Casaubon's Book

Meet the Milk

Note: Another new reader asked if I could say a little more about the goats. Here’s more.

If you were to come to visit right now, you wouldn’t see The Milk Truck until you started to get out of your car. But the moment you opened your door, the little vacuum cleaners would stick their heads in, just to make sure there’s no food on the floor. You see, at my house, there’s always food on the floor. My children drip crumbs and leave apple cores, and the litte vacuum cleaners feel it is there job to clean up.

But let’s back up. The little vacuum cleaners are Tekiah (Tekky) and Arava. They are small goats, born this autumn – each one weighs about as much as a Corgi dog, or a 9 month old human, and they would like to be your friends. Especially if you have food. Or, if you aren’t going to feed them, they’d like you to pet their heads, or hold them, or let them play king of the mountain on your car. You don’t mind little goat footprints on your car, do you?

i-c58f6fdbb55ede17462a1b404a84bf44-eric and arava.jpg

(That’s Tekky when she was a lot littler, along with an assortment of the guys in my life)

Along with the little vacuum cleaners is the mid-sized one – Bast is a teeanger, born last spring. She’s still baby enough to want you to cuddle her, but grownup enough to know when you want her to do something she doesn’t want you to and get out of arm’s reach. She’s a soft cream color and cute as a button.

Right behind comes The Milk Truck and her cohorts. Mina is a golden buckskin color, and she’s not called the milk truck for nothing – every day, her job is to fill that milk bucket, and by gosh, she does it. She’s a stickler that one – she does her job, and you’d better do yours, so the hay had better be tasty, the water bucket clean, and there had better be grain in that dish every single second that you are milking, dammit. What does a goat have to do to get some service around here?

i-fac610949af77b75db139ea0e1fc6e1e-minabig.jpg

(Mina has places to go and things to do)

The grey and white goat is Selene, Tekky’s Mom. If there’s any food, she’d like it first, thanks, and the heck with the rest of them. Otherwise, why don’t you stand there for a bit, and let her rub her head against you – there’s an itchy spot. Oh, and can she taste your shirt, because it looks foody.

i-8e1aed1f0ac3bd9280da312753d0e384-selene and tekky.jpg

Behind her is Maia, Arava’s Mom. She looks like nothing so much as a miniature deer – she’s refined and delicate looking – you can tell elegant, shy Arava is her daughter, and chunky, bouncy Tekky is Selene’s. Maia would, if she could talk, happily tell you that she’s much nicer than Selene, who is really your generic goat, whereas she is particularly awesome, and nothing like these other goats. And while she’s telling you about it, do you mind if she nibbles your shoelace? All the best goats do this.

Hanging shyly back in the background is Jesse – solid, round, fuzzy in her winter coat. Jesse never puts herself forward, she’s not demanding or pushy. She’s just sweet – if she could to talk it would be a shy, quiet little voice with lots of “if you don’t mind…” kind of interspersions. If you reach out to her, she’ll shy away, but keep offering her your hand, and maybe scratch her neck for a minute, and she’s your best friend. She’s also an awesome little milker, doing a good job for someone in her first year.

The great thing about goats is that they are all your friends – your new best friends, in fact. They can’t think of anything better than to be with you, and in fact, if you don’t shut your car door fast enough, they’ll be delighted to climb in and go for a ride. They’d be happy to come in the house with you, too, if you don’t remember to close the gate. Remember, goats were the first animal domesticated after the dog, and from the archaeological evidence, it looks as though they pretty much chose us – started hanging around us. Their feeling is that having chosen to be with humans, they’d like to do that all the time – so if you don’t object, they’d love to come stand on the dining room table for a while and talk to you. Did we mention they love to climb?

There are a few things in my life that are really weird to people. Most of my life looks a lot like everyone else’s, or at least someone you know. Lotsa people have wood heat, or clotheslines or keep cool houses. A surprising number have gardens, chickens and do things like knit and can. But there are a few things that make my life look really weird to other people – cooking on a woodstove, not having a fridge and the goats are probably the top three. The idea that your milk comes out to say hi and frisk you for apple cores is probably not in most people’s vocabulary. But at my house, everyone meets the milk.

