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!


  1. I love this post. I just wish that I could sit at your feet and learn how to make cheese. I have tried several times without success and I am frustrated. Where did you get your cheese press? I did make Feta and cream cheese, but my cheddar was a joke. It was so hard that the kids could have used it for a baseball. I don't think the bat would have dented it. I have several cheesemaking books and everything always looks just like they say, but then I put it in the press and yuck!!

    I had been using milk from our neighbor's cow, but I am wanting our own cow and some chickens. Thank you so much for such an inspiring article!!

  2. Although I like the idea of a cow for all the reasons you mentioned, I see many people raising a few goats for the same reasons, and goats add one more benefit - they will eat just about anything. If you cannot have a milk cow right now, have you considered a couple of goats instead? Goat cheese is quite popular now and goat meat isn't bad. (It sure isn't beef, but it isn't bad.)

    You really do write well. Reading your blog is a treat - even better than yogurt! :)

    NoCal Gal

  3. NoCal Gal: I've been told that Goat's milk tastes like wet dog.

    Is that probably due to improper handling? Or is goat's milk that much different in taste, compared to cow's milk?


  4. NoCal Gal;

    I always love to hear from you! We have had goats. When Maid Elizabeth was younger, she had a Nubian and an Alpine. They were wonderful - full of character, but to tell the truth, we were never very fond of goats milk. It was passable as long as we were very careful about keeping everything clean and we drank the milk within 3 days. After 3 days we dumped it down the drain it was so bad. We found that although goats will eat anything, only the best food will provide good milk - otherwise the milk tastes like whatever week they are currently enamored with! And Sir Knight decided that if your fences would hold water, they would hold goats!

    But, I would take a goat if I had to! But I think that perhaps I am a dairy snob - If I have my way, it will be a sweet milk cow for me.


  5. OPCcook;

    My wonderful husband bought the Wheeler Cheese Press for me out of the Lehman's catalog. It is a treasure! One of the finest things about it is that it is stainless steel. One of the most important things about anything dairy is cleanliness. I have known a number of people who have used plastic or non-stainless presses with poor results. In my opinion, you can't properly sterilize those presses and inadvertently introduce other bacteria to your cheese. I also have found that my cheese is only as good as the milk I start with. I have, on occasion, used milk that had an off flavor due to some weed or another. The cheese has always turned out terribly when I use that milk. Keep trying! You will get it - just don't give up! And chickens and a cow would be a wonderful blessing!


  6. We have a Jersey that just freshened again. We are soooo very glad to be back in milk again! This time she gave us a heifer, so we're in the market for a bull-calf in need of milk to raise for beef. We are so excited to have a heifer and hopefully 2 milk cows in 2 years. With 2 milk cows we can not only have milk for our family, but we can raise other animals on the excess milk.

    My question for you is how do you sterilize your equipment? I've read long involved processes and then easier processes. We live rather unconventionally and the long drawn out processes are just not feasible with our current set up. So, we've opted for an easier route of spraying all of the milking equipment with hydrogen peroxide prior to milking and letting it dry before using. We did that for one year of milking our jersey and several years of milking our goats and never had any problems, but I'm always interested in hearing how others sterilize their equipment.

  7. We have goats for milk, but it's a new venture and they're not milking yet - hopefully in the spring as we were finally able to breed one of them. Our land wouldn't support a cow, but it sure is great for goats! I've heard that different breeds produce different flavored milk, maybe because of the butterfat content? I've also been told to feed them the best hay to get the best flavored milk, and to keep their barn CLEAN. Honestly, the goat's milk I've had tasted no different from cow's milk, so I have to think that it has much to do with the care and handling of the goats and the milk.

    As far as goat cheese goes - it's one of our favorites! Yummy on crackers, with fruit, on apple pie (my favorite).

  8. Melody, I have never tried goat milk, goat cheese, nor do I intent to. LOL I merely offered a possible alternative to a cow. I have milked a goat, however, and their coarse fur is icky. Just my opinion, you understand. :) They also stink. Their eyes are creepy. And I would only get a goat if I had a lot of land that I wanted eaten down to the bare soil. Goats - not my favorite animals. :(

    NoCal Gal

  9. I have some LOVELY goats! Gabrielle just had a little buck and we will be milking her starting this weekend (I have found giving the new kid a weeks start before milking the mama is best)
    Goat cheese is heavenly.
    Goats milk soap is amazing.
    Goats milk yogurt is wonderful.
    Goats milk is tasty IF proper dairy procedures are followed and the goats have a quality diet.
    And the fur is NOT goats fur is soft and my does don't smell nasty. It is all in how you care for your goats. Mine get bathed once every 2 weeks and the goat pens are cleaned out twice a week.

  10. LOL No doubt your goats are lovely, Lamb. But your reply begs the question: If goats are great, why do you call yourself Lamb?

  11. The "Lamb" name came about as that is what my Darlin' Man calls me...Lamb or Lambykins, or occasionally "My Sweet Lamb".
    Have had fellas call me by a lot of different names in my life...he was the first to see me as a "Lamb".
    Heck, my dad's nickname for me was "Demon"! LOL!

  12. Sweet story, Lamb. When you get older, what will your husband call ewe? :)