milk through a stainless steel strainer into sterilized glass gallon jars, then we put the jars into a sink full of ice water in order to cool them quickly. We never topped the jars off until they had fully cooled, so that any off flavors were able to dissipate and not collect on the top of the lid and drip back into the milk. After the milk was cool, we would cover the jar top with plastic wrap and cap off with a lid. Then we would put a piece of tape on the jar lid and I would write the date and whether the milk was from the morning milking or the evening milking. After that, we would put the milk in the refrigerator, always using the oldest milk first.
To this day, I am a hawk about how my milk is taken care of. I insist that everything from the milk bucket to the strainer to the jars be sterilized. I wash everything with Super Washing Soda, which is the only thing that will completely cleanse milking implements of their sour smell. The benefits of properly caring for your milk and milking implements are well worth the time it takes. The milk will last longer, taste better and you won't worry about unfortunate food born illnesses.
Milk cows provide so many good things that I can scarcely mention them all. First, they provide a beef calf every year. As long as you have a milk cow, you will always have beef to put in the freezer or to can. Then, of course, there is the obvious - milk. Milk alone is wonderful, but what you can make with milk, now that is divine! I got my start in dairy products with yogurt. The first recipe I tried was from my "More with Less" cookbook, and I have used it ever since. I made yogurt a gallon at a time (in four, one liter jars) and would sweeten it slightly with honey! Oh, yummm! The kids love to put a little jam in their yogurt and stir it up. I like my yogurt a bit on the thick side, so I always add a little gelatin to the hot milk mixture. When the yogurt has set and cooled, it is almost as thick as custard - just the way I like it.
After trying yogurt, Cottage Cheese was the natural progression. It too, turned out wonderfully, so, of course, I had to try my hand at hard cheese. Sir Knight bought a Wheeler cheese press (Made in England) for me for Mother's Day one year, and it has been put through it's paces ever since. I started out with Farmhouse Cheddar, then moved on to Gouda, Caerphilly and eventually Parmesan. I LOVE making cheese. I always have such a sense of accomplishment when a round of cheese comes out of the cheese press!
When we have had too much milk, or when our cow has been sick and we have had to medically treat her, we would pour the milk into a 5 gallon bucket and clabber it with some vinegar or lemon juice. Pigs love this treat and chickens gobble it up. We also like to save and freeze Colostrum when our cow first freshens so that we are able to nurse any other sick animals that might find their way into our farmyard.
We currently are surviving without a milk cow. Our last cow died within a few months of calving, stuck down by Grass Tetney. So many times, we have seriously contemplated getting another cow, but we keep waiting. We don't have the proper facilities where we are and have high hopes of moving - and so we wait.
Milk cows are a vital part of any homestead. They are what preppers dreams are made of. They are fresh meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, ice cream, whipped cream and butter. If you have a milk cow, you will not only survive, you will survive in style!