Why do we do it? Well, part of it is that we really like goats. I have a lot of animals – and except perhaps for the cats, the goats are my favorite of the lot. Goats are like dogs, except less cooperative. They love you, but don’t fawn upon you. They are warm and sweet and make a ton of milk for what you feed them. My goats, being Nigerian Dwarves are the size of a largish dog, and two of them in milk produce about a quart and a half to two quarts a day (depending on time of year). Two full sized goats might produce as much as 1 1/2 to 2 gallons a day, but this is more milk than my family needs, plus I can pick a goat up and carry her if she’s in my way.

Right now, my goats are producing less milk, because I’m not a commercial producer who has to maximize production – that’s as it should be for me. It is cold, the goats are using more of their calories to keep cozy, and they have switched form mostly green feed to more hay. While we up their grain intake a little to compensate, we’re also reducing our expectations. In the longer term, my hope is to get everyone on the same breeding schedule (at this point we have them on spring and fall, because we couldn’t get the goats bred last winter), and allow our milk production to largely dry up in the winter, and be truly seasonal.

We produce our own because milk is a particularly difficult issue to do sustainably. If you are lucky enough to live by a dairy that produces a lot of its milk on grass, that’s awesome, but most of us don’t. And unlike meat, much of which can be produced on either human food scraps or on grass and pasture, most dairy requires grain – grain that could feed human beings.

Now it is perfectly viable to give up milk, but the thing is, we live in a wet, rainy part of the US and have a lot of steep, rocky, grassy pastures, as well as a lot of brush and woody margins. Culturally, we’re from dairy cultures (eastern european jewish for Eric, Northern European for me) at least in part (there’s other stuff in there too), and we like milk – we do eat yogurt and cheese, and my kids drink milk. Moreover, even if we didn’t, fats are an interesting issue in cold climates – it is a lot harder to raise vegetable fats in quantity out here – we have no olive trees, and while nut oils are real possibility, we’re years from a harvest on that scale. There’s a reason why animal fats, particularly dairy, were the primary fats of many cold places.

It makes a lot of sense to use that grass and brush and woodland margin to raise meat and milk – and it would make even more sense to see more people turning their lawns and the marginal weeds around their property into milk and meat. That’s why we raise suburban-yard sized goats – because we’re hoping more people will have their own milk goats at home.

The advantage of these particular goats is that they produce a fair amount of milk on a small amount of grain, given good hay and pasture. Some of that grain we raise ourselves – my goats are eating corn, sunflower seeds and amaranth from our garden, and get as substitute for some grains some root crops as well. Other we buy locally and organically. But on a comparatively tiny amount of purchased feed – about a cup and a half per goat per day, my goats are producing a lot of milk. With organic milk at about $6 gallon locally, producing my own for $2.40 gallon or so (my best estimate) is pretty bloody awesome. And, as the goats remind us, they are cute, too. Watching my (human) kids romp with the goat kids is worth a lot.

For people who aren’t going to get a dairy animal, the best way to get good milk is to talk to your local producer. What are they feeding and in what season? The truth is that we can’t afford to feed a lot of human-quality grains to animals – but we also may not need to. Seasonal milk, produced mostly on pasture is a good use of areas like the great plains that can’t be tilled and should be grazed, or on the steep wet hills of the northeast. When the grass is flush is the season of milk. All foods have their season, and milk no less than any other.

So tomorrow we’ll eat cheese – there’s some fresh milk for the kids, but mostly, we are eating summer’s grass in the form of cheese we made when everything was lush, as the goats wandered around, browsing along the weedy margins of our property and the edge of the woods and turning it into food for us. It isn’t always easy to find good, sustainable, healthy, safe food in this world. The good thing is that sometimes it comes and finds you, and maybe checks your pockets to see if they are good to eat.

So if you come to my place, you’ll meet the milk. Say goodbye, Cabritas lindas! (Below is the formal goat departure gesture – it means “we love you and will miss you.” And yes, that’s my mother in law’s car roof they are standing on.)

i-5508fcd4b067303d58fcc54e83bd7ae7-goatbutts.jpg

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Shamba
    December 17, 2009

    AWWWW! :)

    They are all so adorable–goats, kids and that tall guy with the little goat! ;) He looks rather like an Old Testmanent patriach with a nice smile.

    thanks for the pics,
    Shamba

  2. #2 Lise
    December 17, 2009

    Sharon, I’ve been reading your blog for ages, and it’s so nice to finally see your family! Loved the goat post…so funny. I’ve been wanting a goat, but haven’t convinced my other half yet. :-) Or my town.

  3. #3 Lynne
    December 17, 2009

    Oh, man, I was jealous about the goats even before these great pictures!

    We’re almost-vegetarians, but I am really interested in the appropriate use of livestock in northern climates for fats/protein from a food security standpoint. We can grow some veggie fats up here, canola, for example, but I think there are a lot of variables to consider. First, space efficiency – how much land does it take to make a bottle of canola oil compared to say butter or goat cheese? Second, practicality in a lower-energy future – we know we can milk animals and make butter and cheese by hand – but is it practical to make canola oil by hand? I just don’t know, maybe it is, maybe not. I am sure there are lots of other things to consider, but I’m dreaming about goat feta on pizza now.

    Anyway, if anyone knows of work that is being done on this, please let me know. Meanwhile I’ll just dream about one day having more land and a couple of goats.

  4. #4 Joseph
    December 18, 2009

    I have been ill and couldnt get back to the thread, so I am posting this here to make sure you see it and it doesnt get buried and unread.

    In using the word “cultic”, I was not refering to Greer’s Druid thing, I was refering to the way he enforces a sychophantic attitude in his readers and does not allow himself to be challenged in certain areas. I have watched what goes on there, so do not tell me I do not see what I see. As I said, he has an ego the size of a locomotive, and it is very obvious.

    I gave some examples, examples where I was treated with insulting condescension for just talking about climate tipping points at all. And havent worst-case scenarios proven to be closer to the truth over the past couple of years? The point Sharon, is that Greer was too immature to discuss the issue, he just wanted to dominate because he is an intellectual bully. Kunstler often does the same thing.

    So it seems that Greer, and Dewey here – I am not sure where you stand – feel threatened by Korten’s idea that people in leadership positions should be innately Self-Actualizing, not as a top-down decree, but as a shift in value-system, from a system that rewards psychopathic and sociopathic people by allowing them to rule, to one where leaders are expected to have a worldcentric consciousness that transcends petty, adolescent ego, race, exoteric religious belief-system, gender chauvinism, tribe, etc.

    To deny the validity of the above is to deny the leading edge of thought in comparative esoteric spirituality, psychedelic research and transpersonal psychology which have together more than proven that the human being can developmentally evolve light-years beyond the parameters enforced by conventional science and religion.

    Indeed, conventional religion and science represent the childhood and adolescence of humanity, not true adult maturity. To feel threatened by the fact that there are levels of spiritual consciousness/understanding/Genius – talked about by all the great spiritual teachers – beyond the adolescent ego is simply immaturity.

    Moreover, the movement Korten is writing about is filled with people of incredible integrity and commitment. It is the spontaneous self-organization of the next stage of human evolution, a manifestation of the higher destiny of humanity. And though it may fail here and now on this planet, it is still worth doing for spiritual reasons.

    It has been the creative force trying to prevent catastrophe on this planet, and some of us have been doing that for 35, 45 years. Ultimately, it has been operating underground for centuries trying to advance human spiritual evolution, and the greatest minds in history have been a part of it.

    The 1960′s were a manifestation of it, a spiritual planetary Renaissance Wave, and had it not been beaten-down and destroyed, we would not be in the horrible position we are in today. Nevertheless, it is the source of the attempt – to use Korten’s phrase – to turn from Empire to Earth Community, a worthy goal even if it is probably too late.

    More than that, Korten is a tireless advocate for economic and political justice with ten times the real-world experience than Greer. It is Korten’s progressiveness that irritates Greer, his analysis of the situation that rightly points to the fact that we are ruled by the least among us, the lowest, and who are dragging the whole planet down.

    Now, this isnt going to mean anything to you if you believe we should just abandon all hope of attempting to re-channel the aggregate wealth of the country toward preparing for The Great Transition. If that is the case, you are essentially advocating only local preparation and are thus prepared to let the least among us run the country as a whole into the ground unopposed.

    This is a stance many peak oil writers take, that progressive political opposition to the squandering of what is left of our wealth is wrong, or somehow taboo. This leads to positing an equivalence between progressives and regressives that is incredibly dangerous and misguided.

    If the object of the game is to lessen the pain of The Transition – and some of us have been advocating that back when you were still in grade school, Sharon – then what Korten is writing about is a good, humane, intelligent foundation to build upon (not spitefully snipe at!).

    So, if you want to use the wealth to help prepare for the Great Transition, then we need 30, 40 million people in the streets to stop the wars and Imperial policies of the elite psychopaths who stole and own this country.

    I hope this at least cleared up a few misunderstandings.

  5. #5 cornish_k8
    December 18, 2009

    wow – pictures!!!

  6. #6 jay moses
    December 18, 2009

    How does he get that amazing yin/yang effect in the hair and beard? The man, not the goat.
    jm

  7. #7 Constance Reader
    December 18, 2009

    I loved this article! Every time I go to a petting zoo — and I do whenever possible — I head straight for the goats. I’ve always enjoyed them.

    Unfortunately, even if things go as planned and I do have a yard next year, I will still have a job that requires a large amount of travel. So…no goat. Seriously, I’d get one just for the natural lawn care. And the company.

  8. #8 kylie
    December 19, 2009

    Gorgeous goats and family. Thanks for the introduction. I’m planning on getting some goats for meat and milk next spring and now my exitement’s just been fueled all over again!

  9. #9 Lora
    December 19, 2009

    Question–How long do you spend milking each day?

    I’ve been pondering goats, but suspect I don’t have time for them. I already make cheese and yogurt from local milk (delivered in the old-fashioned returnable glass bottles, no less), but how much time does it take to milk, feed, return errant goats to pen at night, shout “you get down from there NOW” etc.?

    I very much enjoy your blog, BTW. You have all my sympathies getting up at 4am to process turkeys–just started my turkey flock this year, and processing them was way, way worse than the chickens. People, if you are going to eat turkey, they are worth at least $1000 each in terms of the yuck and stink the farmer has to suffer through to get them to you, even if they do have an automatic plucker.

  10. #10 Sharon Astyk
    December 21, 2009

    I spend about half an hour, morning and evening, tending the critters – maybe a little less in summer, when they aren’t eating so much hay and we can use the hose to fill the water buckets, a little longer (maybe an extra five minutes) this time of year when we’re filling the buckets inside and carrying them.

    But that also includes tending to 40 chickens, 3 turkeys, a duck and five rabbits – it is hard for me to sort it all out, because we do it all at once. With a manual milker (we use Maggidans, you can use EZ milker too) we can milk each goat in a few minutes. Watering and feeding depend on how much hauling and where you keep everything. Sterilizing and filtering are sort of done around all the other stuff we’re doing, rather than having separate territory of its own – ie, we wash the milking stuff as we’re washing dishes, then sterilize by popping it into the bowl and taking it out when we go past. If we just had goats, maybe half an hourish for everything morning and evening?

    Sharon

  11. #11 Joanna
    December 22, 2009

    We’ve done goats, and I really didn’t care for their personalities. Pushy and greedy. Then we got Stella, our bratty bossy Dexter milk cow. What an amazing experience that I hope to repeat in the future. But milk cows take more infrastructure than goats, from feeding to breeding. We ended up selling Stella due to the trouble in finding a suitable bull in the area. We pondered a full-sized dairy breed, but we both work offsite and don’t have time to milk & process the 5+ gallons a Brown Swiss or Guernsey will give.

    Stella’s son, Doug, just came back from freezer camp yesterday, and this is the first time Seven Trees has been without cows in over 3 years. There is a dairy 3 miles away with good operating practices, the best milk in the county, and only $2 a gallon.

    But there is something irreplaceable about milking your own critter and making tasty treats from the milk. So we’re back around to considering a dairy goat again. In any case, my little draft pony could use the company.

    I would like to add that anyone considering a farm critter should get as much interaction as possible before committing. I read so much about goats being the perfect ‘stead critter, and it came as quite a shock to learn I really didn’t like the buggers. Now that I know they’re more like pets than livestock, I can deal with their pushiness better.

    Still, I long for the day when I can bring home another lovely milk cow…..

    -Joanna

  12. #12 Annie
    January 5, 2010

    We got our first two goats last spring because we couldn’t find a Jersey cow. And several people said “get goats, they’re easier and good to start with.” So against my better judgment, I did – two Toggs. And I found out I absolutely adore them. They are the sweetest creatures and so friendly, exactly like a dog as you say. They are curious and friendly (unlike my little flock of timid sheep). I managed to breed one this fall and I sure hope it took as I am just so anxious to have our own milk from our own animals. No more industrially produced ick for us. If Venus’ breeding didn’t take then we will look for a fresh goat.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope I always have some goats. Even if I didn’t milk them they would be delightful companions.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.